We normally pray before we leave. Since Kevin started it, he normally leads the prayers. I know what you are thinking; that we hold hands in a circle and someone sings a short dull Catholic hymn before Kevin launches into serious prayer, where his lower lip trembles and he swallows hard in between verses. Naah. If Kevin were praying behind a curtain you would assume that he’s having a conversation with his boy. Like God is the kind of guy he asks if he received his WhatsApp. Here is how he prays and I’m not exaggerating:
“So Lord, we are about to set off on this awesome journey but usingizi huyoo, but it’s all good, I’m sure you will keep us on this course. We pray that you help Biko get anaa deadly story, Muiruri on the wheels to drive this moti safely, Lilian to organize this maneno of models flawlessly and…er…uhm…haiya how can I forget this guy’s name – ? [“Hussein!” sighs Hussein from the back] – Yeah, keep Hussein well pia.(We all chuckle). Also not to forget our other colleagues spread across the country, protect them, Lord. We are now headed to Taita to get a shot of the sun, manze it would be cool if you cleared those clouds so that we get a deadly shot that will make the other teams heshimu us. This is not about us, Jehovah Lord, this is about you because we are not worthy, Lord. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen!”
The first time I heard him pray, I turned back to see if he was letting us on. He was as serious as Ebola. “I realized that God loves me unconditionally and knows me as Kevin, he knows my identity more than I know myself,” he explained to me. “Prayer is a conversation, like talking to a friend who knows you.” He says he grew up with the thinking that God was the kind of guy who walked around with a frown carrying a big stick, but when he grew up he realized that that didn’t sound like someone who would sacrifice his son for our sins. “The God I have come to know is the God who wants to embrace me for who I am.”
“Are you saved, man?” I asked him.
“Yes.” He smiled.
Sometimes you meet people and you make your judgments, and then you spend lots of time with them and they say or do something that makes you turn around and look at them with a fresh pair of eyes. Most saved people I know are a bunch of annoying segregating stiff folk who think they have complimentary tickets to heaven and look at us like we catch pints with Judas’s relatives on the daily. They are overbearing folk, unyielding and very judgmental. And to think we are the lost sheep and should be treated special! I honestly think we will find a lot of saved folk in hell and surprisingly it’s chaps like Timberlake who might just end up in heaven.
What I’m saying is that I’m honored that I’m in the same team with Kevin. He’s gracious and kind and respectful even though he bursts into random odd songs like Brian Adams. [Who sings aloud to Brian Adams?].
Yesterday we woke up at 3:45am because Kevin wanted to take a picture of Mwachora Hills in Taita. After picking up two cops from the cop station (security) and driving an hour from Voi, we were deposited by a dark roadside at the foot of the hill to commence a 25-minute climb to the summit. Because I’m a genius I only had a windbreaker on. Well, the wind broke through it – and my resolve – even before we set off.
It was pitch dark and cold. Kevin led the way, using a small flashlight, followed by me, then Hussein, Lillian, Muiruri and the two cops trailing behind. All around us Taita slept in this abnormal chill and silence. We trudged up, through the smell of dew, past the silhouettes of trees that now looked like disjointed limbs of extraterrestrials. We walked in silence, our breathing getting heavier as we gained altitude. We passed outside little humble homes without fences. The smell of the previous night’s fires followed us. That smell of shags. There was also the smell of wet grass and the exotic scent of flowers that blossom at dawn. An odd sounding bird called out. Cowardly dogs barked at us as we passed behind homes. At some point, Kevin and I stopped to pee, the sound of water on soil like miniature waterfalls. I bet Lillian envied us, peeing there while standing.
We summited at 5:33pm as planned and sat on the stones next to the cliff that plunged about 900meters into darkness below. A wind blew towards us, freezing our ears and exposed fingers. I don’t want to say I was miserable. Not yet.
Kevin checked his camera for the umpteenth time, one eye cast towards the east where the sun would rise. “You know,” he said, “This morning my wife called and we prayed that we get this shot and when the wife prays you know its going to happen.” I rolled my eyes in darkness. “How long have you been married, Kevin?” I asked.
“Two and half years?”
“Honeymooners. You wait, after five years she will be praying not for sunset but for lightning to strike your ass!” We chekad loudly in the cold, but fleeting dawn light. At 5:40am our model, the mzee I told you about yesterday – Benson- showed up.
The clouds over the hills to the east started dissolving slowly. The greys eased up.
Kevin briefs the old man on how to pose on that stone. He moves dangerously close to the cliff and lies down. I can’t even look. I have a phobia of heights. The only sound is his clicking camera.
Benson tells us about a woman who fell off these cliffs. “We picked up pieces of her at the bottom.”
“Jesus, she died?” Some moron asked. (Me). As if they picked her pieces, put them together, superglued her back together and now she sells eggs at the shop at the foot of the hill.
It’s clearing. On top of the clouds in the horizon we start seeing a slight glow of deep orange. The clouds below seem to curdle like sour milk. “We are almost there guys,” announces Kevin. He steps too close to the edge and lies down. I can’t bear to look, I feel like throwing up in fear. “Come on, man! We want the shot of sunrise, not a tragedy!” I whine far away from the cliff.
“I’m good.” He says.
I wouldn’t lie down there, at the edge of that ominous cliff; if the New York Times offered me a weekly byline and a Brazilian model for inspiration for each week’s story. No story is ever that serious.
6:01 She’s coming out. Look at her. The tip of the ball lights up the landscape below in deep orange and crispy browns. The sour clouds seem to disentangle and scatter in her presence. She rises, majestically, like she knows she’s the main act. Although it’s still freaking cold, we stop feeling it because the scene fills our bones and hearts with warmth.
Kevin clicks frantically.
6:12: She is now suspended above the landscape, a large perfect ball of deep orange. “How often do you just come out here and watch the sunrise?” I ask the old man, and he turns to look at me like I just spoke in French.
He says he doesn’t.
He says he only comes during the day to relax once in a while.
“Have you ever gotten tired of this view?”
“So what do you think about when you come here?”
“I don’t think. I just look at the scene, it’s the best place to take in the whole region.”
But seeing this sunrise wasn’t even the true beauty of this story. The beauty is that after waking up at 3:38am, walking up the mountain in the cold, in pitch darkness, and then waiting for the sun for half an hour, with our ears and fingers frozen Kevin decided that the pictures he took weren’t “good enough” and didn’t submit them.
Jehovah Lord, this is not about us. This is about you. That’s all I will say.