I think when you wake up in the morning your destiny has already been decided. [Oh, sorry, this will get slightly introspective.] You can’t even begin averting your fate. You were born a pawn. Your card was dealt a long time ago. So all the misfortune and fortunes that will befall you were already pre-meditated. The gavel long landed. This assignment has reinforced this belief, now, more than ever. I will explain.
To shoot this calendar for Safaricom, we drive around regions, looking for unique unexpected images about Kenyans going about doing unique things. When you chance on you and we take your picture and we give you some few thousand shillings. (We might even throw in branded tee shirts and caps if you were a complete trooper.) If you finally end up being selected for the calendar you will be given more tens of thousands of shillings. If your picture gets into the coffee table books you will be added more money on top of that. Of course you also get to come to Nairobi [some folk are actually dying to see KICC], where you will shake Bob Collymore’s hand. Maybe even squeeze a selfie. If he’s in a good mood.
Now for these people we run into, that kind of money is a big deal. It boosts their small businesses that have a profit margin of 50 bob a day. It buys new goats. Pays a whole year’s fees for their kids. It buys the entire family news shoes. It transforms their lives. After three days on the road, I used to imagine we just chance upon these people. But today, I realized it’s all been preordained.
Check this out.
At this quarry in Kwale, we met this chap called Solomon who agreed to model for us. Solomon was a royal pain in the ass. Had a lousy attitude, had a problem with taking instructions and basically looked like he would rather be digging a latrine than do the shoot. I’m quite impatient with buffoons like him but Kevin had a knack to deal with this kind of people tactfully. So I moved on to chat with this other miner called Bongo who had come to see what was going on. Bongo didn’t even have to be there. We chatted for a while before he went back to his workstation about 50 meters away. After the shoot, our location scout suggested that we speak to Bongo as an alternative. Kevin liked him, so we shot him and Lilian gave him his cut, and a free tee shirt.
The thing with Bongo is that he hardly ever works on Sundays. But he was there today for some reason. And if Solomon wasn’t such a toad, we wouldn’t have asked Bongo to do the follow-up shoot. You see how fate was always dancing around Bongo’s ankles?
All the while we were taking pictures with Bongo in Kwale, some three girls hundreds of kilometers away in Taita were singing in church. Two of them will be sitting for their standard eight exams in a month’s time. They all come from a very modest home at the foot of a hill. As we drove around the winding roads of Wundanyi [that place is breathtaking, check the picture out on my Instagram: bikozulu], we saw them, seated on a rock, quite far from the road. It’s baffling that we even saw them at that distance. [By the way did you just see how I pushed my Instagram? That was my social media guy’s idea.] We parked at the edge of the road and climbed up to them. After consent from their parents we shot them. One of the kid’s father, told me he hoped they make it in the calendar because it would help greatly with the secondary school fees. [Fate nodded thoughtfully.] The kid wants to be surgeon, she told me. I can assure you, they will either make it on calendar or coffee table. Fate will make sure.
It gets weird. Done with his kids, this old man asked us to drop him to the hospital on our way to see someone, but half way there he changes his mind and instead offers to take us to this place called Mwachora, which has a vantage point for sunrise that Kevin wanted to check out. After climbing up a steep hill for 25 minutes we finally found that the view actually sucked. As we prepared to head back this gnarly old man walks out of his boma to greet us and asks us what we were looking for before proceeding to take us behind his house onto this awe-inspiring cliff that opened into a 100 meter plunge and out into a breathtaking vista. It’s almost like this old man had opened a secret door that led to this fantastic location.
Kevin had found his shot for sunset for the next morning but also the old man, with his weathered face, got to model. And get paid. If you saw his boma you’d know they need every last red cent they can manage.
Do you see what I’m talking about here? People being at the right time at the right place? Nah. Are all these chance? Fate? Destiny? I’m convinced we are marionettes. We end up where we end up because we are needed there. Because we are sent there. [I’m not pointing fingers, God no!]
But even better is just how grateful these chaps are when we hand them the money. [I hope you saw what I did up there with that God thing.] They hold it with both hands, like it’s brittle. They grin so loudly; showing chipped stained teeth, that they look like kids again. They bend at the waist respectfully, cupping their hands together to receive the money as if it’s liquid and it might flow through their fingers. One Mijikenda touched both of his ears in gratitude. They thank you profusely to the point it embarrasses you. [I hope no one took offense with that God quip, lakini.] You see something new coming alive in their eyes and when you go, you know they won’t forget you in a hurry. And part of this journey for me, is just to see how humans react to these acts of kindness and generosity. You travel the breadth of Kenya and glimpse into the spirit of Kenyans and it truly amazes me that we even abuse each other on social media because of our tribes. This is beyond money. It’s beyond free t-shirts. These people see you as human beings first.
As you read this, we are probably headed to Kilifi. Kevin is probably singing off-key, as he has taken to lately. [I have a whole blog post on this.] Lilian is probably dozing off at the back. Hussein will be staring blankly at the running trees outside. I will be at the front with Muiruri, reading or writing. [I’m reading a very well written book – Rules of the Wild – about this odiero mama who writes about Africa and Kenya. Is there anything more annoying?]
Back in Kilifi, someone will be going about his business, probably someone who would have prayed this morning for God’s intervention. Unbeknownst to them that help will be coming in form of us. His prayers might be answered by us. I’m not saying we are God’s messengers. All I’m saying is that this shit is twisted. That this shit is bigger than us.
Shalom.[Photo credit: Kevin Ouma]