The day I met Mukiri is unarguably the most important day for the art that we have both practised through the years. She had this wildness in her eyes, a blazing fire that I automatically became determined to match. Now, looking back, the things we have done to get stories or to get images for a story, I can silently confess that it has been insane!
This is not a love story, if it was I would have started by describing her hair all the way to her cold feet. That one I will tell another day. This is about a journey, the kind that has no destination.
When I started writing, back in June 2014, I came up with a tagline, ‘Art denotes Peace’. I thought that it was impossible to practice art when you are not at peace. The peace stood for peace at home, in the country and even peace of mind. Generally, just peace. It is quite a paradox considering that artists have the most tortured minds and lives in history. Artists transform tragedy and the conflict in their lives to pieces of art that the world appreciates years and years later.
Yet, all the same, I felt that nothing could go wrong for someone who sets a certain amount of time to practice some art that is not really for themselves but for other people. I still strongly believe that to be true.
Then, the changing fortunes of time lead Mukiri and I to each other, not as boyfriend and girlfriend, No, I said this is not a love story, but as two artists trying to figure out a new concept, a conviction more than we both were.
I will not lie, we have done some crazy stuff for stories, some of them very recently. Some that I am not proud of at all. To Mukiri, the art always comes first no matter the consequences.
I vividly remember a day she had been travelling from Nakuru to Nyeri. There is this small town in between called Mweiga, to the right is where our former president, Mr Kibaki spends his retirement days on his balcony watching the highway rush and reminiscing on the good old days. The days of his youth when he fought for a new constitution so vehemently that he lost his voice. At this spot, there is a way the road meanders into a beautiful series of bends that Mukiri found ultimately interesting.
So, she did what any photographer would do, she alighted and took out her camera but not before pulling me out of class asking me to bring a couple of friends because she always has to have human subjects in her photos. So I did as she asked and we spent hours upon hours of the entire afternoon and evening trying to get the shot she wanted. We were unsuccessful and we all went home disappointed and devastated beyond words. Personally, I was frustrated because I did not understand what she wanted to capture.
For the next couple of days, our conversations were bored like there was a bad spell hanging in the atmosphere waiting to drop. At some point, I thought that that shot really depressed her and it shook me to my roots. The following week, a little bird whispered to her about a similar meandering on the road on the Nyeri to Nanyuki highway and that was where we spent an entire weekend. I remember at one particular point, we lifted her on our shoulders, literally, so that she obtained the view of the road from the right angles. People drove past us, slowing momentarily probably wondering whether craziness was having a field day. The shot she wanted from this was later used as a magazine cover for a local magazine the same month!
Months later, there was an idea, that she would put a photo up on this website and several writers would compete trying to make a story of exactly two hundred words that spoke about the photo, paying close attention to all components of the image. That is the Mukiri Gitiri category on this website that finally brought our work to the limelight.
2017 started on a low note, however, and she took down all her social media pages saying that her work till then was substandard and she needed to learn some more. Lately, she has started working on her debut album of fine art and conceptual photography. She says she will launch it in future when she is ready. I will not be surprised if she revolutionises photography in the country when she does the launch, but no pressure.
My story in writing goes hand in hand and is not any different. When she decided to take a break and further her studies, I took all the photos she said were ‘substandard’ and use them as feature images on this website in the ‘Life and People’ and ‘Women’ categories until now.
Reading and writing, however, are not new comportments, particularly, at home. Dad always had shelves upon shelves of books. He would buy Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and read it sleeplessly for like two to three weeks every day after he came from work. My elder sister, Kate, would pick it up later and spend a month on it. She always read while jolting stuff in her notebook. After she was done, she would hand it to me and I would read it for a whole school term of three months trying to get to the last page. By the time I was done, a five-month-old book would look like an ancient book from the archives. It would be torn and discoloured and I would carefully put it on the shelve before my mischief was noticed by anyone. That was the system, and that was the custom.
Wait, wait… every real-life story has a love scene. Did I ever tell you guys how Mukiri and I started dating? So, we were coming from a photo shoot, muddy and tired. On our backs, bags full of photography equipment; lenses, cameras, lights and others I don’t even know what they are called. I cannot recall where we had been but it must have been far because we got to Nyeri town at around 9 pm. We were both students at Dedan Kimathi University, she was a Food Scientist, and I was trying to be an Information Technologist. So I stopped by a café to buy doughnuts that I would have for supper. I lived in town and she lived in the school. School is about four kilometres from town and there was a dark walk that she would have to make to get to her hostel.
So, as I helped her board the matatu, I thought about the practicability of her getting safe with equipment worth hundreds of thousands and my mental scales pointed at danger levels. So I did what any man trying to get ‘the girl’ does, I hopped into the matatu which was the very last to leave town and told her I would see to it that she got home safe. Our town was small, everything shut down for the night at 9 pm. Initially, we had been going for dates and stuff for a very long time yet I could never tell whether I ever would get the girl.
The drive to school was a silent one. When we got there, we took the walk to her place and I placed the equipment on her doorstep, certain that she would be okay.
Now, she used to have a roommate that was a very good friend of hers. It was her day to make supper but when she tried the door, no one was home. If you have been with photographers, then you know, eating comes after the shoot so we were both famished. In my hand, I still had doughnuts in my hand. After she had got all the bags safely to the house, she escorted me to the gate and again, I decided to be the hero and hand over the doughnuts claiming that I would buy others in town. A town that we both knew had completely closed down. At first, she resisted but again, I am a very convincing man so she took them and we made as if split ways, yet, no one moved.
The tension between us at that moment had dogs howling and the moon staring. It was the moment of truth. I knew matatus were first running out, yet there was a walk I had to make but at this particular moment, it did not matter. Eventually, she made her way as if walking away but even without looking at her I could feel the heaviness of unexpressed feelings that weighed on me as well. When I turned back, it was to tell her I loved her but then her lips were on mine so fast that I did not get to say it. That is how it began, with a kiss. It was a kiss of partnership, trust and because of the art. It was like a silent contract to support each other’s craziness. I do not know what won her over, was it the doughnuts, the shining of the moon or the howling dogs? We will never know.
Anyway, when I got to the highway, all passenger vehicles had run out but it did not matter. My mind kept on replaying the kiss. I felt warm enough to sleep under a tree. I felt like my heart had exploded to a million smiley faces. A cop car eventually picked me up and took me to my doorstep because in Nyeri, we were all family and I wrote about the Encounter with Afande (here). That was a long long time ago.
Writing is not always fun, however. Stories come from people, meaning that you have to be constantly retrieving stories from people. Sometimes I find myself telling a single story to several people about myself, a plastic story that sounds deep just so that they themselves can open up and let me into their experiences for a story. Strangers are always ready to tell their story if they find you to be vulnerable too, so you practise a story that always seems so sincere about yourself. This is the part I am not proud of.
Secretly, writing is also a scary demon shadow that tags along close by all the time. After one story you are off to the next. It was easier when my audience was purely my friends, a population of about 300, then it moved to 1000 and the pressure to deliver more quality content. When it hit 3000 to 4ooo now I had to get a serious editor. When she asked to stop editing for me, I panicked. I am yet to find another one so the single errors you will spot, is because a man has no editors.
I tell this story because I want you to see how important this nomination is to us. It symbolises success in passion. For years, there was nowhere we got paid for the work we did. The good comments, as well as the bad, kept us going, article after article, and image after the other. I remember I once asked a published writer, that I will not disclose her name, to give her thoughts on a romantic piece I had written. She said the wording was good but there was a lot of unromantic words that were a complete turn off for her. Just like that, I dropped that post and romantic writing entirely. That has been the journey, dropping stuff and picking up the others that are more suitable.
Last year, I read the book, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt and I really loved the narration in the first person, it sounded so genuine and authentic, so I adopted it in all my writing. I take the main character’s point of view in every story and write from their perspective. I let myself interact with events and other characters like they would and in a way, I become them during the lifetime of the story.
I attended BAKE Awards in 2015. Bikozulu won the Creative Award of that year, the one before in 2014 and the one after in 2016. I was invited to that event by BAKE officials together with three of my colleagues because we were BAKE Dedan Kimathi officials. Unfortunately, Bikozulu did not show up for his award, if I remember correctly, he had been out of the country for business, or so he said. I was so ready to meet him, I had read everything he had written since a time I was in high school and my English teacher read his blog out loud in class. I watched as self-confident people went to receive their awards and it looked so much like a distant dream.
In 2016, I forced all my friends to submit my blog for the Creative Category. I knew one submission was enough but I wanted them all, every single one of those submissions. I thought that perhaps I would surprise the judges and trick them into a nomination. That never worked out and I sat and decided to do what I did best, just write. Not to win an award or to have thousands come here and listen to what I was saying, No, to just write. I never knew what I was writing about or where I was headed with the writing, I just knew that every week I had to show up here with something.
When Mukiri supported what I did, we just moved along, going the darkest and dangerous of caves to dig beyond our comprehension until Wednesday morning when I was woken up by congratulatory messages and calls from friends, that I had a single nomination at BAKE. I was puzzled. I called Mukiri and she also could not believe, she was just like, “Whaaaaaaaaaaat”… “Wait… whaaaaaaaat?” It was not the award yet, it was not an ultimate certification that we were the best, but someone had noticed what we had been doing. Someone had approved that indeed we were not on an unsubstantiated journey without a destination.
Ps; if you meet Mukiri in the streets do not ask her how far she is with her debut album. She says that’s too much pressure and something about pressure making stuff crack or something like that. So, avoid that question like you would avoid asking a lady if she has added weight or she is just expectant, okay?
Anyway, rush over to https://vote.bakeawards.co.ke/ and scroll over to Category 3, then Option B to vote for this blog for the Creative Award of 2018. I know you want to, so do not resist it. Vote, and ask your mama to vote too. Then your side chick too before you forward the same text to your main chick. They will not know. If they do, consider yourself insured. Vote and make this kadream of ours a certain reality. I will answer any questions you have in the comment box or simply email me or Mukiri at firstname.lastname@example.org . Otherwise, si I will see you people around?
Oh, my new editor to be, sijui you write me on that email too and we can meet, sit and have a coffee, two for me? Yes? Anyone? Please. Thank you.