Monthly Archives: November 2013

The luxury of leaving

Washing lineOn day 4, we stood in a circle and held hands while Lawrence – fondly nicknamed ‘the Pastor’ – asked that God bless my safe return. It was nearly dark: we’d waited a long time for Okwiri, who’d spent all day with a mechanic after some kids vandalised the friend’s car he’d borrowed to drive us into Dandora.

But there was still time for a prayer. ‘Does it feel like a ritual?’, laughed Okwiri, who seems – either from experience or instinct – to know where the great divides between Africans and Europeans lie. ‘No! It’s nice’, I said – and was glad I didn’t have to lie.

Their enthusiasm to work with me all week was heartening – though given that the chef at my hotel and my taxi driver seemed equally sad to say goodbye I don’t quite take it as a measure of success. Continue reading

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Contagion

I couldn’t think of a single follow up question. Or didn’t want to.

I was doing a quick interview with a woman on the street outside the school. Her kids often had to miss class because she didn’t have the money, she said. And suddenly, I was too tired of hearing it again. It was always the same, tedious story. Nothing changed. I couldn’t fix it, and I had no idea who could or would. What was the point?

Later, Okwany asked me for advice: his mother had lost both legs, his father was very old. They lived far away and didn’t have enough to eat. Later, when he hinted at the allowance we might pay them to cover their travel costs, I pretended not to notice, till the subject was changed. I wanted Okwiri to deal with that – even if we split the cost – I hated them thinking I was money.

But I wasn’t the only one.

‘They’ll all be saying, now you have money’, Teacher Alice told me, as we waited for the others to come back from filming. Continue reading

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Zero to hero

On day one, these people had literally never held a camera before. When we talked, at some point, about what they’d learned, one answer was: now I know that I can hold the camera like that [landscape format] or like that [portrait format]. Another: I know now that if the camera is further away, the objects look smaller.

By day four, two of them went out and – within one hour – came back with this (originally 15 mins of footage – I edited it down to 5):

Continue reading

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Taking your trash out

I know – another post about rubbish – but only because of this guy, who we saw frantically rooting around for plastic bottles and such, unknown to the driver. Somehow, he retains his balance round corners and over bumps, managing to fill a sackful before he jumps off, at the last moment – before the truck turns off the main road and disappears into the depths of the Dandora dump.

Trash-2 Continue reading

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Urban legend

Keep walkingNairobi, Nairobbery, they say. One of those places you’d never want to visit.

Except that you do, because there’s a buzz about this place and stuff happening like nowhere else on the continent: the developers and innovators building ‘silicon savannah’; the newspapers and corporations making this the bolshy media and business capital of East Africa; the donor money settling in offices here, trailing the idealistic and the cunning behind.

This is no hilly Kampala with her jovial motorbike-taxi drivers, or Dar es Salaam with her Indian bingo clubs and beach bars. This beast of a city has everything in more extreme measures: more choking traffic, more crime, more high-rise buildings and more low-rise shanty towns and all the problems they bring. Continue reading

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Making it work

Photo by Lawrence

First timers – photo by Lawrence

New project, new challenges.

Back in Kazo, the school was about 20 yards from my home; here, it takes a good hour and a half bouncing along the roads of some not-so-nice parts of Nairobi. The Kenyans I’m working with have zero experience of cameras (which also makes it a lot of fun), and I’m told we need to pay them something to compensate for a day of lost wages. And we have only four working days to do something meaningful.

At least this time, I’m not too surprised when we don’t start on time, or that attendance is somewhat, well, fluid. And since my expectations are lower – this is a bit of a trial, before a real (and funded!) project comes next year – it’s nice just to see where it goes. They seem to be enjoying it so far. Continue reading

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Keep driving

This is what a photo of  (my) fear looks like – taken from behind a blacked out (still moving) car window.  It’s the edge of the infamous dump in Dandora, a suburb of Nairobi. At 30 acres, it’s one of the world’s largest urban rubbish dumps, and a site of gang violence, pollution and daily desperation.

Dump Continue reading

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Land of opportunity

Impromptu interview with Erasto, a filmmaker who took me on a brief tour of Kibera.

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Slumming it

This morning, Okwiri and I go to Dandora. Many people know of Kibera, Africa’s second-largest slum. Dandora isn’t that big, but it looks pretty disgusting.

As for Kibera: I’d prepared myself for the worst. And of course, on a sunny mid-morning, the reality didn’t seem that bad. With hindsight, though, I realise what I’d been dreading were pushing crowds, aggression, shouting, feeling threatened. There was none of that.

The viewThat’s not to say it’s easy to live here. Continue reading

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No to nostalgia

RainWe finished the film, even with 4+ days without power; our main actor walking off set mid-scene; and people never turning up when they said they would. We screened it on my laptop in a dark classroom on my last evening in Kazo, to about 20 people, and it was kind of special to feel proud of something that I had not done: the guys had done virtually all the actual shooting, acting, editing.

But there’d been too little time (or energy, or electricity) to do all that I could/should have done. I could have done a camera class with the teachers and P2 class, could have helped Eliab with his CV, could have helped Godfrey with his dance website and Joseph with his exam prep, could have helped Shakul and Baker create flickr accounts, could have given Poul more time on my computer to play with Photoshop, could have done more editing with Daniel, could have taught Juliette how to use Excel and Word, could have made that brochure for Ronald, could have done more photo sessions with everyone, especially the latecomers, could have pushed further on the AIDS issue that was always sort of there but never properly discussed. I could have done more for so many good-hearted, courageous people. Maybe I need to come back.

Before the nostalgia sets in, I’d better remember the worst bits. Continue reading

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