Day 230: Drone slices piece of epic New Year's Eve party [video]
The new year had a bloody start for the Dice Man. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THE electronic house beats shake the ambulance as a Red Cross medic inside helps me. We're only moments past midnight. I'm their first patient of 2017.
The multiple cuts on my arms ooze a dark red blood. The nightmare that haunted me for the last couple of days as I prepared to fulfill my role for the massive Kilifi New Year's Eve party was nearly realized.
The original plan was to leave the fairly expensive, but extraordinary backpackers, Distant Relatives, on the 27th. However, the 20 dollar a night price for a bed in one of the dorm rooms was offset by the communal kitchen area, where I was cooking up messes of veggies and eggs with coconut oil three times a day.
By the 26th, it felt like those of the sprawling, inclusive Distant Relative family who weren't officially employed at the hostel or working on the Musafir were volunteering for the festival.
There were only two options that could justify me sticking around for a few more days despite the cost of the entrance fee: either the die needed to demand that I do so or it all had to be free. The latter, of the two options was a clear winner.
“Should I ask about volunteering now?” I asked the die.
It said yes.
I first asked Christine, a very dark, very thin, very beautiful 26-year-old Kenyan who runs the office. She bounced me and my question out to Gareth Glitter, an artist and top-flight bartender with a bit of a belly and an aversion to shirts and shoes.
One day, we found Gareth shirtless outside of Tuskys – the Kenyan supermarket chain – waiting for someone to get a rope he needed to hoist a giant octopus into a tree. He was waiting outside because he'd forgotten that people needed to be dressed to enter Tuskys.
“Hey, Gareth, do you guys need any more volunteers?” I ask when I spot him leaning over a sign being painted for the bar area at the festival on the property next door.
“I don't know, let me ask.”
“Do we need more volunteers?” He shouts to someone around the corner in the commons area, presumably near the bar.
“No,” came a firm reply.
“I guess not.”
“Oh, okay. Well, I know you have one drone already for the event, but I also have a drone if you need me to do some videos as well.”
“Are you good?”
“Let me check with Tom.”
Tom is one of the co-owners of Distant Relatives and also the man who has to be everywhere all the time for the Kilifi NYE event.
Tom didn't even bother look at any of my previous footage; he simply had the same question Gareth had: are you good?
So, just like that, I made the very short producer list alongside people who had been working tirelessly on the event for months.
Liam, a curly haired DJ and event manager, who I could only keep track of because he was always wearing the same patchwork hat, wrote up a production brief for me.
For compensation, they'd supply me a tent, all food would be free, drinks would be half-price, and entrance would be free. Additionally, I would have a plus one and would get 30 dollars cash for food, as well as drink vouchers for the event.
“We believe that the stunningly beautiful setting of this festival, our attention to detail in the bespoke stage set-up, décor and lighting, and the beautiful audience we attract are key elements to be featured. Drone footage will be especially important in showing Kilifi New Year in its context, including village life around us and the journey to the festival, both DAY and NIGHT,” the brief read.
Last year, the event boiled down to a 1,000-person house party on the sand volleyball court in front of a stage set up at Distant Relatives. This year, they're taking it to the next level, turning an adjacent plot into an Octopus's Garden. In the boughs of an enormous tree sits a psychedelic octopus with laser eyes and LED tentacles that stretch more than six meters into the branches. Next to the tree is the main stage: a custom designed conch shell made from thick bamboo beams.
A nearby bundle of spindly trees has been turned into a coral forest, the bombies and soft corals glowing in the presence of black lights. Though I doubt they realized it at the time, the orange and green glows of the corals made from old plastic bottles and other trash look the same as the real stuff underwater when exposed to black lights. Not so long ago, Kiwidivers in Phuket started offering black light diving trips to see the glow.
Rectangular hay bales are spread throughout the large area for people wanting to chill out, there are about two dozen food and retail stalls and a huge bar area lit with fairy lights dangling from tree branches, as well as a campsite with showers and bathrooms made from local, organic materials.
The organizers describe the event as, “a radically creative two-day explosion of music and tropical beach culture set on the gorgeous banks of Kilifi Creek in Southern Kenya. Incredible performers from around Africa and the world come together to put on a unique, technicolour show celebrating the intersection between African and World electronic music. Kilifi New Year is a celebration, a location and a journey all in one”.
Remember that enormous tree with the giant octopus? That is what nightmares are made of for drone pilots. When I took up the position of drone producer for the event, I had no idea that the entire grounds were blanketed in tree cover. The branches of the octo-tree encompass the main stage, dipping down low, perhaps three meters from the ground before arching back up as they return to the thick trunk.
Day after day, Dorsey II, the drone, and I practiced flying as high as possible while still working our way under the branches. Even after Gareth hacked back a few of the most obstructive branches with a machete, it was going to end up being close flying to a rave of wild, drugged up dancers at night.
As 2016 comes to a close and 2017 quickly approaches, the dance floor isn't as packed as I had feared. Outside of the tree cover, there's room to for the drone to take off.
I can wrap it up this point. The ball has dropped, so to speak, and I got the spectacular shot of the white strobe light pounding out across a pulsing crowd of happy people
It was the most epic New Year's Eve party I've ever joined. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
One last shot, I think, shuffling into the crowd, sending the drone back up toward the green laser eyes of the octopus. Once the shot starts, I slowly work my way backward through the crowd. Johnny, the security guard I recruited to help me, does his best to stop me from stumbling into anything as Dorsey and I prepare to exit the dance floor.
Distracted by the branches Dorsey can't sense in the dark, as well as by the crowd jostling the remote control, I fail to see the battery warning pop up on my screen.
Low battery; preparing to go home.
Dorsey starts to rise up so she can head home, but there's a roof of branches above.
It's not until I hear her blades grazing the branches only two meter or so above the crowd that I realize what's happening.
Dorsey's blades touch the branches and she panics, dive bombing the crowd, her four rapidly spinning propellers heading for a girl's face. Leaping up, I snatch the drone from the sky. The propellers rake my right arm, slicing it up as I hold her above the crowd.
Dorsey fights me. She knows what she wants: she wants to get high and go home. She pulls against me with all her might as I wrestle her out of the crowd. Her blades are spinning as fast as they can. Even with her feet on the ground she's trying to go home. Unable to remember how to kill her. I dip one hand under the spinning blades to yank out the battery.
Dorsey II stops.
She's dead; I'm injured.
It doesn't hurt, but blood is oozing out of the cuts on my arm.
It looks bad.
Johnny insists on taking me to the ambulance on site.
My whole body, unlike Dorsey II's, is completely alive. There is a euphoric elixir spreading through my limbs after narrowly avoiding a complete nightmare.
“Ouch,” I say, jerking my arm back before the medic has even touched it with the cotton ball to start cleaning it.
I smile and give him a wink: “Joking.”
He and the other medics laugh. There's four medics taking care of me. Well, technically there is one medic taking care of me and three watching the action.
“What happened?” ask the head medic, a big man with dark black skin and a great smile.
“Lions. I thought there weren't supposed to be any lions in here.”
They laugh again.
“Seriously though, it was the drone,” I say to comfort them, as they appear worried that I had gotten into a fight using a broken glass bottle or something of that sort.
There is no pain. There's no clamminess, nauseousness, unusual paleness or other signs and symptoms of shock. It looks worse than it is.
It's taking forever to bandage up the cut in the bright florescent lights of the ambulance. I'm sweating so much that the first bandage the medic puts on won't stick, so he he has to wrap up my entire right forearm with gauze, making me look like a burn victim. In the meantime, a group of Indian-Kenyans have carried an unconscious friend over to the van.
“He's had too much to drink,” they explain. The medics are fairly uninterested, leaving the man on the ground with his friends until they're done watching the head medic finish wrapping me up.
“What? You guys haven't taken picture with him yet? What kind of friends are you?” I ask the group. “You've got to do the hunting safari poses with him.”
While they're taking pictures, I do my best to be a patient patient. I want to get back out there and find Synnove to get my New Years' kiss. Nothing too excessive, but don't people get kisses at midnight? I'd told her to find me when I left her on the hay bales to go get the drone footage.
Synnove is my plus one.
I met the 21-year-old Norwegian girl two days ago, I think it was too days ago. She's strikingly beautiful with delicate features, small ears and lovely long brown hair, but that's not what got me. There are many beautiful woman out there. Rushing to conclusions, one might say it's her eyes. But it's not her eyes. It's the glances, the steady eye contact drawing you toward her, the subtle timing of the movements of her hazel-green eyes. And she is everything but oblivious to this allure.
She hadn't planned on staying for the NYE party, but the plus one ticket and general buzz had held her in Kilifi for another day. After hours of heavy, enjoyable flirting, it was time to at least get a little kiss.
Released from the ambulance and high on the situation, I search the outskirts of the crowd for Synnove. Not spotting her, I dive into the crowd.
She's working her way off the dance floor with a guy following close behind, his hand on her waist drifts down to her ass.
It's hard to tell if she minds or not, I slowly start to catch up to them, but have no plans of interrupting – possessive men are a plague. She might be my plus one, but I don't want to be a dick about things.
The guy leans in for a kiss, but she pushes him away.
I recognize the guy. It's the same guy that was aggressively hitting on me on the dance floor earlier tonight when these sick latin-afro beats were being mixed by one of the DJs. He's a broad shouldered, tan Kenyan with rugged facial hair, who is now living in Seattle. He was persistently speaking to me with his hand low on my hip on the dance floor, I would have bet 100 dollars he was gay. Though not interested, I always take such things as a compliment. Perhaps it was all some strange power play? Lord knows.
I tap Synnove, picking her up as she turns around.
“How about this instead?” I ask, hoping to get that little kiss.
“Okay, even with this?” I ask, holding up my arm.
“Here, lets get a drink.”
We head toward the bar, the Seattle guy trailing behind like a lost puppy. Synnove drifts back to him as I make my way through the crowd at the bar. I lose them in the crowd.
This is shit.
I grab a drink from the moito bar, which always has the shortest lines, then cut to the outer edge of the area in order to avoid the couple. This is exactly what's wrong with having expectations.
The couple spot me and walk over.
“So what happened to you arm?” Synnove asks.
“The drone and I had a misunderstanding.”
“But what happened.”
“I told you. That's it.”
We're all sitting on a hay bail, the electronic house music is pounding in the background. The smell of hay mixes with wafts of flavored hooka smoke. Synnove and the guy share a cigarette.
Fuck this. I get up to go.
“Okay, I'll catch you guys later,” I say wandering off.
She catches up with me.
“What's wrong? Why won't you tell me what happened to you arm?”
“You seem a bit preoccupied.”
“Like you were yesterday?”
Yesterday, Synnove and I were sitting at the long table at the center of the large common area of Distant Relatives playing dice games.
Why the damn dice wouldn't sign off on a coconut oil massage still frustrates me, as we were both game. Nonetheless, it didn't. It ordered us another round of the local cocktail known as Dawa: lime juice, honey, vodka and a Stoney Tangawisi (ginger soda). The drone was out on the table in front of us, my laptop open. First a music video producer wanting to do possible work with me as a drone pilot sat down next to us. Unconfident in pronouncing Synnove's name, I don't introduce her to the producer and I talked about drone stuff. Shortly after he leaves, James Corder, who is a middle-aged Californian man and the official film producer for the event, as well as a director, writer, actor and TV producer, saddles up next to us.
Synnove eventually lost interest and headed to her Airbnb.
“Sorry about being rude last night and getting caught up in all those conversations! Let me make it up to you and at least give you my plus one ticket to the event,” I wrote the next day. “You don't even have to hang out with me while you're here.”
“All right... If you insist. Thank you darling. You can be my company as long as you don't bore me to death.”
I made no promises, as I believe in managing expectations.
Now, her sudden affinity with the man with the drugged up look in his eyes and a desire to get laid hardly seems comparable to my interactions with producer the night before, but there you have it.
“Are you jealous?” she says with her charming, slight lisp, or perhaps its a Norwegian accent.
“A little, but I like being a little jealous,” I say. I like it because it rarely happens, it's one of the benefits of having a deep-seated confidence. However, when it does happen, it's a feeling – and I like it when I have feelings. “I'll just catch up with later maybe.”
Back at Distant Relatives, a two minute walk down a sandy road, I start to re-think the situation. It's disappointing, but what else am I going to do for the night. I wander back over. Synnove is sharing another cigarette. She only smokes on holiday. She also only has sugar and milk in her coffee on holiday. She spent last year on the road, traveling South America, living in Panama, being thrown into jail for poking a top cop of Panama in the face with a dick shaped cocktail glass – she's got some stories.
I sit down next to the guy to establish group dynamics, rather than some silly competitive nonsense.
“He's the first African that I've talked to that doesn't have a problem with gay people,” Synnove is telling me.
“What they want to do behind closed doors is up to them,” he says.
Synnove heads to the bathroom, leaving us guys to chat. I mention drinks.
“Yeah, if you want a drink, go for it now bro,” he says, trying to get rid of me as soon as possible.
“Want a drink?”
“Sure, thank you.”
I head off to the bar to get us a couple drinks.
The lines are short, I get two gin and tonics.
Synnove is leaning in close to him, their lips softly pressing into each other as their mouths begin their introductions.
“Gin and tonic,” I say, leaving the glass at her feet and striding off.
Under the octopus tree, Venus appears. The tall Kenyan woman with light brown skin and beads in her short hair smiles at me. It was hard to take my eyes off of her when we first met several days ago. She was wearing baby blue bootie shorts and a crop top, showing off her flat, firm stomach. At the time, she was with one of the headline DJs from a pre-NYE event.
Eventually, the crowd started to thin. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Two mornings ago, naked in the shower together, I lifted her up and pressed her down against the coconut husk floor of the makeshift shower. It was what we had both needed, no strings attached, unencumbered festival fun. Last night, she slept in the safari tent I had managed to commandeer after previously sleeping on cushions in the floor of the commons area, as the shortage of regular tents had left me with nowhere else to go, despite my contract.
Tonight, I have nowhere to sleep at all. The plan is to again sleep on the one of the giant cushions in the communal area of the hostel.
“How are you?” I ask.
“I have no idea,” she says with a big, lovely smile before wandering off.
Meters behind her is Ngeri. It's amazing how quickly things can get complicated.
“I know about you two,” she says.
“How do you know?” she asks, her wide, round eyes helping her lips make a point.
“You started acting completely different.”
Njeri and I met on Christmas Eve, when she approached the table I was working at.
“You're here alone, right?” she asked, before inviting me to chip in on a huge, beautiful orphans' Christmas dinner.
After that, she latched on tight. We shared meals, drinks and it was always: what are “we” going to do tomorrow. It was great to be someone's priority, then it was too much. She was constantly monitoring me and whoever I was interacting with. Naked in the shower, we messed around, even cuddled and slept together, but I drew the line at sex. Somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I knew things were going to head south if I crossed that line. It was the fact that what started as me learning to let go of control– something I'm struggling with – became her trying to take control.
“Well, so you know, I don't have any hard feelings. I don't think it's right you treat me like that, but I've got nothing against you. My friends, they don't like you though,” she says.
“They all think we slept together, so then seeing you with all these other girls... they don't like you.
“It's not that they don't like you, but they don't 'like',” she explains, her hands throwing up quotations marks for me. “But I don't have anything against you.”
“Well, I understand.”
“Seriously, it's all good. I don't have anything against you.”
“Yeah, I understand. You just got way to clingy.”
“You should have said so.”
“I knew you'd say that, but you didn't really make an environment where that was possible.”
“Yeah, anyway. I really don't have anything against you. And Happy New Year!”
Not sure what else to say, I point out I have nothing against her either. She's a great woman, she just needed more from me then I was willing to put on the felt.
“Happy New Year,” I say.
What an intense and interesting start to 2017.
Back in my usual spot at the long table in Distant Relatives, I open up the laptop to start downloading tonights videos from the drone, finding solace in work, as I always do. That's why I ended up where I did, as managing editor at the Phuket Gazette. I battled emotions about Jackie with a work-focused mind. It's amazing how easy it is to let everything go when you have task at hand.
What's the big deal? I ask myself. I'd earlier chided myself for saying that Syonnne was too young for me. Though, some may feel that way, it was a bullshit write-off in my head to manage the situation. Now though, it's clear. She found someone where the chemistry was right. They'd both been drinking and were on the level, so they connected. What's wrong with that? Nothing.
Relaxed and surprisingly happy with how 2017 is shaping up, I start reviewing footage.
“Oh, you're the guy doing the drone stuff?” someone asks, sitting down next to me. “Can I see what you're working on?”
The music video producer and performer, Lovince, pulls up next to me. He loves the footage.
Before he wanders off, he introduces me to a short, broad shouldered Kenyan hunched across the table from me. There's a little small talk before silence returns and I go back to work.
“Can I ask you a question?” Alphi, the guy sitting across from me, asks in a serious tone.
“Sure.” I have no idea why, but I feel like he's going to ask me about homosexuality or something taboo in Kenya.
“Do you know anything about the Deep Net?”
“I know what it is, but not really. Why?”
Slightly disappointed by my lack of connections to the Deep Net, Alphi doesn't want to explain further. Despite my best attempts at igniting the conversation, he's not budging on the topic.
A producer and artist working with Alphi, as well as Lovince, pull up next to me.
“Maybe we can work on something tomorrow? We're here to produce a music video,” Lovince says.
Lovince is a short, but good looking man with a muscular build. His white and red patterned pants and coat with a matching hat make him look like he's stepped straight out an issue of GQ.
We're still hashing out plans when Synnove wanders into the room, pulling up next to me.
“Are you two together?” Lovince asks.
“We're married. Aren't we darling,” Synnove says, beaming at me.
“Yes, though she's hard to keep track of.”
Lovince laughs, his eyes checking our hands for rings.
Even now, Synnove's eyes and mine are communicating more than our words as we chat. There are playful warning shots, but no bullets fired with intention of harm.
“I need a nap. Can you wake me in 20 minutes? Even if I don't want to get up, make sure I get up,” she says.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I might be a bit nasty when you try, so be sweet and gentle.”
“Okay, fifteen minutes.”
Lovince and I return to looking through the drone videos, planning shots for tomorrow.
Fifteen minutes later, I'm kneeling next to the large floor cushion that Synnove's crumpled onto, deep asleep.
Gently, I place my hand on her shoulder.
“Love of my life, it's time to get up,” I say. What better words to wake up to in the New Year, I mean other than the truth.
It takes some work, but eventually Synnove's up and hungry. It's well past 2am. Back in the festival, we find food. And though the dancers are still pumping to the electronic beats coming from the conch shell, neither one of us is feeling it.
Back in the commons area, we find an empty floor cushion near the pool table. With Synnove facedown, I give her a long slow leg massage, trying to stay awake for the regge music set at 6am that I'm supposed to shoot. The massage started out with sexual interest from me, as I found myself keenly aware of her lacy pink underwear. However, the desire fades.
Tucking her hair behind her ear, before my fingers caress her face and gently massage her legs, it feels more like I'm doting on a favorite family pet rather than attempting to seduce a woman with a massage.
The gray light of the first dawn of 2017 creeps into the commons room, which is littered with bodies dead asleep as morning zombies work their way through the area.
“Hey beautiful, I've got to go get some drone footage. I'll be right back. Save my place, yeah?”
It's a little past six, but the reggie set at the second stage hasn't started yet and doesn't appear to be starting anytime soon. The crowd has thinned out like deflated whip cream after being left in the sun too long.
Back at the hostel, I wander past Synnove's make out buddy. He's wandering out of a room, looking a bit lost.
I know what's going to happen. With a certain dread I'm certain he'll steal my sleeping pad. I work my way down the mulch path, past a grove of bamboo trees to the bathrooms before returning to the cushion to sleep.
There he is, sprawled out next to Synnove, who scooted up against the wall to make room for him.
I give his leg a gentle shake.
“Hey bro, you're in my spot,” I say, my voice tense with tiredness.
“That's where I'm sleeping.”
He sits up, looking to Synnove to see if she'll shake me off, but she's staying out of it. So, he stands up and wanders off.
I'm calm on the outside. I know I am. I can feel that calmness in its contrast to how I feel on the inside. I was gone for 15 minutes. I'm tired. I just want to be asleep.
Synnove turns toward me. Gently I take her chin in my hand, giving it a little wiggle.
“You're a disappointment,” I say.
I walk off.
Fuck this. Where the hell else am I going to sleep? Five minutes later I end up on the far side of the big cushion with Synnove, keeping my distance.
“I was gone for like five minutes. I told you to save my spot.”
“Somebody just asked to lay down, so I made room.”
It's not worth arguing about; it doesn't take long for any emotions I have about it to dissipate.
In the morning, Synnove rolls the die. According to the roll, it's time for her to get up and get some coffee.
It's coffee with milk and sugar, because she's on holiday.
“'You're a disappointment' is the first thing I was told this New Year. That's terrible,” she says, her legs over mine to capitalize on another massage.
“It actually isn't. The first thing was 'wake up love of my life',” I say. Though in reality the first thing is whatever she and her make out buddy were talking about before she found me working. “I'll take it back if you like.”
“But I don't remember that.
“Well, I'll take it back then.”
“You can't take it back.”
“Okay, lets agree that I was wrong. I don't mind being wrong about these things.”
It's time for Synnove to go. Her family is on the move. She doesn't have her passport with her or a bank card and her cash is running low.
“Come on roll the die,” I say. “Give staying for the rest of the festival a one in six chance.”
“No, I take the dice seriously.”
“It's a terrible idea. But it's only one in six,” I say, knowing full well I wouldn't roll the dice in her situation. But maybe that's the problem. Maybe I'm not allowing the dice enough control, not allowing them to put me in any truly compromising situations.
“If it's a one, I'll stay for the rest of the festival.”
The die bounces on the woven mat.
It's a five.
Walking to the gate, Synnove is talking, talking, launching into legitimate conversation in our final minutes as I escort her to the motorbike taxi. Though, I'm sure in five minutes she won't care either way, right now she doesn't seem to want to go.
We hug. I turn to go back into the Eco-lodge: I need breakfast and a coffee; more sleep isn't going to be an option.