The day behind the frame

Life is made out of a collection of moments that for some unapparent reason our brains choose to retain as a very vivid highlight.

One morning I was scheduled to travel by myself, with a company camera to try and film the activity at the hyena den. I had received a crash course about how to use this fancy equipment and armed with a flask and packet of chocolate digestive cookies (which are perhaps the most sought after item in the kitchen after food delivery day) I set out on the long escarpment road that about 40min later would take me to my tyre-chewing friends.

That morning I was the only one of our camp out and about, the boys had come home in the early hours of the morning after following other spots through the night in their hunting quest.

As most mornings I was admiring and enjoying seeing the hot air balloons set off and glide through the morning skies. The whole scene was made so intensively beautiful, sometimes I had to pinch myself to remember to take it all in, to take the raw beauty of everything around me and memorize it so that as the sight became a memory, I wouldn’t forget one single detail.

This particular morning the blue hues of the Mara were made more intense by the mist that still lingered after the previous’ night storm. Everything around us was in different shades of blue and purple that are so unique to Kenya and that I came to truly appreciate.

Mara morning glory

As I drove, coffee cup in hand (it’s a skill I’ve been perfecting through the years), I saw the car in front of me swerve to the left, confirming my suspicions: there were lions walking down the road. For an unknown reason, the truck in front of me decided to bypass the lions and drove away leaving me all alone with the intensity of the colours, the Masai Mara and 3 girls firmly walking towards me. I parked off the road and allowed them to get ahead of me, the scene that unfolded was pretty special

When they stopped, I scrambled inside the car to try and immortalize a moment that we shared.

It’s almost as they could also appreciate the uniqueness of the morning sky and the floating colours of the balloons.

All of us sharing the stunning view

Truth is they were probably looking at the herd of buffalo in the distance, which was sitting just below the balloons.

After this, slowly but surely cars started accumulating and drivers were asking me what I could see (that yellow square sticker does get people to try and figure out what you’re looking at).

“Lions. Walking there”

After they went onto the long grass, Titus came driving and stopped next to me.

“Mambo”
“Hello”
“What is there?”
“See down there, close to that mound to the right? The lions are there, stalking the topi I think. They were looking at the buffalo earlier”
“Oh, there. Did you see there is a cow giving birth in the herd?”
“Oh really?! No, I missed it. I’ll go check it out”

We sat in silence for a few more minutes, the lionesses kept approaching the topi and we could only see a black tip of the tail every so often.

“There’s a lonely bull there”
“Oh I see. Seems like they’re after the him now”

With baited breath we waited for some action to unfold, patiently waiting for the lions to approach their prey, hidden by the long grass. It wasn’t long before we saw the bull dash off in a full speed run. Horns held high, impossibly quick pace, the bull left the pride of lions as he found them: hungry, thus returning alive to the safety of the herd.

I decided to leave and head off to the hyenas who that day were hiding in the safety of the den. When returning upon where I had left the lions I got stopped by one of the guides:

“Why did you leave? The lions hunted”
“Oh no, did they go for the herd?”
“They got a newborn”
“Oh, where did they go?”
“They’re by that tree that they like to climb”

I eventually managed to find the adults that lead me to the tree they liked to climb, and at the base of that tree I could see the flicking tails of anger and growls that accompany a lion meal.

I didn’t get any more photos or worthy pictures of the lions that morning, even though I smashed the small screen of my camera swapping between my DSLR and the video camera in the attempt. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise (… maybe not as now I have to pay to get it fixed), but the one photo I managed to take before everything happened is a great way of triggering a succession of events in my head, the epitome of how a short moment that is captured and remembered so vividly, is only really a small part of a bigger picture in this unique way of life.

These little things that makes us remember this, these are the ones that make it all worth it.

The most bizarre conversation

In Kenya there is a clever system used to make payments that makes life out in the bush a lot easier. This system, known as MPESA, allows you to make quick cash transactions using your cellphone. Considering banks are hard to find but everyone’s got access to an SMS, it’s an ideal system to be able to purchase goods and pay for services in remote areas using just a cellphone.

Knowing how to drive big cars has been a skill that I never thought would bring so much happiness and mental sanity to my life, this has been mostly due to the freedom that roadtrips can provide. On a Sunday afternoon I got called to bring rangers, food and water to the boys that had decided to extend their time out in the bush due to a cheetah, her cubs, and their hunting attempts. A 3 hour roundtrip through the Masai Mara is never a bad excuse to feel happy with life, especially when shared with good views and good company.

After we had delivered goods and people, we meandered back to the camp enjoying the setting sun and sharing conversations about life, cultures and people’s habits when all of a sudden I received a phone call from a local number.

“Hi, it’s Colin. I sent you money by mistake on MPESA”

“Sorry, what?”

“I deposited KSH8500 into your account by mistake I need you to pay it back to me”

As the conversation was taking too long, and after having been scammed over cellphone companies in South Africa the previous year, I panicked and put the phone down. I don’t know how phone scams works exactly but I figured the longer I spent on the phone, the more risk I was in of losing money.

When I put the phone down and explained to Faith what had happened, she got angry.

“It’s a scam. See? It looks like a proper message but it’s coming from the wrong number. This is how they get you. I will call him, can I use your phone?”

“I don’t have airtime, only data”

“That is fine, I will phone him from mine, give him a piece of my mind”

And so she did, she phone and while my Swahili isn’t there (at all), I could tell from the tone of her voice she started telling him off… until she didn’t and it sounded like she was talking to an old friend.

“Maybe she actually knows the guy and they are friends, it sounds quite pacific” – I thought to myself, almost feeling guilty for hanging up as suddenly as I did.

As she put the phone down, she laughed and said to me:

“Well that was the most bizarre conversation I’ve ever had”

“Oh? What happened? It sounded like it was friendly enough though”

As she giggled, she then explained: “I started giving him a piece of my mind and I asked him: “Why are you robbing people?” What you are doing is illegal, why don’t you get a real job and stop robbing people?”

“And then what happened? What did he say?” – I asked barely containing my curiosity.

“Well, he replied: – Honestly, I’m in jail that is why. ”

WHAT?! He’s in JAIL?! – I couldn’t help but interrupting. I did not see this one coming.

Patiently Faith explained: “Yup, it’s a well known fact that it’s the guys that are in prison that do this but I never expected to speak to one of them”

I started laughing uncontrollably. “So then what did you say to him when he said that?”

Faith: “Oh.. ok, well thanks for being honest with me and telling me the truth. Why are you in prison for?”

Colin: “For robbing people”

(insert here incredulous face reaction)

Faith: “No man, I believe you can change. If you are this crafty to scam people you can surely get a real, honest job.”

Colin: “You really think so?”

Faith: “Yes man, I believe in you. I know you can change if you put your mind into it”

Colin: “Thank you, no one has ever said that to me before”

I didn’t hear the rest of what Faith had to say, by this point I had to remember to close my mouth at the most bizarre conversation I had ever witness in a Land Rover. I wanted to say something thoughtful, I wanted to stop laughing and the most unusual conversation of them all at sunset, on a roadtrip in the middle of the Masai Mara, but my survivor instincts kicked in first and all I could utter was:

“You know he’s got your phone number now don’t you?”

“Oh crap”

Random roadtrips have lead to some of the most real moments in my life. I hope her words on our random journey got to him and felt real too, I hope this bizarre conversation had a real impact and gave him a push to turn his life around.

To this day, he hasn’t used her contact number to scam her, so for now, we keep hoping.

Fashio (not) ista

One of the perks of living and working in the bush for me have always been uniforms. Strange thing to say I know, but for a girl that is incompletely uninterested and un-savvy about clothes, fashion and makeup, uniforms have been –ironically- entirely liberating for me. When I was 19 I went through my own uniform phase of jeans and white T-shirts because everything else required too much effort and a specific personality skill I do not possess. This personality trait has always been in complete contrast to my Italian relatives and the Venezuelan society of straight hair, pearl earrings and skinny jeans I grew up in.

The Italian girls in my family have got fashion down to the T, they wear high heels, always look spot on and just have this flare that my hippy soul will never possess. When I was 16 Fede and I were coming back from a wonderful Coffee Wednesday when insightfully she said to me that “if I ever get a daughter that dresses like you I will commit suicide”. Since Fede does love me and I know she wasn’t coming from a bad place, I suddenly realized that when reality hits you in the face you can do two things: either take it, or change it… I clearly just took it considering my fashion sense hasn’t changed since then.

Moving to Kenya for a few months brought some of these thoughts back to my mind. If I was to leave in a camp and out of one suitcase, khaki bush clothes where in order and a few sweaters just in case. I packed for a purpose and I thought I had been highly efficient until our bags got lost in Rwanda and ended up in Nairobi and subsequently in the Masai Mara, with no clothes other than the ones we were wearing: closed shoes for exercise, tank tops and a comfy jersey.

The morning after our arrival in Nairobi we were finally setting out for another grand adventure, the lack of clothes wasn’t going to stop us. I felt like Dora the Explorer, I had Spanish, a backpack and the sheer excitement of seeing a new place for the same time.

I felt unbeatable.
That is..

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Until… I realized that reality often doesn’t meet our expectations.

“Punfi, I don’t know what happened but I look like a crazy person. I could be an explorer to the outside world. Look.”
“No, you look like a crazy car lady that went to the shops”.

“So basically none of it works for you?”

“No, You should have worn your vellies with those jeans, and perhaps another jersey. That would have been better. But it’s ok, it’s you”

In a fit of laughter I realized that even my boyfriend’s sense of fashion is better than mine. I felt like Dora on the inside but to the outside world I looked like Elvira. Lucky for the both of us he knew what he was getting into from the very beginning, because what this photo doesn’t show is that to this day I still wear different colored socks underneath it all. I got power in my hidden madness.

Ps: Fede, if she is a girl, I will buy her her first pair of All Star Converse shoes.

 

 

Astrida

I didn’t have a conventional mother growing up. To this day she is a very complicated person to describe. Perhaps the closest person to her is Laura, and this is the very reason why when they get along the world trembles, but when they don’t, there’s war. From the fiercest warrior, to a catatonic Buddha she’s not easy to imagine.

She’s strong, that we all agree upon. When we were little she had the self love to realize that getting help from Tia and Omi didn’t mean that we were less hers, and that sometimes they were (and are) the other versions of herself we need to face different stages of our lives. She allowed others to love us as much as her and only now – where crazy politics make her go coo-coo- plays the “I’m your mom card”. Maybe earlier, but defnitely only when I was seventeen did she want to get rid of me as much as I wanted to get rid of her; obstinacy on both sides led to lack of understanding, and in a twist of fate, it led to Maximo having to handle female problems in a way he had never known how to.

In the constant flow of life she has changed, or perhaps she never has but growing up has altered the light under which we view her. The one thing I have always admired about her is her fearlessness to break free from the norm and her matter-of-fact self worth. She married the Italian, refused to go to University and due to a fight, started a business that defines her as the original wanderer.

“Where’s your mom?” Is a question we never answered with common thing like “shopping, at the store, visiting her friends, at grandma’s”. Our answers were always different and such as “in Nepal, gone to Tibet, travelling to India, going to the Amazon, Casanarito.. and my favourite: I’m not sure”. By no means does this mean that she left us behind and neglected us, the greatest gift she ever gave us was taking us with her, and for me, giving me a camera to start capturing the way I see the world.

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On top of table mountain, she refused to share her camera.

She has never been a person easy to define, and it hasn’t always been golden moments and happy thoughts. I still want to kill her some days, as I’m sure she wants to remind me she’s older and knows better, but our relationship has morphed into a sort of friendship that has become as unique as her. She has never been conventional and it was her foresight that supported me to leave everything behind and move to Africa at 22 – her greatest gift to me as of yet.

Por toda tu locura, gracias mamá. Felíz día de las madres!

When flooded turn back please

“When flooded turn back please” should have been the sign to greet us at the border when we crossed into Botswana… more than that, we should have listened. Old signs at the different accommodation stages that stated “Botswana is mostly a dry country going through a drought, please use water carefully” haven’t bothered to update humanity about the overwhelming amount of water that has fallen during the current and the last rainy season (although I believe establishment should remind customers that just because they are on holiday, doesn’t mean the water comes from thin air).

When my life had more Ocean in it, Fabia would always say “Rosso di sera, buon tempo si spera” (or the English version which I don’t find as nice to say: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight). Although I love water, I do not love rain. In fact, I hate it. It saddens me to the point of melancholy and it makes me ponder about everything I have ever done in my life and what could have been done differently. Because of this trait, during this trip I forced my optimism to see that tiny little tinge of red in the sky every sunset as a good omen, in hopes that it would be dry the next day… The optimism would last until sunrise upon being greeted with a stunning red sky, and then vanish as soon as the counterpart to Fabia’s saying came to mind: “red sky in the morning, sailors take warning”.

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Rosso di sera

Enthralled by the saying of older ages, we came to the conclusion that this was probably the best way to predict the weather. Sailors lives depend on the weather and rain patterns so it stands to reason that they probably know a thing or two about semi-predicting the weather (which I do not consider a science, as more often than not it’s wrong). The satellite map we were looking at was clearly wrong. In addition to these sayings we took to predicting approaching rain with the Coucal’s song. This is a bird known also as the “rain bird” and in many local communities it’s believed it only sings when the rain is coming – in our experience, they were always right.

Now that I think about it, the alternative name of this post should have been “Shut up Coucal” – Perhaps a bit more of dramatic flare there.

The deluge arrived on our second day, our game drive was cut short as we weren’t certain we would make it back to camp without getting stuck in the muddy tracks of the Delta. Upon our return, it was clear the rain would not subside so we took to one of the oldest “plans” ever made by campers in these areas: we took life to the ablution block. The bathroom area, being the only solid construction, provided our only escape to the rain. We moved our trusted camping kitchen underneath the safety of a thatched roof and we proceeded make a mean breakfast because, when you are sad and wet, what better cure than a hot cup of coffee and bacon and eggs wraps?!

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Breakfast is served

Seeing life still felt miserable and hours later the sky didn’t show any will to become blue, we decided (in what felt like a very grown up moment) to go all out and “upgrade” to the newly built, raised, tented accommodation. A tent where we could stand in seemed like a luxury and made us feel infinitely better of the prospect of being stuck in the camp indefinitely. We moved in as we were just settling in, the sun shone brighter than ever before… After all that fuss, the storm did eventually pass. What an unwanted life analogy we received. We took it with laughter, happy that we could at least go out and look for the lions, my new Spanish neighbour had seen that morning. In the end, we didn’t find the lions or much else that afternoon, but we had a very unexpected sighting that sent us home with a huge smile.

Maybe we were just saving our luck for this, because few other animals would have had more meaning for us.

Although the rain put a damper on our plans (pun intended), we had the most beautifully dramatic sunrise and sunsets – for a dramatic Italian hart like mine, well.. it was a natural reflection of how I felt.