Murat Can Bilgincan reporting

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Synopsis: “Mzungu Sleeping”

A bedroom that looks like a prison cell… Its broken windows are lined with rusty bars. As the snorting of hogs keep you awake, a swarm of naked, black bodies breaks the rotten door and jumps on to you. About to suffocate, you fail to stop a heavy stone’s landing on your skull. When John, a recent college graduate, wakes up at his upper-class home in New England, he has a torturously difficult time distinguishing between dream and reality. The situation worsens even further after he starts volunteering at an orphanage in the middle of Kenya.

However, once he has had his morning tea, John manages to convince himself that the faces of his lover Naomi and his favorite orphan Loki are what constitute reality. Naomi is the young manager of the orphanage. Before becoming manager, she was an orphan there herself. Her affair with John has begun quite suddenly. One moment they were purifying water with chemical; the next, they found themselves tenderly kissing on the filthy kitchen floor. Five-year-old Loki and his friends scattered around giggling once they noticed what was happening inside the kitchen. Loki is the “sweetest” boy on the planet, as John puts it. His father has died of AIDS. Now, his mother is battling the same disease. Ever since John and Loki first saw each other, there has been a mystical bond between the two. A bond that has triggered unconditional caring, as well as the odd feeling that they have known each other for a long time…

In this film based on a true story, John, Naomi and Loki go through a lot together. Right after John leaves his upper-class family house to start working at the orphanage, his main job seems to revolve around waking up the children for school. But once he begins to understand the microcosm of the orphanage, new tasks are rapidly added to his list of duties. During one of his math lessons, John finds a Klein-bottle-shaped object lying under a bed. Naomi tells him that this wooden statue is the symbol of their tribal religion. With a dance, the orphans attempt to explain their religion to the “Mzungu”. In fact, the orphans call all fair-skinned foreigners “White Man”. Even though the Mzungu is impressed by the coincidence that the religion revolves around a topic constantly occupying his mind, namely the dream-reality continuum, he cannot fully comprehend. If sleeping allows our soul to be transported into various beings, then what happens at the moment of death?

John’s “real” job does not begin until he uncovers a few orphanage secrets. One evening, he finds a baby crawling in dirt. When he asks who the mother is, Naomi points at a thirteen-year-old. Later, he discovers an old letter from a frustrated sponsor who is complaining that his cash donation has not been spent for the children, but instead for the luxury of the American owner of the orphanage. Finally, John stumbles upon Janet, a former orphanage volunteer, who confirms all of his suspicions and adds that the orphanage does not hold a government license. John tackles the issues one by one. He organizes a town meeting to tell the orphans how dangerous having babies can be and that those caught having sex will be punished. Next, he sends a letter to the American owner, requesting an explanation for the frustrated sponsor’s complaints. Nakuru children’s department is the last stop he needs to make in order to prove that the orphanage lacks a license. Unfortunately, John realizes that he will not be around forever to contain the child pregnancy issue, that there is no way of preventing the American owner’s profiteering, and that the local government has been bought out with bribes. He decides to shut down the orphanage and to transfer the children to reputable institutions.

Because Naomi wants to maintain the status quo, she and John have a thunderous argument in the kitchen. Under intense stress, John chokes Naomi, in the same vein that he has pushed and slightly wounded one of the older kids. Some of the orphans overhear the shouting and the word spreads that John will shut down their home. The orphans stop obeying John’s directions. They do not even speak to him. Only, they stare at him without blinking. When John consults Naomi, she responds that it may be dangerous staying at the orphanage and that they must leave Kenya together. John confesses that he cannot take Naomi with him. Deeply disappointed by the fact that she will never escape the orphanage, Naomi erupts with anger and slams the door on John’s face. John’s solitude has never been so pitiful.

At midnight, the orphans break John’s door. He waits in his bed while the swarm of black bodies charges towards him. The orphans kill John under bright moonlight. Loki turns his gaze away from John’s bashed head and notices the religious statue rocking incessantly. He remembers how their religion explains the journey of the soul, after death. Suddenly, Loki has the irksome feeling that he is sharing the same body with the Mzungu.


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