He was excited. He felt like a celebrity. For years he has been doing this mundane, yet very important, job of opening the water taps at the Mosque. He maintains the area. Cleans it. Basically makes sure that everyone who comes to the place of worship does so with convenience. I do not know what it is like, doing that job. My sensibilities tell me it is a thankless job, but hey, that is just me.
I wish I caught his name, this old Somali man from Daru Salaam town. I did not. However when we parted ways that evening, he shook every gentleman’s hand with a smile and asked which tribe they are from. Which is a usually a very tricky question to be asked when you are very far away from home. Everyone in my team said Kikuyu. Except me. In fact for me, there is no need to even lie that I am anything else – not with this accent, not with the concentration of melanin on my skin, not with the majesty in my voice. I am a jaluo through and through.
“Wewe ni jaluo?”
“Ndio.” I said, hoping that this would not be a problem.
“Unajua nyawana ni nani?”
“Ndio,” I still did not know where he was going with this because nyawana is how a groom’s mother would call the bride’s mother in Dholuo. So basically it is a term for in-laws relations between mothers.
“Nyinyi ndio waliua msichana wangu.” He said, and I did not know what else to do. My heart pressed the gas pedal and zoomed off to 100 beats per second. I wanted to drop everything and start running north towards Nyanza. I mean, what else can you do when an old man says your people killed his daughter? There and then I knew that the least that could happen was Osborne and Emmanuel missing the chance to take a photo of him, given their association with this jaluo.
But you know what? That is not the reason Oz did not get to shoot this man. In fact, he did not even say those words. I guess I was too busy expecting the worst that I heard the worst. What he actually said was that
“Nyinyi ndio mlioa msichana wangu.” Surely you can see how that one letter makes all the difference. He grabbed my hand with a firmer handshake by way of ‘see you later’ and then hurried off to the Mosque. Leaving me to wonder which of my people had married this man’s daughter.
He still did not show.
Here is my theory as to why. Just after he had left, Oz took a picture of a mama vending her tomatoes on a motorbike. It was an event at Daru Salaam. People gathered around to see Oz take photos. People got excited when they saw Oz’s equipment set up. Some came and asked us which news channel we worked for, and for the life of me I badly wanted to say “Top Gear.”
Someone must have seen the size of those cameras and the flashing lights and all the din that comes with being Oz’s model for the day. This someone whispered in the old mzee’s ear, played with his gullible mind and told him, “Hawa watu wa Safaricom wako na pesa! Ask for 40k before they take a picture.”
He did just that. He demanded 40k before anything else. Fortune tried to negotiate, but nothing.
Here is why that request is unreasonable.
When we go round the region, the idea is to pay the people we shoot something small as a form of gratitude for giving us the time of day. The photographers take pictures. Then we send them to the big people to inspect. If they choose a particular image to be used anywhere; be it in the calendar, coffee book, billboards etc, the subject in that photo is called and given a truckload of money. Easy money. Money you did not think you would land on when you woke up in the morning. You just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
We had explained all this to the mzee. But when the time came, he asked for 40k. That was his final offer. Take it or leave it. We left it and he left us. This was in the morning. He was supposed to be shot by Oz at sunrise. And just like that the idea we had for the first shoot of the day was ruined.
Word count check: 830. This was not even what I wanted to write about. It was meant to be the intro. It is only that I wanted to tell you this story properly.
What I wanted tell you is how photography is not easy. Every time we see a beautiful shot on Instagram and Facebook, do we stop to interrogate just how much work is put get just a single photo? Are you one of those people like me who just double tap, download them into our gadgets and use them as screen savers? Or even worse, do you download them and use them in a website without even bothering to at least credit it to the photographer?
Going on Capture Kenya tours gave me a whole different perspective on taking photos, and the work behind them. The equipment is damn expensive. And heavy. And you have to move around with it. Then you need to convince people- most of whom have outlandish demands, while others, especially when you are shooting in the countryside, need to be convinced that you are have not been sent by a juju man.
Which brings me to that Illuminati story with our producer, Fortune. Today we needed kids to shoot. Fortune went to look for kids in a nearby neighbourhood. One of the kids’ uncle considered Fortune’s hair and concluded that she is a member of Illuminati. Diablo in the form of a producer. In his opinion, she was going to feed his nephews and nieces to Baal.
Fortune’s Illuminati hair
I have long since learned to look at Fortune’s hair differently. In hindsight, enyewe she is weird. She drinks too much tea, which by the way never stays in her system because she keeps stalling us to go to the loo. Then there is her hair. It is short, relaxed and dyed to a golden yellow. When the retiring sun licks her head just right, her hair looks like a flame. If the old man says she is illuminati, then there is a chance that she might just be. Si wisdom comes with age?
Since I am not the type to take things for granted, I am going to take any chances either. There is no way I can die before climbing an aeroplane one more time. I have envisioned my death in my mind so many times – I die a hero in many of them. A glorious death. A death that is left behind on the lips of those left living. Not because some chick with golden hair and a bladder problem decided to sell my soul to the Illuminati of Kia Njege, Murang’a County. Come on, that cannot be how I go. It is such a bullshit death. That is not how a man named Magunga should die. Me I would come back just so that I am run over by a Mercedes. At least that one I can explain to my ancestors.
It is 12.55 am. This story can go on and on. There is a lot to say, only that we have 6.30am call. Let’s cut to the chase. The point here is not that Fortune is yet to prove that she is not Illuminati. The point is that photography is not easy my friend. So respect it.
We start for Malindi in the morning.
images shot by Samsung NX 300