Why Was Pumzi Important?

Without giving away too much, I’d like to share a little about Pumzi (Wanuri Kahiu, 2010),the short film that began and ended our class. The first time I saw Pumzi  I cried. I held my breath and gave gratitude for its existence. While I am aware that Kahiu was not the first to address these topics – consider Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower (1993) and the reforestation advocacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner (2004) Wangari Maathai – in 2014 I had never seen anything like this on screen. 

Pumzi is situated 35 years after World War III, the Water War, that desiccated the earth. At its beginning Asha, the main character and the scientist in the virtual natural history museum, receives a box – a “letter”  - with only longitude and latitude as the return address. Inside the box is a soil sample and seed, which she discovers contains a high water content and is without radioactivity. 

Asha is surprised: The community has been taught that there is no water outside and, therefore, no life. After inhaling and touching the soil, Asha falls asleep. Despite her dream suppressants, Asha dreams of the earth before the war; she remembers what it is like to be alive fully, not just a body functioning for and at the will of others. Asha dreams of and remembers water, the ocean, and trees, things she’s never seen or experienced. Most importantly, she is willing to leave her community to find the truth about her society, and to find a way to keep the seed alive.

Since 2014, I have taught Pumzi in nearly every class. For A263, however, it was so relevant that I wanted to show it twice: the first week when we knew almost nothing about water as a community, and the last week when we knew so much more. I invited students to remember what they thought the first week and how those thoughts had change – and how they, too, had changed in their understandings about the movie and water. With that, I also invited us to do what Asha could not do in the film: dream of futures in which water was clean, accessible, affordable for us all.


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