What's all the ruckus? Last month, the office was abuzz when they called me to the lobby. An angry reader? Did I finally win a giant check from Publishers Clearing House? Of all the things I imagined, "a lobby full of Maasai warriors" was not among them, but there they were, in tribal dress, beaming big smiles, jumping and singing.
Well OK then.
It was the Friends of Sironka Dance Troupe doing some publicity in advance of their Christmas concert at the Bing, which is tonight, Dec. 18, at 7:30. (And yes, they do know it's Christmas; 83 percent of Kenyans are Christian.)
Of course we love Kenyans here in Spokane, as they visit every spring and take a lot of our Bloomsday trophies as souvenirs. But really, Spokane is about as far away, geographically and culturally, from the Rift Valley in East Africa as you can get. And that's where the troupe's leader, Nicholas Sironka, is from. Through a chance connection, he's become a one-man cultural mission in Spokane — sharing his art, both in dance and batik painting, raising money, and teaching about his homeland and his race.
"I don't look at the color of your skin as a separation," says Sironka in a deep English accent. "I look at color as a painting, as something that is beautiful."
Sironka first heard of Spokane when a Whitworth student visited Kenya in the late 1990s. When she invited Sironka and his late wife, Seleina, to her wedding, "we looked for the money everywhere, my wife asked her family for help," he recalls. They made the trip, and soon after Sironka landed a teaching job at Whitworth as part of a Fulbright Scholarship. He's been coming back ever since.
Sironka recently won resident status, and he continues to seek sponsors for Kenyans to study in America. He also dreams of creating a home for girls in Kenya who have children out of wedlock — girls banished by their families who have nowhere to go. Sironka is touring his troupe (each dancer supports many family members back home), and he's established the Kenya Arts and Culture Center in Spokane at 10220 N. Nevada.
"Unfortunately, Spokane is a place isolated from other cultures," Sironka says. "Spokane needs a place where the community can come and relate to other people — to create greater understanding."
So check out his show tonight, or connect with Nicholas on your own (firstname.lastname@example.org) to help.
"I want to be a philanthropist," Sironka adds, "but I don't have money. I need to be one who gathers people. And it only works because you people here have kindness in your heart." ♦