Day 328: And All I Wanted Was to Get Dirty
After being told I could no longer get dirt, I found myself sipping a coffee and watching the tide come back in at Kizimkazi Beach. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
A SHORT rain last night forces me off the open balcony of The House of Giggles and into one of the rooms. Nobody is sleeping in this room right now. I crawl under a gauzy mosquito net, which is where I find myself in the morning. I could hear the girls talking out in the dirt floored common area.
“Baby Da Da, do you want mkate wa ufuta,” Heather asks.
It sounds like there might be a little breakfast this morning, which is enough to rouse me from bed. We don't have breakfast here for the most part. Flora makes herself a little something with fruit, but besides that our first communal meal is lunch.
“So I was talking with Mau and he thinks we need to hold off getting any more soil because we've not asked permission from the village,” Heather tells me as I take a seat in a blue chair, nibbling on the soft, doughy bread.
I'm crest fallen. That was all I wanted to do while I was here. I liked the idea of spending my days working my body by hauling the dirt back to our gardens. It's useful, gives me purpose, gives me direction, and hard enough that it keeps me focused on the present.
All I wanted to do was get dirty. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
What the hell am I going to do now?
It was only yesterday evening that I came to terms with the fact that I needed to give a several-day break to collecting shit in the bush, as most of what I was spotting was too fresh to pick up by hand. The recent rains are also softening everything. So, figured a couple days to let everything bake was a good idea.
And now, I can't get my dirt.
“We've just taken a lot recently. It's not only you, but all of us,” Heather says, though I'm pretty sure we both know it's mostly been me gathering the soil for the last week or so. “Nobody else is gardening out here, so it's not like they need it. But village politics is complicated and serious out here.”
“Yeah, I completely understand. They are still village resources.”
I've lived outside of the United States for long enough to understand how powerful village politics are and how essential it is to have the approval of the heads of village for any project. In many ways, their power is infinite within the small sphere over which they retain control.
So, no more fetching dirt for me. Hopefully, we'll be able to find a new place from which I can retrieve dirt, as it really is how I want to be filling my time.
The girls seem unmotivated today, focusing on washing clothes and puttering about the house. I wander toward the far front of the premise to look around for a little project with which to get involved. Eventually, I settle on repairing a coral rag lined pathway through a bit of tree growth on the property. The trees are small, none more than four meters high, their trunks no thicker than my forearms. Yet, it's a bit of forest taking advantage of with surprisingly rich dirt.
The time slips by as I rearrange hunks of white rock along the fertile path, filling in places where someone either gave up or the rocks shifted and left a break. It's rewarding work as the results are immediately obvious. I bend the path around a small sapling and edge it further along into the bush to a place where it spills out into the rubble and the rocks have yet to be cleared.
It takes a few moments for me to recognize the long leaves of healthy grass evenly dispersed in one section of fertile soil near the path as a garden. Perhaps it was someone's pet project several months ago and has since been forgotten about. The dirt around the wisps of green is dark, nearly black with fertility. Small stones have been cleared from the area as well, surely it was someone's project. I'd been building the path straight through the little unknown garden, but now, I adjust the organic lines to protect it.
I like the idea of minimalist landscaping, moving as little as possible. Or perhaps it's better to think of it as moving everything that is not David, releasing the beauty in the landscape rather than sculpting it into something that was never really there in the first place.
The laughter of the dadas comes from the house. They are a giggly lot. It's unrestrained joy, which I know should fill me up and stretch a smile across my face. But instead, I find myself judging them for not working right now. Not judging harshly, but comparing what I'm doing to what they are doing.
“It's all because of my insecurities about what I am doing,” I silently reason.
I'm worried that they will judge me. They will judge my little path. They will judge my little upkeep projects. And they will judge it as not up to standards. This, of course, is absurd and has no basis in reality.
It's a protective measure to judge, to mentally protect myself by throwing the first stone.
I take a deep breath. I tell myself to relax, to stop judging now that I understand from where the silliness stems.
By 11am, I've started to look for a new project. I'm saved by rain. It starts as sparse, thick drops, but then starts coming down in heavy sobs. The rain leaks through the roof of the kitchen, recently renamed the bakery by Mweda who didn't know why the new name made Megan giggle. Personally, I figure they do enough baking here to justify the name.
The rain comes down hard. It's a good rain. A rain we need. I settle into my blue chair in the communal area and begin to write, waiting for the rain to stop.
When it stops, after someone hopefully makes lunch, I'll make my way down to Mama Lucia Restaurant and Cafe. A little Italian place with real coffee on Kizimkazi Beach. I've not been there yet, but I need an internet connection to follow up about the possibilities of shooting a wedding with the drone in Kenya, as well as with Jo about the drone gig south of Dar es Salaam.
Little David's Lodge houses Mama Lucia Restaurant and Cafe. It's a new place, though doesn't look new, or perhaps too new to be open. A woven-palm frown fence separates it from the small open field on which the local fishermen mend their net.
The tide's out. Way out, leaving behind a mesmerizing spread of white sand. Sand as white as salt and sugar held onto a flock of white boats as the water retreated, leaving the tiny crafts stranded. Further out, where the water still wets the seafloor, a single red-sailed dhow catches a gust of wind dished out be the temperamental weather.
After the storm, there is plenty of activity on the beach as the tide comes back in. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The cafe is a cute, open-aired cement building with a high thatch roof alongside the beach. An abstract dolphin is painted on the white wall in blue. The young waitress takes my order for an Americano and then offers to unplug a refrigerator full of drinks so I can charge the laptop. Instead, I pull a wooden chair and a small table onto a wrap around cement porch not far from the coffee machine and a free electrical socket.
There's more rain. A steady tropical rain that finds its way to the sandy soil beneath the coconut trees.
Around the corner, I find Giovanni, the owner. The Italian has a goatee on a face that was once fat – he's lost 80kg since arriving in Zanzibar to set up his modest beach resort.
“These people,” he says. “There's nothing up here. I have to do everything. I pay them to work for them. I tell them to take the money and finish the front of this building first.”
He points to the smooth-walled, thatch-roofed building in front of us.
“What do they do? They finish the back first. The part with the sea and the beach and the tourist – it stays unfinished.”
It's true, there is a clear line marking where the smooth sealing cement ran out and the less appealing cinder blocks are bare.
I try to get a word in, as this is a problem expats opening businesses run into all over the world. Motivated workers who have a mentality in line with their western bosses are few and far between. The culture of work varies dramatically between places. Even in Thailand, it was often hard to find the right person for the job, leaving upper management to rely heavily on expensive expats.
“Originally, I thought that they are here and it is education and maybe something brought from Europe. But now I see,” he says, his hands wildly moving. “They just want to sleep all day. What? Do I pay for sleep? No. I don't want to pay for sleep. Even the coffee machine, they don't want to take care of it. I show them a system to clean it every day. Do they use the system? No. I think, 'Okay, don't use my system, use your own system.' So I let the guy be, but does he do it the same way every time? No. One day he does it this way. Another day, he does it that way. If you do like that something will get forgotten, something will break.”
An upside down basket with bits of food below it sits in the yard in front us, propped up with a stick tied to a long string. Giovanni explains that he is trying to catch a cat.
“Yeah, and if something breaks, what can you do? You can't order apiece for a Ranchilio coffee machine in East Africa, probably not even in Nairobi,” I point out.
“Yes, and I am Italian, so there are two things I can't live without: my mama,” he says, gesturing toward the name scrawled across the cafe. “And espresso. Maybe things would be easier for them if I wasn't from Milan. They say people from Milan are born running. They would maybe be better if someone from Roma was here.”
He smiles at the thought of how lazy Romans are.
I'd come to ask for the WiFi password. However, it turns out that the stormy weather has disrupted the WiFi.
Instead, I make a Facebook call on my data plan to Jiten with regards to the wedding gig. I'd thrown out a big number for the three-day event: 1,200 dollars. But for something like this, I don't see the point of low balling. I do need the money and I would love to have a wedding in my drone portfolio, but I know I produce a quality footage, and does anyone really want a price that guarantees them a sub par drone videographer for something that's framed up as one of their client's most import days in their lives?
Romain from Distant Relatives had written me the most absurdly flattering recommendation:
“Just spoke to Isaac quickly now as we've been begging him to come back to see us back here in Kilifi (www.kilifibackpackers.com) to do some more filming for us after the unbelievable footage he took for Kilifi New Year. Sadly Dice Travels he is and the dice did not roll in our favor the second time. But hopefully the third time they will and we'll go sailing together on this huge dhow (www.musafir.org) next month from Shimoni to Kilifi, hope you can make it Isaac!
“He says also that he might do a little work with you just before the trip - I just wanted to share the amazing feedback that we have from our experience working with Isaac - in short, no supervision needed whatsoever, he filmed throughout the event, captured the most important moments better than I could have dreamt! He pulled off the most amazing footage hands down despite the fact that there was a pro film crew as well as several photographers also doing a bit of filming. He put the other guys to shame hehe! Please don't tell them I said that...
“It's so rare to find these little pearls of humans that are so good at what they do, so independent at their work and such generous pleasant souls to be around at the same time! Anyways, big big recommendation from us and pleeeease send him down to us for a cruise on Musafir as well as hopefully a little stop at Distant Relatives (though I haven't asked him yet hehe... Isaac, come back - pleaase?!!)
“Anyhow, for you both here's my number, welcome to Kilifi anytime!!”
The call fails, but I see Jiten typing.
“Hey, Sorry, but I've have been busy and I have booked a drone person already. Apologies for the late reply.”
Well, that one bit the dust hard, though I can't say I'm too surprised.
There's a certain amount of dread I've been carrying around in the back of my mind about the drone video for Jo's resort south of Dar es Salaam as well. She's already made a firm offer, though I asked her to pump the price from 300 to 400 dollars – it's all part of the bargaining process, I tell myself.
However, her resounding silence has been unnerving.
I call Jo, but she's in the middle of something and will call me back in 30 minutes.
I settle into my coffee and work, listening for the tide come in, feeling the strong storm breeze on my cheek. The rain lightens up enough for me to walk through the coconut trees, branches heavy with soggy weaver bird nests, to one of the shops near the roundabout to buy a package of biscuits.
A wet, blue piece of paper catches my eye. It's a 1,000 Shilling note, which turns out to be the exact price of the biscuits.
Free biscuits, why does that make not getting a 1,200 dollar drone job in Kenya seem not so bad?
The rain returns after I settle back at my computer and order a second coffee. It's hard to believe that I can get an Americano for 2,000 shilling here. Instant coffee sometimes costs twice or even three times that.
By late afternoon, the sky has cleared to a soft blue. The coast at this time of the day is a place of four colors: white, brown, green, and blue, but an awe-inspiring kaleidoscope of all the shades and hues of each of them.
Most of the girls are napping in hammocks or in their rooms when I return.
“Flora, it's almost high tide. Do you want to go for a swim?” I ask.
Fifteen minutes later, after she finds a stopping place on her Kindle, she changes into a black bathing suit and we make our way down a rubble path through the bush toward Sunset Beach.
It's impossible not to be jubilant about my flip flop situation. The sandals broke nearly 20 times on my walk to the cafe, the thongs pulling through the ever-widening hole between my big toe and the next in line. However, a small slit in a piece of plastic from a plastic bottle and some tape seem to have done the trick, at least for now. I'd skip if skipping wasn't such a hazardous activity in the bush.
The tide is all the way up when we arrive at Sunset Beach. The waves noisily gobble up the coral rag bedrock, lapping into the undercut and then sucking away from it like the lips of two lovers fervently learning to French kiss.
Down the cement steps and into the cool water. This is our routine now that the new moon has turned directions and is headed toward a full moon and the tide is all the way in at five.
We swim with the waves, against the current. Yesterday, I thought I was being clever by swimming against the waves, as I mistakenly thought that would also be against the current. It was a steady current yesterday, nothing dangerous, but we drifted north toward Promised Land Lodge and were forced to swim hard to get back to Sunset Beach.
Today, the waves are bigger, a bit more wild. Nothing too crazy, but even a small distance from each other, it's easy to lose sight of the other person behind the maze of cresting wind waves. For a few minutes, I completely lose sight of Flora. I remind myself that there's no reason to panic. She's a strong swimmer and comes out her alone all the time.
The girls always swim so far from shore, floating out in the sea on their backs, soaking up the late afternoon sun. It's emboldening to swim with them. I think I would not terry so far from shore if I was here alone.
More than 100 meters off shore, you feel alone with ocean and the sun. Alone, but far from lonely.
Back on the bedrock, I pick at the small cowrie shells, looking for the shiny ones that look like they have cat eyes painted on them in light blues, greens, and ambers.
Flora pulls out a small notebook and pen, falling deep into a moment of inspired writing. Standing off to the side, I pick up sticks for a fire tomorrow. She's picturesque. Her blond hair holds the fading golden light of the sun, contrasting with the blues and greens of the ocean. There's the soft smell of salt and the sound of the ocean again comes into focus. Farther down the shoreline, Heather has also found a perch, scrolling through her phone. I suspect that she too is writing.
I smile at parts they play in this beautiful picture in front of me.
“I'm going to go ahead and head back. I'll see you at home,” I say, giving Flora space to peacefully continue her writing.
Back home, I talk to Jo.
It's not good. Not good at all.
“So does that mean all previous offers are off the table as well?” I ask.
“Well, I'll talk to my business partner again on Saturday and try to convince him that this is a great opportunity that we need to take advantage of, but I do have to respect his wishes. There's some stuff up in the air with the land title deeds.”
“Okay, well if we need to go back to your original offer, I'm sure I can work with that as well. So just let me know.”
“If it's necessary to make separate payments, that's possible as well, right?” she asks.
“Sure,” I say, though it seems like breaking up a 300 dollar bill into separate payments for a resort is a bit silly. Nonetheless, I want this work. I want it for my portfolio as well as for the money.
After a big dinner of oily beans that make my soul smile – Mau beans – I crawl into my sleeping bag, calling it an early night.