Paul Ogola on Sense8, Kenya
The popular Netflix show Sense8 returns with a 2-hour Christmas Special event on December 23. Sense8, a play on the word sensate, portrays eight strangers from different parts of the world who suddenly become “sensates”; human beings who are mentally and emotionally linked. In the first season they filmed in nine cities located in eight countries: Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Seoul, Reykjavík, Mexico City, Nairobi and Mumbai. Empathy pursues.
A popular tagline on the show’s Facebook page reads: “Survive. Together.” And doesn’t that pretty much sum up how we should be living on a global level? We should be living, but doing so together.
I recently interviewed Paul Ogola, a 26-year-old Kenyan born actor, who plays Jela on the hit show. Jela, a human, is friend to Capheus “Van Damme,” who is a sensate.
“This is a story of a young man living in Kibera, going through everyday life challenges and successes,” Ogola tells me enthusiastically, regarding the Kenyan storyline. I then ask if Sense8, which features fight sequences, car ramming scenes, flipping vehicles, speed racing and a graphic railway warehouse scene, accurately portrays any part of Kenya.
“The makers and writers of the story have their bit of research about an issue and then decide to take the stories through a specific route with an aim of storytelling. If sense8 was to show/advertise Kenya, then surely it would serve that purpose.”
Kibera, in real life, is a neighborhood of the city Nairobi, and is considered one of the largest slums in Africa. Ogola encourages me to visit the talented people and amazing wildlife that Kenya offers.
“I grew up in the countryside,” Ogola says. His family had a zulu dog. This African breed has a short coat, are medium-sized and muscular. “My dog was trained to be a good hunter,” he adds.
When he is not filming his favorite meal to make at home involves cooking his freshly caught fish and ugali. Ugali, a starchy, polenta-like side dish, is made from maize, millet or sorghum.
The Nairobi National Park is only 7km away from where Ogola lives. The park, which is 117 sp. km, offers grass landscapes with the backdrop of the city skyline and scattered acacias. The ecosystem is home to a wide variety of wildlife including the endangered black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes, and diverse birdlife with over 400 species.
“By providing funding to organizations like Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), sniffer dogs are trained to detect illegal animal products such as ivory and rhino horns,” Ogola says.
“Working directly with communities,” Ogola adds, “And making sure members get direct benefits from conservation efforts creates a positive impact for all.”
If you plan on visiting Nairobi and the park you can fly into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or Wilson Airport. The national park is only 10 km south of the city center. While the park does experience a spectacular wildebeest and zebra migration, visitors are encouraged to travel there year-round. The park has a major rhino sanctuary for breeding and restocking other parks.
One of the core functions of KWS is to provide wildlife education and extension services to the public for their support in wildlife conservation. This contributes to the overall KWS mandate in terms of enhancing wildlife conservation, protection, and management, improving KWS’s linkages, recognition, and relationships with stakeholders. In addition to Ogola’s invitation, being able to see such a diversity of wildlife that the Nairobi park offers, seems like two great reasons to visit.
This past June, I vacationed in Iceland, another location Sense8 films in. On the flight there, a family who sat next to me, had a transgender daughter with them and a gay son. One main reason they were traveling to Iceland was because they watched Sense8 together. Although I didn’t consider it a family show, they shared with me how much they loved watching it together.
“That is how flexible the show is,” Ogola responds to my story.
Sense8 has become notable for its presentation of LGBT characters and themes, winning the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Drama Series. On August 8, 2015, Netflix announced that it had renewed the show for a second season. Later, it was announced that Netflix will release a 2-hour Christmas special on December 23, 2016 and a 10-episode second season on May 5, 2017.
It was also announced that the original actor, Aml Ameen, who played Jela’s best friend Capheus, was replaced with Toby Onwumere.
“Allow me to just say this, Jela always loves to have Capheus,” Ogola shares.
The fact that Jela cannot exist anywhere else but inside the Van Damn mini-bus, next to his best friend Capheus and their blissful life in Kibera is one aspect Ogola likes about playing Jela.
“Jela’s contentment is what so many people in real life lack. I love the fact that Jela is always a happy man and that is why he spreads positivity to everyone else,” Ogola says.
“I want to take this chance to salute Netflix, all the sense8 followers, fans, critiques for helping build this masterpiece,” Ogola says. “It is not easy to come across such honest and generous art that everyone from different parts of the world, take a piece of what they relate to. The Wachowski sisters are nothing but geniuses.”
He adds, “From the Sense8 crew, we say thank you and we love you. We are Us!”
Ogola can be seen in about a half dozen of the new Season two episodes, which are out now.