Day 350: Playing Pied Piper of Garsen


Meet the kids. 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.

CHRIS prepares to step into his room for a phone meeting at about 5pm.

“He's your responsibility now,” he says, closing his laptop.

Sidi, a seven-year-old local kid, is sitting in a blue plastic chair next to where Chris was sitting moments ago. He adopted Chris, well technically both of us, but mostly Chris, when we were walking back from the office today.

Sidi saddled up next to us, chatting with Chris in Swahili.

“I think he's following us home,” Chris had said at the time.

Chris was correct. Sidi was indeed following us home.

That could have been that, but despite all is Afro-cred Chris is really a big sweetheart.

“He says he wants food, but I don't know,” Chris told me after we'd all been hanging out for the better part of an hour under a little thatch sala working. Well, I was working. .Chris managed to edit half a sentence during the last hour, as he was mostly distracted by Sid.

“My general policy is I don't buy food or anything, but up to you,” I say.

We both have the same general policy.

“I understand the macro influences in play, but still,” he says.

“Wouldn't that be a hilarious thing to teach street kids to say, 'I understand the macro influences in play, but still I would like something to eat,'” I say.

We have a laugh.

It's decided not to do anything unless he asks for food again.

He does.

Chris is really on the fence. I wouldn't be entertaining the idea because I'm not as good as a person as Chris, but since he is, I am.

“We can roll the dice if you want to,” I offer, giving him an easy way out.

“He just wants chapati and beans. That's not too much to ask. I offered him chips, but he wants the healthy food,” Chris says.

“Okay, if you've decided, I'll go place the order.”

They end up not having beans, so I order sukuma, which is basically Kenyan kale, and four chapati for the kid.

Two silver trays of food arrive, I push them in front of Sidi, who goes to wash his hands and then settles in for a solid meal.

Scenes from town. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

With Chris and his phone dragged off to a meeting, Sidi has only me, which is significantly less impressive, as I won't let him play with my phone.

I pluck an earbud out of my ear and hand it to him so he can saddle up close and listen to music with me while I write. He gets bored, then interested again. I put on some reggae and give him both headphones. His little voice sounds horse as it occasionally breaks the silence in an attempt to sing along.

Bored again, he stands up and heads for Chris's room.

“Hey Rafiki, don't do that. He's busy,” I say, but he doesn't understand.

I stop him, pack up my laptop, and decided it's as good as a time as any to take him with me for a walk down to the river.

I quickly go from some white dude being followed by a single child to Pied Piper of Garsen as a whole troop of children appear around me as I reach the outskirts of the village.

There's less chanting of “how are you? I am fine” than I would expect as most have become fixated on my camera.

“Picture, picture, picture,” they sing.

A 200mm zoom is not the ideal lens for the situation, but it's the only one I'm carrying.

“Okay,” I say, taking a knee.

I shoo them farther and farther away, into a dirt football pitch where the light from the golden hour brightens and warms their faces. Their hands snake up like little vipers as they strike outlandish poses.

Each little body, clothed in a mix of traditional kanga and dirty western clothes, attempts to slide in front of the person between them and camera, resulting in a game of stop and go with them rushing toward the camera, pausing for only brief moments for a picture.

Within seconds they are too close for me to fire the shutter. I stand and shoo them away again.

The game begins anew.

They laugh when I show them the pictures, their little fingers keep jabbing at the screen and the buttons. I try to wave them off, in hopes that they can show a little respect for a person's possessions.

In the middle of the dirt track leading to the river, I snap more shots, then realize that two of the little girls are nearly stripping off their shirts, perhaps mimicking something they've seen online or on the television. It's like Girls Gone Wild African Pedophile addition. I wonder what they're thinking and for a moment feel almost dirty for having the photos on the camera, but then I shrug it all away – kids are kids and they're all just playing.

The games continue with me floating in this baker's dozen of beautiful black faces and laughs trying to get them far enough from the camera that I can take pictures. The mud huts and brush fences of the living compounds on the edge of the village give way to the flat leaves and long thorns of prickly pear cacti.

It was an endless photo shoot as we walked to the river. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

There are no hippos at the river.

Sidi, feeling brave and wanting a picture of himself uncrowded by the rest, slides down the upper bank to a grassy landing several meters from the water. He checks over his shoulder before calling for me to take a picture.

I hesitate. If I take one picture, surely the rest of the kids will make for the river, where they've been told not to go countless times.

There are crocodiles in the river. Not too long ago a croc took a man near the Gami Police station that was shot up in 2014.

I snap the photo.

And yet another photo shoot at the river, as I didn't think the kids were in any real danger. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

As predicted, a few more kids tumble down and start striking poses, occasionally checking over their shoulders before turning their attention back to the camera.

There's more pushing and shoving between the children as they clamor to be in front.

I put the camera down and give a long death stare to a little girl who was putting her hand right in front of the lens. I gave the same look to Sidi and another boy when they did the same thing. There's no reason to be ruining the fun for everyone.

“Isaac, Isaac, Isaac,” they call out, bouncing around the landscape in hopes of getting a picture alone. The camera fires away: snap, snap, snap.

It wasn't until we were almost to the river that they started calling me Isaac instead of Chris.

“My sister's name is?” a little boy asks me.

“Corina,” I say.

We go through the whole family like that, them all repeating the names: Michele, Corina, Glenn, and Julius over and over again, not unlike me trying to remember how to ask how much costs is in Swahili.

The kids quickly disperse after we pass the football pitch.

Then, it's only me and Sidi as the night closes in around us. He doesn't seem to have any intentions of going home yet.

I laugh inside.

Chris and I are like a pair of gay dads who somehow ended up with an unwanted child, which I always presumed was more of a heterosexual problem. The whole comedy of two gay guys coming to Africa and accidentally adopting some kid isn't a terrible idea for a B-quality blockbuster.

“I kind of thought he'd be gone when you came back,” Chris says over Sidi's head. Sidi has returned to playing some sort of navy warfare game on Chris's phone.

“Yeah. Well, that's not the case.”

“He's saying he wants food again, but I think he's done pretty well so far.”

“I agree. He's eaten more meals than we have today.”

“Three lunches and the bottles seems like a pretty good haul.”

“Well, I don't speak any Swahili. So, this all comes down to you. Though taking away the phone would probably be a good start.”

“Damn me and my quasi-bilingualism. Maybe if I pretend that everything was just a fortunate coincidence and that I don't speak any Swahili at all I can get away with it,” Chris says.

Ultimately, Chris concedes to handling the situation once he's done with an email.

I shake Sidi's hand goodbye before standing up to wash my hands for dinner.

“He handled that pretty well. I told him that we weren't going to buy him dinner and it was time to go home. He immediately headed out the gate without any fuss.”

'

“What a good kid.”

A few minutes later, I catch Chris putting bits of his scrambled eggs on the ground for a meowing kitten.

“You're killing your Afro-cred,” I tease.

“It never hurts to be kind.”

“Agreed,” I say, also putting some egg on the ground for the starving feline.

A little kindness never hurt. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

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