I have seen Oz put his life on the line for a photo of someone balancing himself and his chicken on a bike. Imagine! A chicken. And Oz is not even a lunje. Oz does not even like chicken that much. But on that day,at the rooftop of Lornho House, Oz exposed half of his body so that he could get a good angle. As in we are twenty something floors up on the roof and this is what he does. He lies so that his upper body is dangling freely on the brink of falling. As he dangles, he holds his camera in such a way that in case everything goes south real quick, his camera will be saved.
On that day I saw Fortune cover her eyes like she is an emoji. Only that she was not blushing. She was hoping that this chicken was worth the risk Oz was taking. Being a producer, she is responsible for the people in her crew, especially her photographer. She begged him to move a little from the edge of the building, but Oz could not hear her voice over the sound of his clicking camera.
For me, I just stood and watched. I pretended not to be bothered, even though deep inside I knew that in case shit hits the fan, I would not bring myself to tell that story. Where would I start? Who would I tell that story to? Would I talk ill of an already dead person and say that he was too stubborn? Too hard headed to listen to better counsel? Lakini Oz does not care even a little bit. Taking photos is his purpose in life. His passion for good photos challenges you to find what you are really willing to live for…and then be ready to die for it.
You should listen to him when he speaks of some photographer who was killed by a bear. What happened was that the bear walked into the said photographer’s tent at a campsite. It stood at the entry and growled so loudly that it woke everyone up. People must have run away, because the poor chap was left inside the canvas by himself to face one of the meanest, unforgiving and territorial creatures ever. Knowing that the sands of his lifetime had already trickled away, and that he was looking right into the eyes of the reaper who would take his life, he unleashed his weapon. His camera. The next day they found this jamaa lifeless, and in his camera’s memory stick, a picture of his killer.
When Oz narrates this story, he tells it as if he admires the guy. There is a smile on his face when he tells that story. A smile that I would be more than glad to slap from his face if only Fortune would let me.
Today we got to Malindi. For me, that is when I really felt like I was at the Coast. We have been to Wundanyi, Voi and Mtito Andei but those places do not feel or look like Coast to me. I guess it is because of this image in my head of what a Coastal town should look like. I have equated Coast to palm trees, sand and beaches. And the ocean. If I cannot smell the ocean, then I am not in a Coastal town or city. It does not matter that the ocean smells like something old (which it is) and that I find that musty smell does not excite me. No ocean, no coast. Voi and Mtito look like Siaya county. Very dry. With sand that can be carried away by the wind so easily. You will know you are in a coastal town with the beach sand finds itself on the tarmac.
The moment we got to Malindi, Oz and Emmanuel had already prepared a shot in their heads. The location was the old Malindi bridge where kids strip and jump into the waves of the angry evening ocean. I do not think I can stay on that bridge for long. I will spend a long time ignoring the sunset – the way the sun peeps halfway on its way down and dyes the old mass of water orange. I will ignore the boats that are coming back to the shore because the tides cannot let them stay in the deep sea past their curfew. Instead, I will look at the kids and reminisce about how life is one helluva party when you are still young.
Oz chose the old Malindi Bridge because it is less known than other iconic places in Malindi. When we set out to cover the Coast, we made a pact as a team that we will not take the kawaida regurgitated photos of the coast. We did not embark on a ten day trip just to take photos of places everyone has done. We set out to tell different unfamiliar stories. So that means no shots of the Vasco Da Gama pillar or Gede Ruins.
Oz and Emmanuel
Which brings me to my suicidal photographer.
In the evening the ocean is pissed off. Its mood takes a plunge. I do not know just how well Oz can swim in an ocean that crashes its tides against the poles of a bridge with so much fury. Yet he again decides to put half of his body on the edge of that old bridge just so that he can take photos of some dancers in the sunset. He balances himself there and trains his camera on them.
“One, two, three…haiya tena. Again!” he shouts to them. The dancers launch themselves into the air. They spin on their heads. They swirl with their hands. Oz lies down at the edge of the bridge. He does not care that the wind is too strong and that it might throw him off unexpectedly.
I look at him and shake my head. I want to tell him that it is never that serious. I want to tell him that attempted suicide is a crime. But I do not want to be that guy who spoils a party. Nobody likes that guy. It’s that thing about living and letting others live as well. Even though in this case letting him live would be letting him die. Which is still confusing because living is the process of dying. At the end of the day, we are all dead men walking.
Oz keeps on ringing on death’s doorbell.
One of these days it might just answer.
When that happens…
Wacha niachie tu hapo!
images shot by Samsung NX 300