Where the hell to begin… Is it with the dwindling memories of a shoot that ended a month and a half ago? Or the insanity of reinserting ourselves back into a life that we simultaneously decided to turn upside down? Or maybe a description of the early October deep freeze.
What I do know is that leaping into spontaneous renovations, swapping rooms between your daughter‘s and your office, and having a garage sale while you purge stuff you’ve had for DECADES, is not what you want to be getting into the day after you get back from a long trip. Especially not when you have a gazillion grant deadlines coming up, and hours and hours of material you’re dying to sink your teeth into.
But I suppose you all deserve at least some closure from the Kenya leg, so let’s start with that.
That my friends is the well-named Big Willie, the Kenyan sound guy who did the days I didn’t. He’s as solid as he looks, with a steady hand on the boom and a strong arm to guide a cameraman. Plus, as a guy who grew up in the slums, he’s another legitimizing factor to let us pass through with relative ease. Between him and Vincent, we’re good for locals.
Vincent, who impressed Annika & I so much that we had a split second “let’s make the film about him instead” moment. Well, not instead, but afterwards. We’ll see how that pans out. But on my last day in Kibera he brought me to his pad, half way between the top level (train tracks), and the bottom (shit-packed open cess-pits). It’s an off the beaten track joint, tiny but with everything he needs, and from what I saw relatively quiet. He read aloud an essay he’d written about Kibera, growing up there, fighting for justice and never giving up. After spending some time with him, those qualities were the easiest thing to believe about him.
So when Annika shattered her toe on the bed frame, we found that the only thing she could wear on her feet without doubling over in agony was her flip flops. Just what you want to be wearing in a shit-strewn slum. Sweet fucking jesus man. I swear I heard a “crack” on the impact, right before the blue streak of cussin’ words that flew out of Annika’s mouth, in Swedish, English, French, and I’d swear a bit of her rusty Nepalese. Whatever language she used, the inflection was clear: “I’ll destroy you bed frame. I’ll cut you up, burn you and make you pay.”
Somehow, she managed to marshall her strength and head back out to Kibera, wondering what other cruel joke the universe had planned for her.
For my part, I just spent time keeping Sirianna from running all over her mom’s feet.
Pick up day. Annika needed to rest up a bit after weathering the dust and intensity of Kibera several days in a row, and the exhaustion of the pain in her foot. She looked after Siri while Alex, Jack & I went hunting for shots of Nairobi proper, including a mechanics “slum”, a cliffside where guys tear apart any car that doesn’t move, the downtown business core, which was disapointing after the senses shattering vistas of the cooler downtown area where our driver pointed out huge holes in the gangsta’-grafitti-covered local buses, where actual satelite dishes used to sit until the municipal powers that be decidced they made the vehicles too lopsided when they drove. Damn right.
Then we went to the train station for the innevitable ride through Kibera. You pull out of the station and pass two golf courses. After the second one you’re in the middle of the dustiest place I’ve ever been, home to 1.5 million people, Kibera. It’s like “WHAM!” One second you’re looking aat a field in the distance, the next you’re inches away from an endless row of rickety steel huts. I’ve seen the view from the train in a few movies, but nothing prepared me (or the camera!) for the dust. Sweet mother of god. For a minute there we couldn’t even breathe, and we were some of the lucky ones inside the train instead of hanging off the top and sides. Outrageous conditions, but it rolls off the locals’ backs pretty easily, so maybe I’m just really spoiled. At one point along the tracks there’s another golf course, separated by a high cinder block wall with broken glass mortared onto the top as makeshift barb-wire. And on the other side is corrugated tin shack roofs as far as the eye can see. TV antennas on seemingly all of them and people, people everywhere.
We got off at Kibera station, just past the end of the slum. With dusk gently setting in there was a beautiful deep blue sky to contrast with the intense red of the dirt.
Nairobi & Kibera. It remained extraordinary. If it wasn’t the fleet of dudes running around hauling rickshaw style carts stacked with water behind them, it was the mountains of bags of shit laying around the slum, or the workers who put the man back in manual (for the tiniest goddamn thing). Or maybe it was the traffic, which is best described as a parking lot. You’d likely make better time by sitting there with your eyes closed, trying to WISH yourself where you’d like to be.
What I can tell you is that the pool water was extremely cold, which was occassionally a problem since I was the alpha babysitter during the shoot. It was the Kenyan winter after all.
It was amazing for Annika and I to have Sirianna there with us.. For practicality’s sake we tended to eat at the hotel most evenings, and she’d end up piroueting around the dining room to the sounds of the staff pianist, so so would we. She charmed the hell out of everyone, but more importantly she’s just a phenomenal kid who’s energizing to have around
Annika and I had had a few talks about whether or not to bring Siri to Kenya, or India, or Latin America, the obvious issue being that we’re going into slums, or since it would mean one of us would have to babysit while the other handled the shoot. But just seeing how well this amazing kid would settle into ANY environment, and just the warmth of having her around… Well, like I’ve said to Annika before, if we can’t work our family into what we do then what’s the goddamn point. As it turns out, the more acurate way of putting it is to say that having her with us only makes the shoot better. She’s magic. Annika was initially concerned, as the one who’s closest to the project, that her mommyhood could be distracting, or vice versa. But on the contrary, she found that at the end of the day, Siri was an incredible reward to come home to. She helped her to focus, and galvanized her resolve on long difficult shoots. And I think those of you who’ve had the good fortune to be on the receiving end of a full-blown Sirianna hug-tackle know what I’m talking about.
As we had just the one bed in our room, and with the work being pretty exhausting, Annika would go to bed with Siri at around 9, while I’d go down to the lounge and transfer all the footage on to the backup drives, then my AVID. Long process, but it needed to be done. And at least it kept me abreast of what was going on out there, on the days when I’d be taking care of Siri.
And that took us all the way to the end of the shoot, and to be honest we were ready to head home.
There was the little matter of the wolves, who’d been at the kennel for the last five weeks. But on the whole, it was simply time. Living, working and travelling with your partner is great, but it can take a toll. We got home exhausted and not a little bit overwhelmed. We had with us countless hours of footage, a burden of debt after having been obliged to sink some of our own money into the production, and a lot of questions about the future. Are we insane? Is this the right path? Does anybody care about what we’re trying to do?
On the other hand, the rush of being in a place like Kibera, or meeting someone like Vincent, or working on something that has the potential to create real change: powerful arguments all their own.
The answers to those questions are still out there somewhere, not for lack of looking. And rather than stand still and waste time sorting it out, the better option is to rush head first into the adventure and force it, bend it into shape with pure will.
Next: We illustrate the foolishness of rushing head first into an adventure and forcing it, bending it into shape with pure will, when you’re already exhausted.