I watch more films than I read books. That is something I probably should not say to a crowd of literatis if I still like my head sitting on top of my shoulders. But it is true. I am a late reader. I did not grow up in an environment where people read books. We only read for exams. I grew up in Migosi Estate in Kisumu where we mostly played ball at Migosi Market, went skinny dipping in the green waters of Kapenesa, fought little fights and great battles at Pab Remo (Luo for Field of Blood), raced with bikes around the estate and seduced the shopkeepers’ daughters so that we could steal sweets from their shops. There was no time for reading books. Granted, I read kidogo Sweet Valley. Hardy Boys, Famous Five. But that is it.

Movies however we loved. We loved Van Damme and Bruce Lee with his catlike sound just as he was about to get real dangerous. My favourite movie as a kid is “Snake In The Eagles’ Shadow” – a typical Kung Fu movie in which men can jump from the ground to the top a tree, balance on a feeble twig, run on water like Jesus, and had soundtracks more dramatic than the characters.

I am telling you all this because when I decided to become a writer full time, I was told that I should read more books. That writers tell and consume stories in the form of words – not moving pictures. I was also told that to become a writer, I needed to read the classics like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, and akina Ernest Hemingway. That is why somewhere in my collection of books sits a small book called The Old Man and The Sea which I never got to finish. It is one of Ernest’s last books, I think. I am told it won the Pulitzer Award in 1952.

I got bored with that book halfway. But someone else did not. Nick Jane Wright. Wright read that book, relished it and even named a hotel she built after it.

The Old Man & The Sea (the hotel, not the book) has been standing in Malindi for over two decades now. The building that it is located in used to be a house (just like all those offices in Upperhill & Lenana Road in Nairobi). You can easily tell from the old Swahili architecture; the big wide windows, the flowery arches in the doorway, the wall décor and the low hanging roof. It was a house, then became a beauty palour in the 80s and then when Wright got the space, she turned it into a hotel, naming it after one of her favorite books by Ernest Hemingway. I think she loved that book because she loved fishing in the sea when her back still bragged a strong spine.

It is very late by the time Team Osborne walks into this establishment for dinner. We have been in Garsen the whole day and we were tired. Four more days to go, yet, we can already feel our bodies telling us to slow down. Muiruri, our driver, recommends this joint. He says it would be a sin to visit Malindi and not try sea food at the hotel that serves the best of it. If it were up to us, we would have just gone to the hotel, jumped into the shower to remove the dust, and then hit the sack. But no. Muiruri persists. It is our last night in Malindi, and despite our fatigue we must live it.

The Old Man and the Sea is rather empty for a hotel that is so loudly touted. In fact for the time that we are there, it is only us and two odieros sitting two tables away, committing the most despicable sins of drinking alcohol- sipping cocktails from a straw. See, I am not a fan of cocktails. I think they are a waste of liquor. I think if you want to drink liquor, drink liquor. Mixing it up with sijui leaves and juice and fruit is sacrilege. It is an even greater transgression to drink this concoction using a straw. In public, no less.

I look away. I concentrate on the talk on the table. The team is recollecting events in Garsen. They talk feverishly about the women in Garsen. I get it. I get their anger. It was one of those encounters you have with people when you are out on the field that stays with you for a long time. Not even the delicious sea food on your table can get rid of the nasty aftertaste of meeting such people.

Old Man & The SeaDinner at The Old Man & The Sea

Let me tell you about it.

We drive into Garsen town at about midday. It is a small town. The heat has us downing gallons of Redbull and water. We find our subjects of the day at the chief’s camp. Oz and Emmanuel have an idea for a shoot. Our subjects are the local women we find there. Fortune speaks to them. Convincing them is not easy. It takes almost one and a half hours.  But they finally agree. And that is where the trouble begins.

One of the three women is particularly uncooperative. She thinks that she is just supposed to pose for one click only and then her part is done. We explain to her, gently, that that is not how things are done. It takes a number of shots to get the right one. She refuses. She starts to walk away. We beg her to come back to the set. She talks in something I think should be Borana, throwing her hands in the air as she throws a tantrum.

“Kwani how many photos of me do you need? Si I have posed and that thing has flashed? Will you add me more money?” We beg her to come back. She comes back. Just as Oz has take like two clicks, she starts again. “And why are we posing next to this old Landrover? Why can’t you take our picture while standing next to your van and the way it is new? And why can’t you just take a photo of us inside the chief’s office where there is shade?”

Now she is a model, a photographer and an art director. I wonder which marketing agency she works for here in Garsen. I can see Oz starting to lose his patience as well. Which is unusual. I know Oz loses his patience, just like any other human being. But he rarely shows it. He is angry. He shakes his head and clicks his tongue (quietly so that only I and Emmanuel hear it) while clicking his camera.

Osborne asks them to at least smile. Or act like they are having a conversation. She flies off her handle. “Now what do you want me to say, eh? Smile at what now? You think I can just start smiling like a mad woman?”

Oh, she says these things in Swahili. Sometimes she veers off and speaks in her native tongue and we know for sure she is not complimenting my sexy broken tooth. You can taste the arrogance in her speech. If her attitude had a scent, it would smell like has Athlete’s foot. The other two women have been cooperative all this time. They just stand and watch this other one. Fortune tries to negotiate with her but she would not listen. At this point Oz gets up and tells us to wrap up the equipment. “Let’s just go by the way. I can’t deal with this.”

We have faced rejection before. Even during last year’s Capture Kenya. This is not the first time. Just yesterday we wanted to shoot some young women. They were sisters. They said no, respectfully. The younger one was scared of being in the shot alone. The older girl is married, and she cannot do such things as pose for strange man’s camera without her husband’s approval. She said her husband would leave her if she did. “Now what will happen if my husband leaves me? What will I do? Will you marry me?” She asked Oz. We laughed. We said, “Ni sawa, we understand.”

But this is the first time we have felt insulted. And it is only human that we are pissed. It is blood that runs through our veins, after all, not gasoline. You know what;s even more infuriating is that in all this brouhaha, Oz timed an awesome shot of the three women. A shot which might be picked – meaning, that madam art director from Garsen might just get a boatload of money from Safaricom soon.

After a while, the sea food takes over the conversation. We forget about the long day. We forget about that woman in Garsen. We forget about the KDF soldiers who thought we were taking photos of them and marooned us for ages inspecting our things.

We eat in this old building. I have never eaten sea food before. I realize I do not like shrimp. Tastes terrible in my mouth. But not in the other’s. I am a Jaluo, you know. I am used to eating fish from a fresh water body. I am used to ngege, mbuta, obambla, omena and ponge. So I eat the food from the salty waters with caution. Lobster and crab are delicious. Calamari, however, is the gospel truth!

If you ever find yourself in Malindi, and you are craving sea food, walk into The Old Man & The Sea. The food will make you forget a hard day. Compliments to the chef, Patrick Lumumba. An old Luhya man himself from Kakamega who, at the end of the day, still goes back to his house to eat ugali before washing it down with tea.

Or visit it because it is a hotel run by a woman who reads. Her favorite quote of that book is on the menu; “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.” Basically, the person was old, but not obsolete. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or this establishment.

September is low season in Malindi. A town whose heart beats for tourism. The odieros are not around. So if you are in Nairobi (or any other place for matter), drive down to the coast. Help akina Patrick Lumumba keep their jobs lest The Old Man & The Sea shuts down the way Casino La Grilia did barely two weeks ago.

We need to have each other’s backs. This is our Kenya after all.


images shot by Samsung NX 300

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  1. I’ve been to the Old Man and the Sea, what a name, you can almost hear the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and taste the serenity of the scene, I was however cheated out of the experience by my travel companion. So yes its back on my to do list next time I’m in Malindi.

  2. End of the day goes back to eat ugali n washes down with tea… Typical.. Even if travels abroad he never forgets his flour!!!

  3. Loved the description.. I’ll be in Malindi next month so thank you for adding The Old man and the Sea to my list of go to establishments. I’m a foodie after all 🙂

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