“You must show him, sister! You mustn't take this nonsense from him!”
My sister and I look at each other and roll our eyes. Its going to be a long journey. The women behind us in the bus are irritating us. Loud relationship counselling. Laughter. We're trying to sleep. But Musa's not irritated. He leans across from his aisle seat and starts to chat and join in the advice free-for-all.
“Just make peace with him,” he says. “All relationships are difficult. Life is too short for fighting.”
They get chatting and ask him what he does.
“I have the best job in the world,” he says. “I'm an actor. I'm so lucky. I really really love my job.” His positivity is infectious, as always. We forgive the vocal girl with the big hair and the nasal vowels behind us. We remember: we are so, so, lucky.
Its already been a long journey. From Lusaka we meandered in a borrowed car. From Livingstone we crossed the bridge at dawn and left the borrowed car at the Vic Falls hotel. Then we took the train to Bulawayo. Musa was like a kid. He was so excited. Those cool wooden cabins with all the colonial trimmings still intact, and he pulled the light cord on and off, lowered the beds and raised them again a couple of times, opened and closed the doors, checked the running water in the little basin under the fold-out table. He was so stoked. It reminded me of when Miranda took his son George game viewing and George, standing up in the back of the Landrover with a huge grin on his face, said “Ninjoya”. I'm enjoying.
We're heading to Joburg. We'll overnight in Bulawayo and then take the bus, where the irritating girls will keep us awake into the night. Then we'll spend a few days in a weird little mining theme park in the Magaliesberg. The three of us and the rest of the Report-back Africa team: two actors from each SADC country, the Theatre for Africa core team and the community conservation people from Africa Resources Trust, from Zim.
In a few months time these people will be one big family to me, but for now I'm the new joiner. My sister and Musa have already been working together for two years, making plays in dusty villages, creating images and props from thin air, funny, cheeky, provocative plays about wildlife conservation and communities that must have their share of the tourism spoils. CBNRM rolls off their tongues along with all the other fancy acronyms – Community Based Natural Resource Management. Musa and Miranda are a joyful, effective, affectionate team. I'm enjoying this time with them. Ninjoya. I want to be part of their mojo. And soon I will be.
But now its August 2000 and I could do with some relationship counselling of my own, time is speeding up like the spin cycle in the washing machine. I don't really know what lies ahead but I know it's exciting and important and I have to do it, even though it means leaving my fracturing relationship behind me for now. Its just the start. In a couple of months I will be in a small Karoo town with this crazy crew, making masks from paper tape and mobiles with dangling forests, zebras and gemsbok. We'll take great delight in pissing off the conservative locals by going to their church, a motley mixture of dark skins, light skins and coffeemelt skins, holding hands in the street and embracing outside the corner store. Soon my head will be awash with images – how to translate thorny issues, acronyms and political rhetoric into visuals that will communicate the plight of dusty villagers to men in suits in governments.
I'm just entering the Theatre for Africa fold. For Musa, its been a journey that started in 1996 when he auditioned for them in Chipata for Guardians of Eden. He can play a baboon, a lion, a feminine village beauty or a chief, all with great aplomb. There's something about him. His eyes blaze on stage, his presence sucks you in. He's one of those actors, the one you watch in the chorus line. You want to know him. Be around him. People did. Be around him. He loved it. He knew. He was lucky, and loving it. And just never arrogant.
He plays the President in A Light in the Night of President Khaya Afrikha. I forget what I make him to wear. Probably something garish in blue velvet. It doesn't matter. His eyes carry that show, and his knotted eyebrows, which make him look like he's being a great and concerned leader. But really, it's because he's trying to remember all those damn lines.
Two years later I'm living in Cape Town and he and Miranda are back home, and we're doing a show for the WSSD over email. The World Summit on Sustainable Development. Joburg. I'm sending them bits of script, scene by scene, while they're in the bush, turning it into magic. They play their hearts out to an audience of technocrats from across the world. I remember that line, the one that made people cry:
“What am I then? Am I an indigenous persons also? I thought I was the poorest of the poor.” Again those blazing eyes. As he played a hapless villager who travels to the big city to take his message to the big shots of the world.
Musa. This is not an obituary. This will never do him justice. I need a whole book. He deserves a whole book.
Fast forward to March 2010 and I'm getting on a plane to Cape Town when my phone rings. Its Musa.
“Tammy? We're here at the airport in Lusaka but we're not booked on the plane to Joburg.”
“What? But Musa your connecting flight to Cape Town leaves this evening, what's going on?”
They are en route to perform at the Out the Box festival. I'm pregnant and stressed. It seems there was a miscommunication with the funders who were supposed to book our flights. Its always a struggle with the funders these days. Funders based in European countries who cannot possibly understand what a mammoth feat it is to find a working internet connection to send passport details for five actors who have to cross rivers on their bicycles and dodge elephants and travel a whole day just to apply for their passports.
Several phonecalls and borrowed credit cards later and they arrive in Cape Town with an hour to spare for their tech run. The motley Seka crew with their patched together props and too-long bamboo poles and overweight luggage bills that weren't a line-item in the budget. Actors who are mostly farmers these days anyway, who set audiences alight when they perform but can't get food on the table for their families. And dear Musa, whose humour punches its way past the stress, whose hugs are as warm as ever. Who so loves the Q and A after a show – telling schoolkids about life in Mfuwe (yes, there really are elephants, yes, traditionally we hunt for food, but these days there are laws forbidding it, yes we have to look after trees, trees give us so much.) Musa, in front of a crowd. Ninjoya.
Dear Musa, I'm sorry, in so many ways.
That you had to do so much damn admin when you should have been acting the stages of the world. Too much stress, lately. Too much stress and not enough fun. Fun was your nature, your kernel. I'm swamped by memory and emotion. It can't be true. It must be one of your tricks.