Day One: Old Town #UnexpectedKenya


Mombasa doesn’t wake up like most cities. At 6am it still pulls the blanket tightly over its head. Curling tighter in a ball of post-snooze delirium. The drive from the hotel is mostly silent. Kiss FM spills from the car radio. Kevin is at the backseat, mumbling about the morning being too cloudy. Anxious if the sun will come out. Photographers! They just can’t rejoice for another day that the good Lord has given us. At Old Town we are joined by our fixer Fahmy, a slick smooth talking city hustler with a neatly trimmed beard. Together with Kevin they confer at the corner of the now derelict oldest cop station in Mombasa’s history. Kevin explains to him what he wants. Fahmy listens raptly, nodding, saying “haina shida, brother.” In Coast everybody is agreeable. The shot is in Kevin’s head. Kevin’s head has many shots. You can’t get into Kevin’s head now. It’s like hell’s kitchen.

So we weave through the dawn light, through the narrow streets of slowly arising Old Town. The early birds in TukTuk’s trumpet past us, searching for their worms. The wooden doors of most houses are still closed. The children of Old Town are yet to arise and skirt around in the streets. I smell a whiff of weed in some streets.

We shuffle through these empty narrow streets, following whatever is in Kevin’s head. He’s looking for the tallest building in Stone Town in the hope that we can catch some women doing their laundry on the rooftops below. That eventually doesn’t happen. Then we will look for the shot of fishermen coming in with lobsters from a morning catch. That also will eventually bite the dust. Then there was an idea to take a shot of a string of colourful taxies lined in the streets, a shot from the top but he will soon find out that all TukTuk’s are black from the top. So that genius also will not happen. We will get some shots, yes, but much later when he’s looking like he’s about to start sulking. Phew. These shots he’s searching for, he calls them the Money Shot, which somehow reminds me of Floyd Mayweather.

Old Town, Cat

Here is how we arrive at this picture. We stop at a street corner as Fahmy sticks his head around a front door to consult with one of his contacts whom we have just rudely woken up. As we mill about this street corner, waiting, Kevin sees this kitten, chilling at the window. The sun hasn’t come out, but this kitten is up, curling around the grilled window. She stares at us curiously: “Who are these strange people?” “Is that a forehead on one man?” Our producer – Lilian – “awws.” Hussein, our location scout, stares at this spectacle struggling not to roll his eyes.

Kevin takes the kittens pictures hungrily seeing as it’s the first picture he has run into since we woke up at 4:45 am. And this kitten is as vain as they come. I think it attends a private school here in Old Town. There is something conceited about her. She loves the camera, she loves fame and I think she recognizes that this is her only chance, her only 15 mins, to ever get into the Internet. I suspect, by just looking at her, that she is the kind of cat that would do something foolish just to appear in Ghafla.

So she sits still and stares at the lens with these big lovely eyes, battling them seductively to encourage Kevin. Eyes that seemed to tell Kevin, “Take one of me like this.” Kevin is helplessly sucked into this beautiful charade. The camera clicks and the kitten purrs. After several quick shots Kevin straightens up and shows us the pictures. Lilian “awwws.” (Naturally). Then we have to move, and as we shuffle away I turn to look at this celebrity kitten and I swear it looked slightly blue. Naomi – @AKenyanGirl – if you are reading this, go back for that cat, add her to your brood. Give her a happy home.

[Photo credit: Kevin Ouma]

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  1. I agree, I would not want to be inside a photographer’s head. There is no space to even swing a cat inside Osborne’s head

  2. Mombasa is a fun place to be……first time i came in 2007 i was like,”wah, si this guys are lazy!!” Then after just a year i was already part of the system……lovely place, lovely people.this is ‘our’ sleepy Mombasa…….

  3. My comments seem to disappear… ama you haven’t approved them? LOL.
    Bring the cat back. I will be happy to adopt it. Or Tamms can have a new pet.