Current location report; Room 2L, Royal Docks Hotel in Migingo. A small nondescript centre just before Mtito Andei, where buses from Western going to Mombasa make a stop so that passengers can pee. There is nothing royal about this place except that it is the best hotel that we can find in this neck of the woods. When we got here, we met a cock at the reception, which Fortune turned into dinner. Cock as in cockerel, not uhm, kìrìa.
The plan was not to spend the night here. The plan was to be at Lake Jipe today and then make for Taveta in the morning. But you know the way things are with photographers. When they have imagined a picture in their heads, it has to show on the camera. Otherwise their moods plummet. Like yesterday when Oz had planned this spectacular shot of an old couple in a sisal plantation which he wanted to execute. It could not happen because of these three bottlenecks; the owners of the plantation we wanted to shoot would not allow us. They want to keep their farm low profile. Two, we were inside Wundanyi, where people are superstitious and will not allow you to take pictures of them. Third, Oz wanted them in dazzling white clothes. Now how is that even possible?
See, I was with this same team last year. We like to play around with things. Even the craziest idea is considered. And with Oz, nothing cannot be imagined. He is like a witchdoctor. He will tell turn to Madam Producer, Fortune, and say, “I have this idea in my head. For it to happen, I will need a yellow scarf, a red banana, pink cows that gave birth to two female calves exactly three weeks ago. Also, if you can get me a four-legged flamingo that can speak French and Dholuo, that would be great.”
If you think that these requests make Fortune kill her neurons or cause her to suffer Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), then you have not met Fortune. She just says, “Sawa, give me two minutes,” at which point she will scroll down her phonebook, tap on a contact, speak for like less than a minute and then turn to us and say, “Done. You need anything else?”
“If we can get Obama in his underwear, shaving his chin while whistling to Sura Yako, that would be nice,” says Osborne.
Whatever goes on in Oz’s mind should be studied for a dissertation. Somehow, these things have rubbed off on his protégé Emmanuel. We could be driving through a place where, to be honest, there is nothing to be photographed. At least according to my eyes. But then Emmanuel shouts to our driver, Muiruri, to stop. He then climbs to the top of the van and points his camera towards the horizon. You will know he is pleased when he is constantly checking his camera, smiling at what he believes is a money shot.
These photographers are strange people. I do not know what it is about holding a camera for too long. Soon you become crazy. I can bet you my middle finger that if Emmanuel was to be called for Capture Kenya again next year, hopefully as the main photographer, he will ask his producer for a blue frog that lays crocodile eggs.
Yesterday we could not make one of Oz’s imaginations come through. The fault was in our stars. I thought that missing that photo was going to haunt us during dinner. That Oz and Emmanuel would sulk and mull over what could have been. They didn’t. That old couple in dazzling white clothes in a sisal plantation did not come home to roost. By dinner time, the mood was back to normal. Thankfully. Because I had just watched Man United kick Liverpool’s ass and I did not want that bliss ruined.
Today, though, we got lucky.
We left Voi at sunrise, got tickets into Tsavo National Park and drove towards Chyulu Hills. The idea was to reach Lake Jipe on the other side by sunset. But then again, Man plans and God laughs. He had his plans for us.
There is a place in the middle of Tsavo called Shetani (Swahili for Satan) Lava. When mentioned to you, it sounds like Shetani Lover – like it’s a place where Lucifer makes love to his concubines. It is a field of black nothingness. You will know you have reached the place when rocks are no longer the colour of earth. They are black. Blacker than midnight. That is a field of desolation, evidence of which are sharp remnants of molten lava that has cooled over the centuries. Around it are hills whose sides are just as dark that look like healed scars.
But do not be quick to judge Shetani Lava. A place is only as beautiful or as ugly as its story.
People once lived on the foot of these hills. However, one day, the Devil paid them a courtesy call. And when he visited, he made an entrance. The earth shook from underneath them, and then cracked open. Steam rose. The sky turned from blue to black. When they walked out of their huts, they saw red liquid fire trailing down from the top of the hills. What a sight that might have been.
I do not know what happened to these people. It is not documented on the plaque that tells the story of Shetani. All that plaque says is that the survivors, those who were left behind to tell the story, say that it was the Devil himself who appeared from those hills. Shetani had come to wipe them all out.
I have tried to recreate the scenes from that day from centuries ago. That day when the hills burst open like a broken heart and wept fire. I have tried to imagine what the people of Shetani were doing on the day Satan appeared on their doorstep. In my mind all this happened at night, because in my head that is when Satan rears his ugly head. I see a young man who had set up a date by the river with the girl that he has been eyeballing. I hear him telling her that her teeth are like sheep, or something traditionally corny like that. I hear him promising her the moon above them, if only she lifted her goat skinned mafiriri for him. I see the young man’s cheeky little brother hiding behind a bush, witnessing the moon-lit spectacle of a man seducing a blushing woman.
I see a mother warming herself by the hearth of a dying fire which she had used to cook dinner before – probably bushmeat. There is an old man sitting outside a hut with another old man, talking about old women because at the end of the day boys will be boys, no matter the generation.
All these people must have perished. Nobody can survive such a legendary doom. Not when they lived so close to the mountain. And for those who lived to tell it, did they find purpose in surviving this hell? Did they spend the rest of their lives mourning their dead, or did they think of themselves as the chosen ones? God’s favourites? The ones who the creator protected from Satan?
I wonder what the place was called before all this.
Osborne & Crew at Shetani Lava
All these remain questions. There is also the possibility that this infamous visit by Satan is just another one of those old wives tales. Much like Santa Claus. A lie that has been told over and over again, passed down through generations until it is become the truth.
Who knows for sure? Nobody. Who cares? Well, I for one do.
There was no way Oz and Emmanuel would have just let us pass through this place. Everyone should see it. Centuries after the devastation, a few shrubs have started growing in the area. The result is bits of little green shrubs here and there. It is as if the ground has started healing from the third degree burns from hot lava. It would be eons before the scabs disappear; before this place regains its original splendor. We will not be there to see it. Neither will our children, nor their children. But it will heal. Someday.
I wonder what this place will be called when that time comes.
Images shot using Samsung NX300