So we are just from shooting the wazees in the ocean. My three quarter jeans shorts are heavy. Damp with ocean water. Wet shorts mean wet underwear. Wet underwear is painful to the nuts. I feel thirsty yet I cannot even lick my lips or swallow saliva because they are so damn salty. I sit in Muiruri’s van with these wet shorts. He made us sit on polythene bags so that we do not wet his seats. That makes me feel like an infant. I feel like I just peed myself.
The rest of the team do not seem bothered by the state of affairs in this van. I look behind and see Emmanuel holding his camera, unperturbed. I wonder whether it is an everyday thing for him to be sitting with damp shorts.
Muiruri speeds down the narrow road to Sabaki Bridge. He has less than ten minutes to get to a famous baobab tree using a van that is fitted with a speed governor. Every time the needle dances close to the 80km/h mark, the van cries. If Muiruri ignored the pains of the governor, the car would just switch off and stall. Then we would miss the sunset that Oz is hoping for.
I do not like sunrises and sunsets. Not ati in general. By Jove, those things are blahdy beautiful, particularly when timed just right. What I do not like about them is being in the company of a photographer who is chasing sunsets or sunrises. Especially when the said photographer is late. There is too much tension. Quiet tension. Nobody speaks. Everyone is praying to whatever they pray to that the sun slows down so that they can catch it in time.
But the sun does not care.
You work with its schedule. It is like setting up a meeting with the CEO of a big shot company. He does not need you. You need him. Therefore you do not get to dictate when and where to meet. He does. The sun is always on the move. At 6pm it begins its homestretch for the horizon. It moves faster when it is setting than when it is high up in the sky at midday. I do not know why, but it is always in a hurry to get home early as if it has a curfew.
Lucky for us, we get to our baobab just as the earth is wearing this mighty star like a crown; when the sun has changed its hue from white to orange, and is bleaching everything else around it. As we are wrapping up our equipment, some chaps sporting big dreads on their heads come to scene. They tell me the stories of this baobab tree that I could not help but share with you guys.
The sun moves faster when it is setting than when it is high up in the sky at midday. I do not know why, but it is always in a hurry to get home early as if it has a curfew.
This baobab was the home to Mekatilili wa Menza. Yes, the mama who led the Giriama to fighting the odieros when their big boats docked at the Kenyan Coast, dank with the horrible stench of slavery and colonialism. This woman had balls. Balls of steel. Aki Owaahh do not give me stress. She was not a footballer for Chrissakes. I know you know what I mean.
This baobab tree, as explained by the two Bob Marleys, housed Mekatilili during the rebellion. Ati she dug space in that baobab tree and used it as cover. They also say that Mekatilili could change into a bat from time to time at will. She was not just a human being. She was a demigod. She used to leave the baobab tree, cause chaos and headache to the white man, then ran back to her tree. Please, do not ask me why she decided to run when she could fly. I do not know. I only work here.
The storyteller of Sabaki Bridge, Kilifi County
I have heard such stories before. When we were younger, my aunt Anastasia used to regale us with tales about Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. That he could change his form into faeces. In hindsight, I do not know why I never asked my aunt this one question; “Of all the things Jaramogi could change himself into, why did he choose to change himself in to a pile of shit?” Look, for me if I had such superhuman abilities I would change into something that makes more sense. Something awesome and cool. Like a Mercedes. But Oginga was not clever. He was just, in a manner of speaking, full of shit. Perhaps it is a strategy that I do not understand.
Imagine this. You are a colonial police officer. You want to do right by your queen. You are chasing after someone. A wanted criminal. You see him duck into a corner, but when you get there, what you find is a mound of faeces. A very hot, very brown, freshly caked pile of fudge? Crap-o-mundo! What would you do? Arrest it? Put the diaper gravy in a paper bag and read it its Miranda rights saying “Listen here you little piece of shit. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do or say can be used against you in a court of law.”? If it smells so bad that it repels you, will you add resisting lawful arrest to the charge?
The rasta guy tells me that on the day the colonial kanjos finally realized where she was staying, they decided to cut open the tree. They dug a hole through the trunk she was hiding in. But she would not let them catch her. She turned into a bat and flew off into a nearby place called Marafa where she asked a few drummers at a ceremony to beat drums for her. They did. As they did, she started dancing. Whining her waist like a snake girl. Dropping it like it was of high temperature. Dipping it down low. They beat drums for her and she twerked. She twerked like a socialite in the presence of a sponsor. And the more she shook her money maker, the more she started sinking into the ground. Slowly. She danced until she disappeared into the ground.
The people of Marafa fled the moment she sunk into the earth. (I wonder what they were waiting for all this time – the moment she changed from a bat to a woman, I would have already sped off.)
Her name was Mekatilili wa Menza. Bad ass woman. This is the version of her story that we did not learn during the History lesson. I met her legend with wet underwear that gripped my gonads tightly. Yet that did not stop me from relishing her tales. The Bob Marley brothers say that she was never seen after the great dance at Marafa. So the next time you see a bad ass chick dropping it like it’s hot, take a long hard look my friend. Because that is what legends are made of. Forget what Tusker Malt will tell you.
Time check: 12.40am. I am in a room with Emmanuel Thuo. His wife just called to promise him a long relaxing massage when he gets home. I do not know whether that is code for something. From the pink blush on his face and the giggle, I think it is .
Tomorrow we hit Mombasa.
images shot by Samsung NX 300