Thursday, May 22, 2014

Stories of the Creative Process: Wentai.

 I first met Wentai Kepera many years ago when my family visited a Maasai village called a manyata. Near the end of our visit, Lynn and the girls studied the beadwork and other handmade items for sale that women had laid out on blankets in the center of the manyata. I looked briefly, but saw few truly traditional items, so I stood back and waited patiently.
        After a few minutes, a village elder came to me and asked why I was not interested in purchasing anything. I told him I was only interested in traditional items: not Maasai key chains! (They don't traditionally have locks, and so no use for keys or key chains!) Once we understood one another, we had a good laugh and soon a friendship was born. 
        Wentai was raised in the Maasai Mara before tourism brought profound changes and totally new concepts to his people. He remembered the old ways and a few days after our first meeting, took it upon himself to walk the 5 kilometers to our tiny campsite. Wentai brought traditional items to show me and my family. He explained how and why they were used when he was a young man. We encouraged Wentai to tell us more, so he returned again and again over the course of the next several weeks. 
         Two years later, we were back in the Maasai Mara, camping again in the same spot for one month. Our friend Wentai resumed his visits; showing us how traditional sandals and drinking horns were made. As he worked with his hands, cutting and shaping sandals, I suddenly realized Wentai has an absolutely amazing face. I asked if he would return the next day and model for me. 
         My friend arrived at noon the next day (when the sun was straight overhead, his only sense of time), and I immediately set to work with feverish intensity. One hour later, dark clouds filled the sky and the temperature dropped precipitously. Suddenly, my wax became very hard and almost impossible to work. Lynn found a cooler, put hot water into water bottles and in a few minutes time I was back in business. Then it began to rain.
         At first we ignored the moisture, but as the heavens opened up and water began pouring from the sky, we moved operations into our tiny dining tent. Wentai sat, drinking tea while I worked on. As the afternoon progressed, I studied my friend with ever increasing intensity while my hands formed wax into his likeness. In order to step back and inspect my work, I was obliged to back out of the tent, into the pouring rain, and bend on one knee. After once or twice I barely even noticed. 

         Soon it was getting dark and time to finish up as best I could. Wentai rode home in our safari vehicle. I cleaned up and joined my family for dinner. The next morning, my hands were so sore and stiff I could barely fasten my shirt buttons. But, the sculpture was basically completed and I had a smile on my face.

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