‘Life and time are the worlds best teachers. Life teaches us to make good use of time. And time teaches us the value of life.’ So muses the talented and determined Alain Bakulikira, young leader and member of the Geelong Edge Ensemble.
I had the joy of chatting to Alain about his life and dreams, in the lead up to the ensemble’s new original work Six Hours In Geelong: a story of loss, loathing, love, and racism, showing at GPAC on 27 Oct.
Alain, now 22, was 14 when he came to Australia from Kenya with his Congolese parents and younger sisters.
He was in high school at North Geelong Secondary College when he first came into contact with Western Edge Youth Arts, the youth theatre organisation behind the Six Hours In Geelong project. Alain remembers that:
‘When Western Edge came to my school to perform, it caught my eye cos what they were doing was they were not just performing, they were educating as well. What Western Edge did was totally different to what I’d done before. They had a story behind them. I had something I wanted to show people and I didn’t know how, and Western Edge came with a way. It’s been an opportunity to share stories, and learn some other people’s stories. It’s been quite a journey for me. I’d done some acting before. It was something that I’d wanted to pursue, but I hadn’t found the right space to do it. When I found Western Edge, I found that it was the right space for me.’
One of the other acting jobs that Alain had was a role in Hairspray, the musical, which he enjoyed, but he juxtaposes this against his experience with WEYA:
‘That was fun, and also a paid acting job, but [Six Hours in Geelong] it’s not just about fun. It’s about the message you’re putting out to people. I wanted people to hear something deep from my heart, not just have fun.’
Unpacking some of the messages he’s been able to express through the work with WEYA he explains:
‘I never new the word racism back home. I learned that here. It was actually funny when I came here and people were calling people black, yellow…back home everyone is African, even the white people. It really tore my heart apart when I came here. It wasn’t what I expected. It made me want to go back home, but I couldn’t. There’s war, and I’m here with my family.’
I asked Alain about working with his younger sister Irene, who is also a member of the Geelong Edge ensemble, that was formed out of graduates of a successful partnership program between Western Edge Youth Arts and North Geelong Secondary College.
‘It’s been fun working with Irene for this’, he says and indulges in a cheeky big brother laugh before he goes on with a tone of deep affection:
‘She’s singing in the house right now. She loves singing everywhere. In the middle of the night when we’re sleeping. I realise that when she does that she’s improving. There was this time she was singing at a wedding and I started crying. It was so emotional. For me to see Irene performing, it gives me heart and strength, it motivates me as well.’
Apart from the work with Western Edge Youth Arts, Alain is also currently working in schools supporting students with special needs. As the eldest of seven, and the only son in his family, he feels a big responsibility to help out the family, and has done a lot of different jobs in the last few years. He goes through a bit of a list:
‘I did an apprenticeship in cabinet making. I did solar panels, fixing panels on roofs. Then I did building pagodas. I wanted to work and help my family out before I did my adult lifetime. I was still 18, 19 when I did all that. Everything’s just been a life experience for me.’
Alain also started an engineering degree, but deferred to continue working to supporting his family. He hopes to return to university:
‘I’m thinking that when I go back I want to do medicine. It’s something that I’ve come to see as a rewarding career. I’m thinking to go back home. Back home they don’t have treatments. I want to take my knowledge back home and be able to see what we can do. I want to go there with something that can help out the country. I want to go with everything. Everyone expects us to go and get educated. When you come they expect you to be a doctor or an engineer. They don’t know that when you get here you have to work, study. I want to go back with something. Not just empty handed or something like that.’
Alain’s highly developed sense of responsibility is reflected in the character he has created for the Six Hours In Geelong project. I asked him about the character and he explained:
‘The name of my character is Big. For me it’s about being big. I’m the oldest guy in the family and I’ve got a lot responsibility. I want to see everyone, their future, being big. I want it to be wide. That’s what I expect for everyone, to have wide dreams, something big.’
Alain is one of the choir leaders, as well as a youth leader at his church, the Kadinia Swahilli Church where his Dad also preaches. ‘I’m pretty much everywhere’ he laughs, and goes on:
‘Church is a big part of my life. I was born into church; I grew up in church. As the only son in the family I have to take responsibility and I have to look up to my dad.’
I asked him what advice he would offer younger people, and it was on the tip of his tongue:
‘The only advise that I would give a young person is to be themselves and find what they are. Don’t try and be someone else. Just be you. If you try to be someone else, you end up loosing it all. You have to start from scratch. And that’s a pain. Find yourself and be you. Don’t try to live someone else’s life.’
‘Life is an interesting journey you never know where it ends up. Be who you needed when you were younger.’
And his concluding comments bring it back to the project:
‘For me being with Western Edge, it’s a privilege. Life and time are the worlds best teachers. Life teaches us to make good use of time. And time teaches us the value of life. I like that quote cos the time that I’m spending at Western Edge, that’s the time teaching me the value of life; the value of time. I have to spend it very carefully, ‘cause this is the only time that I have.’
Thanks for the reminder Alain. What an inspiration. I look forward to seeing how these ideas about the value of life and the value of time are woven into the narrative of Six Hours In Geelong, when I go to see it at GPAC on 27 Oct. Bookings via the GPAC website.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts