Dreams of Hollywood Live Amid Political Riots, Poverty and AIDS

Ngugi's family lives in a small compound with a main house and some smaller mud and cement buildings on a hill overlooking Lake Nakuru. Behind the main house is a field where the family grows vegetables. Mwai begins each day with an hour or so work in the fields, cutting grasses with a machete to feed the livestock, or tending to the beans, corn, peppers and other crops they grow that are sold to make a little extra money. The family is middle class by Kenyan standards. Mwai's father is a retired bank accountant. He and his wife have raised six children, and all of them have had some education, which did not come free until 2003. Four generations of the family sit down together in the main room of their home, eating a simple meal of beans and bread. Mwai's father says Mwai and his siblings are good children: honest, no quarrels with others, and loving to the family.

Family is the first obligation for any Kenyan. Mwai knows that he must help provide for his parents and take care of them in later years. Kenyans, he states, are not like Americans, who put their older parents in homes. He will take care of his parents, and when they die, they will be buried behind his house just as his grandparents are buried in his father's garden now.

The house has electricity, but there is no running water or modern kitchen. In the main room, the family watches television and sometimes a pirated DVD. There is a desktop computer where Mwai works on the weekly church bulletin, but there is no Internet or satellite television. Mwai's most cherished possession is his cell phone and the football posters in his room.

When he is performing, Mwai is charismatic and gregarious, but offstage, he is a quiet-spoken, gentle young man. By Kenyan cultural tradition, you become a man after you are circumcised at 14 years old. Then, the parents must provide a room for the new initiate outside of the main house. Mwai has a room just off the kitchen, which he keeps meticulously clean. His bed is made, his clothes folded, his shoes lined up in a row.

On occasion, Mwai goes into town at night to dance at a club, see his girlfriend or have a beer. But money is tight, and going out is a luxury for him. So most nights he stays in with his family and watches television, perhaps going to bed early since he is up at 6 a.m. to work in the fields. But after the January violence and the displacement of thousands of people, Mwai knew he couldn't just stand by and do nothing. Angry at the politicians for creating the ethnic tensions between the tribes, Mwai volunteered to work in the camps for displaced people, but not at the camp for his own ethic tribe, the Kikuyu. To demonstrate that all people are Kenyans first, Mwai volunteered at a camp where his ethnic rivals, the Luos, had sought safety. Mwai often works the overnight shift, making sure the camp remains safe.

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