How did I end up in a movie?

I have been so busy with lots of things, but mostly research and teaching so I haven’t been blogging. We are doing exams this week and next week and then we will have a short three-week vacation before the next semester starts.

A couple of months ago, my friend Peter asked if I would help out with a movie.  He is an actor  and a tour guide, and now a student. He said they needed a “mzungu” woman who could speak Swahili. Mzungu is the word that generally means “white,” but is also used for foreigners from Europe and North America. One of the actors, who does a lot of short films and commercials as a character, Mau Mpemba, came to talk to me about the film and what I needed to do in the film. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I figured it would be fun and a new cultural experience. The character of Mau Mpemba is a trickster and the shorts he is in are all comedy and some include animation.

On the afternoon we were going to shoot the film, Peter met us in town to take a daladala (small public mini-bus) to the area where we were going to make the movie. As usual, people looked at us suspiciously because the tourists don’t often ride daladalas. It was tight and full and hot inside. When we got off the daladala at our destination, Mau came to the road and met us and guided us on a dirt road to a house off the main road. It was a very large, beautiful house with three stories and nice balconies on the side. The finishings were very nice. Throughout the afternoon and evening, we met the family who lived there as they wandered through the house. We learned the house belonged to a relative of one of the filming crew.

We sat around for a little bit while they set up lights and fixed a few things in the living room that would be where the first scene took place. Then we started filming. Keith was there and gave advice as we filmed to improve lighting and he also talked about ways to make it more realistic. He had some good insights about what would really happen in a mzungu house in Zanzibar or Tanzania and the relationship between the woman of the household and the staff.

We did many takes and because there was no set script, I had to remember what I said each time and be consistent, especially when they were shooting the other characters, but still collecting my sound for the take. This was especially hard for me in Swahili. I am a visual person and would have remembered it better if I had written it down. But, I think it turned out okay.

I enjoyed my dinner of fish and muffa (a puffy Zanzibari bread) at the very end and then we walked back to the road and got a daladala to return to town.

Even if you don’t speak Swahili, you can understand the gist of the story from the acting. It is a  trickster story where Mau Mpemba tricks me into eating the fish I said I didn’t want and I liked it.

Now that it is on YouTube, people who are familiar with the Mau Mpemba character are watching it and the page views are increasing rapidly (much to my surprise). The other day, I was walking home from work and a security guard stopped me and asked it I could step to the side. I was a little startled and concerned about what I might have done wrong. He said “please wait one minute. I need to show you something on my phone.” This made me suspicious. It took him a few minutes, but he then pulled up the movie on YouTube and asked it that was me. I said yes. He then asked me if I was a famous actress. Of course, I said no, I am a professor, but a friend had asked me if I would help with the film. He then told me that if I needed anything, to just ask. I have walked that way a few times and there has been a different guard, but I was quite shocked that someone recognized me so quickly.


Here is the short, if you haven’t seen it based on the link on my Facebook page. Yeye kwa yeye Short Movie

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