When a Calendar Dies #ThisIsMyKenya

After more than 7 tiring days on the road, inspiration finds us.

Odysseys are often fun at the very start, and somewhat nostalgic at the end. After a few days on any journey, the body starts to give in, and the brain slows down to save the good juice. Even if one doesnt end up like the pirates on the open sea who would run out of water and begin to see mermaids on sharp rocks, the brain just starts to shut off.

The first to go are the lights in the creativity office. The brain switches that one off to save you from yourself, because that part of the brain sucks the most out of who you are. Then goes the other rooms, beginning with imagination, and improvisation. What remains is a huge shell of who you used to be, zombeying, automating some basic functions. You start to see things, to imagine scenes. You miss home. You lose track of days, and time, and distance. Your entire body goes into autopilot.?

These levels of fatigue have hit all of us. Magunga, at the Coast, was so dry a while back that he started wishing for some drama in his life. Ndinda, exploring the little patch of paradise called Takawiri Beach, has been complaining of fatigue for a while too. Yet we have the easy job. Ours is mostly to follow and write, to tell the story behind the shots that will soon hang on your wall and sit on the space on your desk, next to the small framed photo of your daughter.

The men with the tough job are spent mentally and physically. For them, this journey requires imagination 24/7, even when it is about how to stand on the edge of the earth for the perfect shot. Taking photographs requires its own sensei level of focus, draining the brain and the body, and threatening a full on shutdown. Yet we all knew what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up for this. Not just from the brief, from prior experience too.

See calendars are designed to die. They epitomize the cycle of life, the planning and preparation before the year begins, distribution, and then gifting. They will end up on walls in homes, offices, on lobbies in churches, small MPESA shops, dealers, dinghy hotels and five-star joints. Some will end up as gifts to loved ones, to ex-girlfriends, and to future bosses. But in 365 days, at most, that calendar will die.

Its death knell will sound on the 31st of November, when a keen secretary or receptionist will take it from the nail it hangs and do one final flip. Once that final sheet is exposed to the world, the last of the wilting process will begin. But it doesnt have to be.

When we walk into the lobby at Izaak Walton, which has stood in Embu for a century, an image of a Samburu man greets us. He stands on the curtain box on the window right opposite the main entrance, in what looks like a painted background. The image is distractingly beautiful, and oddly familiar. Something about it sounds like meeting someone youve met before, someone you know who changed your life a little but you cant remember their names. It looks like something you brought home once, and only dated for a while, like a month or something. Its a distant memory, one that we are too tired to dig up.

The man stands at the edge of the frame. A little beyond him, on his left, is a white frame that binds this entire work of brilliance into one of the most powerful images you will ever see. Its the end of a long day, so our view of him doesnt mean much at the moment. Someone suggests its a painting, a vindication of the brilliant play of colors in the background.

Much of Izaak Walton looks like 1910. Its wooden ambience gives it an authentic musky smell, one that is both welcoming and natural. Its design creates a sense of a cabin in the great outdoors, and the big wooden signboard at the entrance from the parking lot declares that Moscow is far far away! It doesnt seem or sound like a place that will live any permanent mark on our whirlwind of a journey, seeing as we hardly spend more than a night in a hotel. No such one-night stand should ever leave a permanent impression.

It is when we get to our rooms that it all makes sense. In my room, on the wall right opposite the bed, is another framed photo. This one has a man standing on a boat in the middle of the lake. There is sand on the boat, and he stands in the middle, holding a spade, looking the man who rules the waters. It is this image that finally makes sense. It is the Sand Harvester, one of the images that graced the 2014 calendar. It is one of Allans five photos in that first issue, and one of the most powerful. To him, it means October. The one in the lobby was the photo that graced January. It was taken by Mutua Matheka as he journeyed towards Turkana to catch the eclipse, and is one of three of his photos that made it to the calendar.

We meet in Allans room and by pure coincidence, in his, hangs another of his photos from the 2014 calendar. This one has two old men leaning on a fence, in hearty conversation. Its funny that of all the ones he took that made it to the calendar, and of all the rooms he could have gotten, he got the one with his favorite image. This one, he says, makes him smile. It still hangs in his house, a constant image of raw happiness in a rural setting. A feeling of home.

In Maureens room hangs Gathoni Kinyanjuis image of the diving man, in Kokans one of a woman washing a sufuria with a lake in the background, another of Allans images. In Brians hangs Migzs photo of the young girl in Lamu playing with football, and in Njoros, another of two ladies on a Lamu beach, walking and laughing like nothing else in the world matters.

See heres what happened. One of the thousands of calendars Safaricom printed for 2014 ended up in Embu, at the Izaak Walton. Someone flipped through the pages as the year sped past, using it for both aesthetics and function. Within a year, the function part was done.

Someone had a great idea. What if, instead of letting the calendar die, the dead parts could be shaved off and the beauty of the aesthetics used for all time. So someone sat down and cut through all 12 pages, cutting close to the frame of the photo and throwing away the dates. As if they hadnt mattered. As if people would not look back with nostalgia.

The frames were then bound with wooden frames, complete with a glass casing, by a carpenter. Room service then walked around, distributing the photos between the rooms. There might have been several calendars, I didnt stay for long enough to know.

Allan couldnt stop smiling. One imagines the feeling, one that feeling of gratification, as Gathoni called it when I tagged her on the photo on Instagram. It also did something else. It reenergized us all. Seeing your past work is often a form of inspiration because it shows you that you can. It reminded us all why we signed on for this 10 day adventure, and why we have barely slept in the same hotel for the last 9 days. Why despite covering about 2000km in a Landcruiser, and sometimes on foot, we have still woken up early the next day and gone out looking for stories to tell.

We left Embu and headed to Nakuru, through the Nyahururu Route. The last few days of our crazy route map will be spent exploring Kerio Valley, taking in the sceneries before we go home. Perhaps, in a few years, I will find an image from this odyssey at the most unexpected place, reminding me why art is forever.?

Owaahh, 2015

One story is good,

till Another is told.