I did not believe it. I did not believe the first time I was told that these days, thievery is shifting style and MO from pinching wallets and phones on the streets, to pinching hair. Dreadlocks mostly. That some rasta man in a matatu from Kawangware, could be sitting with earphones plugged in, perhaps listening to the praises of Haile Selassi, oblivious to the guy behind him with scissors harvesting his dreadlocks. Ati these days dreads are in such high demand that Brazilians are getting jealous. This could be true, because 7/10 of the artists I know have dreadlocks, including my elder brother who recently become a reggae musician shouting ‘pwo pwo pwo and wolan shotadem and pulloooooooo wagwan DJ selecta!” …all the while turning me into a video fox. (If you are hoping for a link, you might as well bet your life’s earnings that pigs are registering at Nairobi Aviation.)
But on Tuesday night, it dawned on me that this shit is real. That having dreadlocks in Nairobi makes you a target. In worse cases, they kidnap someone, shave him close to the scalp and then let him/her go. That is why this lady Osborne wanted to point his camera at was reluctant to show up. Her name is Lucy. Until Wednesday morning, she was a legend in our bus. Osborne kept talking about her hair, how long and nice it is; how good a shot it would make. He sounded like her salonist, like he waxes and sets it for her. He even went ahead and got her contact himself. That is how badly he wanted her. For a pose, I mean. He hooked her up with Fortune, madam producer.
This is what cut.
Fortune calls Lucy and tells her about the Safaricom Capture Kenya initiative. For good measure, she even throws in Bob Collymore’s name. We are supposed to pick her up the next day in the morning for a photo shoot because Osborne has decided that he wants the session on an empty Kenyatta Avenue, right next to the three Carrier Corps (Kariokor, as coined by our Italian brethren from Central) statue.
They agree, Fortune and Lucy. Easiest money she is going to make in a lifetime. When Fortune calls again to lock the details of time and place of pick up, Lucy has had a change of heart. She is not convinced that Fortune is from Safaricom. Someone, a neighbor, has warned her that this may be a ruse to grab her and shave her lustrous locks.
Now she (Lucy) will not pose for Osborne. Fortune is frustrated, she throws her phone on the seat and holds her head with her hand. She calls back and begins to beg Lucy, telling her how much we have already paid kanjo and deferred other shots just for her, and blah blah blah blah about how Lucy should just show up. Fortune begs, she implores, she prods, she invokes God’s name, and when everything else fails, she resorts to emotional blackmail. Nothing. Then she gets cranky, and you will know that Fortune is losing it when she starts using l and r interchangeably. Lucy says no means no.
I understand where Lucy is coming from. If I got a phone call from a Kikuyu lady asking to pick me up at 5.30am in the name of taking pictures of my dreads, dreads that I have nurtured and babied for fifteen years, I would not agree. For all I care, she could be running a racket from the basement of Langata Womens Prison.
If it were me, I would simply say “Matina ya kairetu wa gathaka ini. Haicwo ukome!” and then hang up on her arse. I also wouldn’t care if she said Mahoya or Haki ya nani sitaki nywele zako.
It takes the intervention of a mutual friend, some locations guy that Karanja knows who stays in Kawagware, to convince Lucy that we are not in the business of selling hair. We actually prefer weaves, Brazilian till we die. It is even tattooed in our blood cells. She agrees. I am dropped off at my house in Langata.
The following morning, Osborne gets his shot. The king is happy, and so his loyal subjects get a feast- a royal breakfast in Lavington. But first, let’s shoot some football jugglers at the Railway Museum.
Here he is a little grumpy about the weather. Ati mara ooooh, the clouds are too thick. Mara ooooh, the sun’s rays are not bright enough. Fortune wishes she could fix this for him. Yet all she can do is manage a prayer to Mahoya to wipe the sky clean and blue, then increase the sun’s brightness by kedo 500 kilowatts.
We will later spend the day chilling at IQ offices in Lavington, resting. At this point of the Capture Kenya journey, we have been reduced to a bunch of red eyed sleep deprived zombies operating on fumes and cans of Red Bull. Osborne throws himself on the couch and quickly drifts off into an illegal nap. I do not sleep. I am self conscious about dozing off in public because I might have a weird snore I don’t know about, or I could fart in my sleep. The loud kind of fart that is all show and no substance; it makes a grand exit, but does not smell. It is just embarrassing.
Three o’clock finds us in Kibera again. We have pushed the sapeur shoot till Sunday, because looking good takes time. Pretty hurts. We are in Kibich for the ballet dancers of Spurgeons Primary School, taught by one Mike Wamaya. When you ask Mike where he learnt ballet, he will look at you and say the word ‘Europe’ with such well meaning pomposity. Because Europe is a simply town just across the salty waters. If you ask where in Europe, he will say England. Again, in his tone, you will sense some pride; the kind that one gets when he feels privileged to have been somewhere many people only wish for. I feel jealous.
The van pulls up in front of the Lohana Mahjan Mandal Temple, Desai Road. We are supposed to be covering the Navratri Festival that leads up to Diwali.
We were here last night, with the help and guidance of Aleya Kassam, whose calves Johnny fell in love with. Our driver wouldn’t shut up about Aleya’s calves.
“Haki hizo teke warai!” He said, stroking his kitambi, which he still insists are just bloated muscles.
That night we weren’t so lucky. We were late. We only got one lousy shot that made Osborne’s skin crawl. Our contact Kamal insisted that she could make it happen again today, on condition that she gets to be in the shot. Why the heavens not? It takes one vain person to spot another.
We meet some flamboyantly dressed people. They are early for the shoot. Little Aladdins run around causing mischief. Jasmines stand and stare at us, shocked at how black a man can be. They are pretty Jasmines. No pimples. It is like God ran sandpaper over their rough edges before dropping them on earth. Smoothly spun into perfection.
I am Osborne’s assistant. We set up the lights. A man who has been kneeling in front of the altar walks up to me.
“Who sent you?” He does not exactly ask it like this. His English is strained. In fact he is profusely kind, talking to me with his palms together as if he is making a prayer to me.
“I am the priest of the temple.”
“I am Bob’s chief goon.”
He goes ahead to say his name. I swear I heard Navio, like the superstar Navio who flew in for Coke Studios the other day.
He nods. Then says no. And I am confused. I hand him my Samsung Galaxy S4. It is not really mine; Ogenga lent it to me because mine is coughing through an oxygen mask after a nasty fall. I open the S Memo pad. He takes long to type his name, longer than it takes tSN to reverse her Cami into a parking spot. It’s a struggle with autocorrect before he is finally done.
It reads Mehta Mitesh Pandit.
He shakes his head and smiles and says yes. And I am even more confused.
“Nice to meet you Mehta. Magunga. Magunga Williams. In that order, I am anal about my nomenclature. Mr. Man over there calls me Maguuh. But my friends call me Goon or just G.”
He nods. Then shows me around the temple. He introduces me to Goddess Nav Durga Swarup.
“Maybe after this when you are not so busy, we could grab a beer?” I offer “Wambugus Grove maybe? It’s convenient for you because of its proximity to the temple. Iko tu hapa Parkie.”
I am kidding. I do not ask him that. I just pussyfoot my way out of that conversation about shrines and goddesses. It usually gets uncomfortable and heated when we talk matters religion. Ask the Christian Union peeps in my campus. It is out of respect that I wriggle my way out. Which is a pity because Navio, sorry, Mehta, is a really cool chap.
Kamal and her group of friends pose for Osborne’s photo. He clicks at them. Of course with his camera, silly. Nkt. They pose with red dancing sticks. Aleya had said that some wahindis love their dancing sticks jealously. I am taking behind the scenes video and photos with Karanja’s Samsung Galaxy smart cam, but when Osborne is done, I am all of a sudden morphed into the official festival photographer.
They pose. I click. I wish for that moment, the foot would be on the other foot, and Osborne would be the one taking behind the scenes pictures. Me whining about lighting and clouds and having Fortune, Karanja and Johnny respond to my every whim. None of that happens.
Kamal asks me to take a photo. I remember how Osborne does it. He goes to the ground and tilts his head and clicks. I copy, like the master’s apprentice that I fancy myself to be. Kamal gets uncomfortable. I move closer.
“What are you doing?”
“I am trying to get a clear shot.”
“No no no no! Move back.”
She covers up some parts where flesh was peeking. My goodness! What does she think that I am zooming into? Sweet Durga Swarup! I am not like that, am I Aleya? Si it is Johnny who thinks wahindis have nice calves?
The shoot ends. It is a little into the 8pm hour. We retire early. Tomorrow we leave early for Oloitoktok, Amboseli and Namanga. Msingi Sasis had invited me to some reading Binyavanga was doing along Ngong Road. But I won’t make it because I need to grab some chicken for my house mate, Mukundi. It is his birthday. We are boys. Real boys buy each other chicken for their birthdays.
All the way I wonder if Aleya has mluhya’s calves. To be fair, she did spend some time in Bungoma. But still, uh-uh. I think our driver is just full of it.
Dear Yemi Alade, please come for this your Johnny.
[Photo: The Shrine of Lohana Mandal by Osborne Macharia
Model: The Goon #UnexpectedKenya]