Turtle Bay Resort’s kitchen staff meandered, dancing their way around tables last night, carrying this chair adorned with leaves and twigs, like an imperial chair reserved for royalty. They struck at pots and pans and drums, singing some birthday ditty. Odieros looked up from their soup and rare steaks, thrilled by this African spectacle. Eventually they stopped at our table, sang a birthday song and lit candles on a cake sitting before Muiruri, our transport coordinator and fixer. This was Lillian’s thoughtful gesture.
Muiruri turned 36 jana. [Happy birthday, waziri.]
Kevin wasn’t at the table when all this was going down. He was on a long briefing telephone call with someone from the production team in Nairobi. When he got back his mood was low. “They don’t like the monkey shots,” he sighed. “Did they say why?” Lillian asked.
“They said they are too touristy,” he mumbled, absentmindedly pushing the cake around on his plate with his fork. We sat there in brief silence. “Oh well, at least the monkeys had free bananas,” I wanted to say but nobody was going to appreciate that statement, least of all Kevin. The shot in question was one we did at the Gedi ruins. It took Kevin about four hours to nail it because they had to convince one of the monkeys to perch on top of this chap’s shoulders and have him eat a banana. The monkeys weren’t having any of that monkey business and made it very hard for us. They kept fighting and monkeying around. Eventually Kevin managed to take some quick ones and we were all excited about this triumph. Now you will never see those pictures on the Safaricom calendar. We could have made those monkeys famous.
“That phone-call has messed up my mood, man,” Kevin confessed to me as we walked back to our rooms after dinner. “I saw, bana. But it’s jobo,” I told him. Then he said, “Plus, I don’t have any clean clothes left, you guy. Do you have any clean clothes left?”
Yesterday wasn’t a good day. The opportunities to shoot unexpected shots were few. There is mounting pressure from Nairobi to get in more shots, wider shots, calendar shots, shots good enough for Bob to “hang in his digz”. On the ground the situation is different. Location scouts promise the world and deliver a village. For instance yesterday we were promised that we would find hundred of thousands of migratory flamingoes that had decided to stop at Sabaki river, a truly unique spectacle because flamingoes just never stop in Malindi. In our heads we saw an awesome shot, of a sea of pink, perhaps with a leso-clad villager in the foreground, balancing a jerri can of water on her head. So we got there and found like four flamingoes. They didn’t even look healthy to begin with. At this point, in your head, you look at the scout with that preposterous look of, “Uhm, so where are the rest of the 198,460 flamingoes at?”
Yesterday we couldn’t gain access to the salt plantation in Gongoni, Malindi. Red tape. We also thought a shot of some sand harvester would be grand, but we got there and found a terrible location. There was also a point when you shoot a group of chaps, and later some of them decide to announce that they don’t have identification cards even though the scouts expressed to them that they would need them to have their pictures taken, which means you can’t use their images anymore. Which means you have wasted your time. Yesterday we didn’t get the right shot of a kite surfer because the only person who could surf was an odiero (no odieros in the calendar). We managed to get some black local chap who was under training, but the poor guy kept crashing into the sea. Or attempting to fly off to Asia. So you will forgive Kevin if he’s crying over his monkeys. He had sowed small dreams in those monkeys.
Today is a week since we left Nairobi. We were warned that it was going to be grueling but nobody expected these very early mornings and late nights and such little sleep. Kevin doesn’t have any more fresh clothes. You can’t have your clothes laundered because we hardly spend two nights in a hotel. We check in at 9:30pm and check out as early as 4:30am to go find Kevin a sunrise shot or start moving to the next location. Tonight, as I write this, [WARNING: TMI ahead] all my boxers are either damp or dirty because there is nowhere to dry them after I have washed them – unless you count the side mirror of the moving van. So tomorrow I’m going commando until I find a supermarket where I will buy those cheesy underwear written Caterpillars. I can’t wait.
We all miss home. Sleeping in a strange bed everyday messes up your sleep pattern. Days like yesterday you crave being able to sleep knowing that you will find clean and freshly ironed clothes waiting for you the next morning. My bag looks fuller now because all my clothes have been thrown in, not folded. I miss not having to look at the menu or a waiter asking me, “will you have the tomato soup or the garden salad for your starter?” I want to throw food in the microwave and hear it hum as I stand there in shorts waiting for that sharp distinct “tiiing!” that announces that food is served. Seven days on the road is rough.
The only good part of today was this turtle we saw at the beach in Watamu. A turtle called Bill. You should check out the picture of Bill on my Instagram: bikozulu. [Admit it, Shiku; I’m getting good at this self-promotion thing, right?]. I saw Bill being carried out to the sea like a war hero. Turned out he has been sick for three months now and every so often they bring him to the sea to swim. Trivia: How do you know a turtle is sick? They can’t float in water. Poor Bill doesn’t even swim. He just waddles by the shore, too unwell to venture into the water. That turtle made us appreciate life more. I mean, so what the monkey shots were rejected? It could be worse. I mean, look at Bill here, not being able to float. I bet that really messes up a turtle’s self-esteem. I bet Bill feels worthless. I mean, if he – a hard-backed turtle – can’t even float, what else is left for him?
However, the good chaps at Turtle Watch in Watamu – a facility that takes care of sick turtles – are trying to treat Bill. So today, as you whine about traffic jams in your city, think of Bill and how he must feel. Be empathetic for a change and say a small prayer for him. No, seriously, do.[Photo credit: Kevin Ouma]