Christi Warner: a life committed to the arts.
"If you have a message to give it is important that people understand it," she says. "From an early age, I knew I loved words. "I was very quiet, a silent child, but when I spoke, people listened. As I grew up, I battled whether to take up writing or to become a psychologist because I'm good with people."
Christi is also good to herself. "I don't drink. I don't smoke. My favourite drink is orange juice. I don't take any drugs. I don't like pain and I don't like hurting myself," she explains.
Christi was born in Katutura to a mother with Liberian ancestry, and adopted the Damara Nama culture as her base through association with her relatives and friends. Her mother works as a ground hostess for Air Namibia, and Christi admires the stamina she has displayed in raising her and other children.
"From as far back as I can remember, my mother has always looked after other people's children. My sister and I grew up with so many other kids that we were never lonely. Our house always had kids from all over. Now we live in Windhoek North."
Christi started school at Steinkopf in South Africa, just across the Namibian border. "At the time, we lived in Oranjemund and it was the nearest school for me," she explains. In 1990, the family moved back to Windhoek and Christi went to Suiderlig High School, and then to Windhoek High School where she finished her grade 12. After that Christi decided to attend a French course. One day, her lecturer came across her notebook full of poems, and directed her to the Bricks Community Project. Through her association with Bricks, she attended a three-year performance theatre programme at the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre (ZACT). It was there that she learnt about her current major occupation--theatre in development.
After the ZACT experience, she attended a six-month leadership training course in South Africa, and was then sponsored by the British Council to study for her Masters in Theatre for Development at Alfred University College in Winchester, Britain.
"It was a whole new experience. My world opened up. It was a different education system where the emphasis was on my personal contribution rather than what I would find in books. At first it was difficult for me because I had always been told what to do. However, my lecturer kept telling me, 'there is no right or wrong, just convince me that it works."
Christi believes that this experience helped her to choose her life's path and not turn back. She gives due credit to the high school teacher who encouraged her to write poetry as well as the French lecturer who introduced her to Bricks, where she met friends like Joseph Molopeng and Bolly Mootseng, both icons of Namibian theatre.
"The first time I went to People's Place (the Bricks centre), I found Bolly and Joseph. They welcomed me and in my first week I participated in a performance poetry session with one of my poems called 'School'. It was a strange new way of expressing myself and I liked it. My experience with Bricks gave me access to the diverse people of Namibia. I saw the daily struggle in people's lives, in every sphere, the poverty."
Listening as she speaks, I realize that this young woman has given herself totally to her work. In fact, her entire life is about giving. She gives of her time to charities, to children, and to almost everyone who needs her empathy. She is dedicated to a career that has a reputation of hard work for the smallest pay. She explains why.
"A poem called 'Fighting' made me stick with poetry and theatre," she recalls. "While I was still with the Bricks Community Project (which no longer exists), I formed a children's theatre group. The young people always gathered in the afternoon after school--at the place where Katutura Community Radio is today.
"However, one little boy would just sit outside while his friends had fun participating in various activities inside the hall. He resisted all my attempts to make him join in until one day, I went to sit with him outside and ask him why he was always sad. He told me about how his parents fought every day and that is when I composed the poem 'Fighting'.
"When I heard his story, I decided to arrange a theatre show and got the kids to invite their parents, including the parents of this little boy. At the show, I recited the poem 'Fighting', and afterwards, these two parents came and specifically asked for a copy of the poem. The next time I saw the boy, he was smiling and told me how his parents were being so nice to him ... It is this that made me see that my writing, my poetry, can make a difference in whatever small way," she says.
Within her personal culture of sacrifice, I wondered how she spent her private time as a young, single Namibian woman. "I don't have a boyfriend because eight years ago, I made a decision to abstain. I dated a Zimbabwean guy for four years before that, but when he proposed marriage, I told him that I was not ready, so he left. I wanted to concentrate on my career and talent. I love family. There are lots of kids at our house and I try to help my mother by keeping them entertained. Otherwise I invite my friends over to our house and we spend the weekend 'hanging out' there."
Christi has no regrets for her choice of career. "I had thought of becoming a psychologist but when my sister died, I abandoned the idea. My sister had always wanted to be a doctor. Her death just turned me away from anything with a medical touch."
Nevertheless her chosen career has brought its own headaches and heartache. "It is true that this career demands hard work. In fact it demands perfection and passion. Then it will pay. The only drawback is that few of our own compatriots appreciate our work and talent. Our people would rather have a foreigner interpreting their culture than their own people! The professor I worked with in England has had to tell some people here that we are good enough for them to hire us!"
However, Christi commended the Ministry of Basic Education and Culture for using her production company on a number of occasions to relay messages on voter education and other issues through theatre. With her friend, Joseph Molapong, Christi started Township Productions, a company focused on theatre for development. "We provide lots of training, because performing itself does not really pay. In the past, we have also done a lot of work for NGOs such as the Peace Corps, Volunteer Service Organisation and others, just to make bread money.
"We make our own productions with no outside help and we have not received any complaints so far. I hope that things change for the industry because there are lots of people out there with talent. It is not right that some of our indigenous organisations underpay local Namibian artists and thus discourage them. Some artists work hard and this should be recognized," says Christi.
Apart from poetry and theatre, she is also involved in music and has produced an album that is yet to be launched in Namibia. "I'm working with a group called RV Inc.-started by a guy called Stalin who understands that my music should include my poetry because I want to get it out there. We now have a publishing deal with a New York based group known as Nomadic Works and the music is on the Internet. We have had good reviews with people saying they didn't know Africans could produce such good music!"
Indeed Christi makes good music with her life ... be it in poetry, in song, in drama. She gives credit to the lives and stories of her African ancestry, whose voices resound in her words.
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|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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