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ruminations on a series of unrelated events

On the Ground in Kenya

Here’s my attempt to keep a (hopefully) daily update of things happening on my trip to Kenya to make narrative films for AMPATH. To learn more about why and how I am here shooting these films please read my posts: HADITHI Deux, Hopefully and Won New Frontiers Grant. I am here, along with my Co-PI Jeanette Dickerson-Putman, with the generous support of Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Grant and a grant from IUPUI’s Arts and Humanities Institute.

(Note: All the screen grabs featured here from the film footage are unprocessed and not final color. The entries are in chronological order from the bottom up.)

Kenya

Day 40, Friday July 24

Well I was awake at 5:00 listening to the birds and up at 7:30 to enjoy the breakfast that came with my room. My driver’s car was parked in front of the restaurant, but there was no sign of him. As 9:00 approached there was still no sign of him and my attempts to text him failed. Finally I found him. So much for my 8:30 departure plans to make it to the elephant orphanage. After a bank run we were on our way to Nairobi but the road was clogged with truck traffic. The orphanage is only open to the public from 11-12 and as 11 quickly approached and Nairobi was nowhere in sight it was becoming apparent that the Elephant orphanage was going to have to be scratched off the list. We got on the new southern bypass (which has several miles of glorious multilane fresh tarmac but suddenly becomes a dirt road without any warning) and headed to meet Emma. We met up at a mall and followed her around the corner to her house. Emma and her mother had generously invited me to lunch. It was great to be invited and the traditional Kikuyu meal was delicious. As we sat and ate the endless coverage of the Obama visit was playing on the TV. Suddenly we heard that Mombasa Road, which is the road to the airport would be closed from 3:00 until 10:00PM. Suddenly I realized my plans of relaxing at a luxury hotel a few kilometers from the airport and then catching a cab over around 7:30 was now out of the question. So after parting Emma’s generous company, Tony and I made our way directly to the airport. At the entrance to the airport security was visible in a very big way. All passengers were made to exit their vehicles and walk through a security screening while the police/army went through the contents of the car. I was waiting on Tony on the other side for quite a while. When he finally pulled up there was an army dude in my seat in complete camo, a helmet and a major machine gun. This didn’t look good. He brusquely told me to get in the back and then he said I was “clean” but my driver was “dirty.” What the…? So for the next 15 minutes we sat there listening to him berate Tony and frequently look at Tony’s ID. This was weird. Finally the tone lightened a bit but it involved Tony getting out his wallet and paying the guy. So there was a little extortion in action. While Tony was getting out his wallet being careful that the guy didn’t see how much money he had, the dude picked up my paper and started reading about Obama’s visit. After this strange affair was over I tried to get out of Tony what was going on, but he was completely tightlipped about it. There was no explanation forthcoming. Maybe he was dirty. Who knows, but I kind of doubt it. He seems like a pretty straight arrow to me.

Machine gun toting army dude taking my seat and reading my paper during his shakedown of my driver Tony.

Machine gun toting army dude taking my seat and reading my paper during his shakedown of my driver Tony.

(Here’s another extortion story: In line at the airport I was talking to a Brit who was just shaken down by the airport security for smoking. Apparently there is a $500 fine for smoking at the airport, except he was smoking in the designated smoking area outside the terminal. They threatened him with a $100 fine and making him go to court right then and miss his flight. They wouldn’t hear anything about it, but he managed to talk them down to $3 and paid them. Another reason not to smoke.)

During the thick of production it truly felt like making these films was the hardest thing I have ever undertaken. It is not that the six weeks of a seven days a week schedule was necessarily physically demanding as much as it was mentally demanding and extremely stressful. But despite a broken foot, a persistent bad stomach, more than my share of sleepless nights, student unrest that shut down Moi University for a whole week and jeopardized the shooting of the fourth film, logistical challenges involving access to our primary school actors and uncooperative weather, we managed to work well together as a team and we got the job done. Of course as with any filmmaking there is what was initially imagined and what was ultimately filmed. There is inevitably a degree of compromise due to time, schedules, budget, acting skills, weather, the reality of locations and all the other logistics that go into shooting a story. Despite often arising from necessity these compromises can feel like cutting corners and then suddenly I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants and not doing justice to the story. (Maybe that feeling just comes with the guerilla filmmaking approach.) The trick is to cut the right corners that can still preserve the story. But often in the midst of shooting it can be hard to tell which corners are the right ones. All I can know is that I did the best job I could under the circumstances and I hope I made the right choices at least a majority of the time. I also hope that the students I had the pleasure to work with had a memorable experience and were able to learn some valuable filmmaking skills in the process. I certainly enjoyed working with them.They had a lot of enthusiasm and were eager to learn and work hard. I want to thank each and everyone who was involved with this project for making it a fun and successful experience. To me this project is important on many levels and the filmmaking collaboration with the faculty and students of Moi University is certainly a primary component of this entire effort. I truly hope this project can become a springboard for future collaborations between Moi University and IUPUI.

It is now time to wait 8 hours at the airport, wave hello to Obama as he lands and then board my flight and head home. Goodbye Kenya!

Day 39, Thursday July 23

The last two days are a blur of shooting a lot in various locations under less than optimal weather conditions. Tuesday night I hardly slept a wink as I thought about everything that had to be shot in the next two days. I had recurring dreams of being on set not being able to figure out how to shoot a scene. It seemed like I dozed off 20 times only to be awakened again and again by this dream. Lord knows I am going to be living it the whole next day, do I really need to pre-live it the night before?

The end of the trip was arriving quickly and the shooting was going to run right down to the wire. I had to finish the Afiya story and shoot pick-ups for Mosi and Michael. All in 2 days. After getting rained out on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, we finally caught a reprieve on Wednesday in that that afternoon’s rain wasn’t a torrential downpour and we were able to stage a scene in the light rain with the cast under a porch. After that we had to head back to Burnt Forest, where the Afiya story is set, to get some shots that were rained out the previous day. Thankfully the bad weather held off there and we were able to get everything done. A little more sunlight would have been good, but we certainly weren’t in a position to be choosers.

I started packing at 4:30 this morning. I knew it would take forever and it did. I haven’t really acquired a lot of things while here, but the luggage was a bear to pack. I am nearly certain that I am over the legal limit on my big trunk. But the other bag is packed so full there is room for nothing else. Let’s hope they look the other way at the airport.

After running some morning errands including a visit to the woman at AMPATH in charge of billing me for the use of the car we’ve enjoyed for the last 4, 606 kilometers, (where I threw myself at her mercy and she thankfully took a little pity on my soul), I left around 9:30 to head back to Nairobi. I hired a driver rather than fly because of all the gear I have. I headed to Lake Navasha, which is about 100Km outside of Nairobi. I am staying at Camp Carnelly on the banks of the lake. After unloading my gear into a banda, my driver, Tony, and I headed out to see some sights. There are hippos in lake Naivasha and some of the neighboring lakes, but the problem is that you have to hire a boat to take you about 30 minutes away to see any. And at KSH 3500 an hour I don’t have the money or the time. So we drove about 15 KM away to a small wildlife sanctuary called Lake Crescent. I think the lake (more of a pond of about 10 acres) is an old volcano caldera. There are certainly a lot of extinct volcanoes in the area. We saw quite a few animals: zebras, wildebeests, monkeys, and a bunch of animals I couldn’t hope to name. (I photographed them for later identification.) It was quite beautiful.

Tomorrow I take in the elephant orphanage in Nairobi in the morning and then head to Emma’s house for lunch before deciding what to do to pass the time before my flight at 11:30 that night. I am hoping to chill at a hotel down the street from the airport. Whatever I do it will certainly prove interesting as Obama is arriving in the early evening and the entire country is out of its collective mind over it. Nairobi will no doubt prove to be a madhouse of traffic, closed roads and spontaneous celebrations as the country erupts with the belief that it is welcoming home a prodigal son.

I love how Boars kneel to eat. Genuflecting for lunch.

I love how Boars kneel to eat. Genuflecting for lunch.

I never tire of looking at zebras.

I never tire of looking at zebras.

A storm came in while in the sanctuary.

A storm came in while in the sanctuary.

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Crescent Lake.

Crescent Lake.

View from Leopard Rock.

View from Leopard Rock.

A lone flamingo left behind when the others flew off when the level of Crescent Lake rose. He had some ducks for company.

A lone flamingo left behind when the others flew off when the level of Crescent Lake rose. He had some ducks for company.

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My banda at Lake Naivasha's Camp Carnelly.

My banda at Lake Naivasha’s Camp Carnelly.

My greeter.

My greeter.

The restaurant at Camp Carnelly.

The restaurant at Camp Carnelly.

Obama is on the cover of the Daily Nation daily.

Obama is on the cover of the Daily Nation daily.

Day 36, Monday July 20

After biding my time for a week by prepping, editing, and lots of reading, it was finally time to jump back into shooting, just in time for the rains to return. Yes it had been sunny all week while we weren’t able to shoot. Today we were back up at Moi to finally start on Afiya. Luckily I had a very light shooting day planned in order to ease back into the swing of things because it took us forever to round up the talent and make trips to get wardrobe from their houses. I wasn’t exactly expecting that and it set us back quite a bit. Eventually we were on a mutatu shooting. (If I haven’t mentioned it before “mutatu” is Swahili for cramped deathtrap minibus. And this one we were on was classic.) Students staying at IU House are strictly forbidden to ride in mutatus. We however were renting it and having the guy drive us up and down the same street on the university. Even though that road is paved, you wouldn’t know it from looking at some of the footage. Fortunately I think we got enough relatively smooth stuff to make it work. Inside the mutatu is very loud so we also recorded the dialogue afterward just sitting still. It is pretty basic dialogue so I think we can synch it up with much trouble.

After lunch we went to the primary school to try to shoot some pick-ups from the Mosi film. We got some soccer stuff, but the important shot got rained out and we had to abandon everything. So first day back I’ll give ourselves a C. Tomorrow is packed so we have to hope we got all the kinks out today and that the weather will be just a little more cooperative.

Afiya (Caren) on the left and her sister Lindia (Whitney) on the right on their way home from the clinic.

Afiya (Caren) on the left and her sister Lindia (Whitney) on the right on their way home from the clinic.

Afiya on her way to the clinic on her own.

Afiya on her way to the clinic on her own.

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Day 29, Tuesday July 13

After the daily pilgrimage to the gym where I routinely work out all my angst, I made an incredible fruit salad breakfast which included what has to be the best pineapple I have ever tasted. After that amazing fruitopian excess, it was time to concentrate on the production schedule for Afiya. I managed to get it broken down rather quickly and it turns out there aren’t really that many shots to this film. It is a very spare film. In the good news department I heard from Emma that we got our Afiya star, Karen, back. As I suspected it turns out that she was just shy about asking about not working on Saturday. (She is a 7th Day Adventist and does not work on Saturdays. She doesn’t even go to school on Saturdays with all the other students.) In terms of crew we had to figure out a plan. Some students hadn’t yet gone home and were sticking around. If I wanted to have them crew I would have to cover all their meals from now until we wrapped on Sunday. In order to keep these costs down we decided it made sense to move the shooting up to Wed-Fri as opposed to Thursday, Friday, Sunday. So it looked like we had a pretty good plan in place. At 1:00 Emma headed to the primary school to solidify all the arrangements regarding Karen. Around 1:30 I got a call from her. It turns out there are exams starting tomorrow for the rest of the week. A long time ago there was mention of the primary students not being available after the 15th for some reason undisclosed to us, but that had not come up again in our recent conversations with the school. Not to be defeated I suggested we push everything to next week, Mon-Wed. I leave on Thursday so that is cutting it as close as possible. But that means I lose the crew. They will have to go home. So now I am faced with how to crew the shoot next week.

Just met with Emma and Rispa. Apparently getting in and out of the campus is now virtually impossible. We can pretty much write off Moi’s campus as a viable location at this point. The house, the clinic and the fruit stand we were going to use are located on campus. So we are now planning to move the whole shoot up to Burnt Forest starting next week. So tomorrow prior to our star time lapse shooting tomorrow night, we will venture into Burnt Forest and do a little location scouting.

Day 28, Monday July 12

The next film on the docket is Afiya. Afiya, an orphaned girl who lives with her aunt, depends on her older sister for matatu fare to a remote clinic. Then her sister leaves for University in Nairobi and Afiya has no choice but to go to the local clinic and risk the livelihood of her aunt.

We started today with a great production meeting at Moi. We had a wonderful dialogue development session, but at the end of the meeting Emma received a text that our Afiya actor backed out of the film. Hmm… that isn’t good. After the meeting we headed to lunch before going to the school to see why she backed out.

The Moi team working the way through the Afiya dialogue. Great ideas came out of this workshop.

The Moi team working the way through the Afiya dialogue. Great ideas came out of this workshop.

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Currently the Moi University students are electing their student officers and the elections are notorious for getting out of hand. At lunch over at The Stage several groups were marching, chanting, blowing whistles and raising banners. It was a little loud and intense at times but not out of hand. After lunch we headed to the school and met with the drama teacher. He knows the student’s parents and said he would call and try to persuade them. After that little trip, where we also made some arrangements to shoot some pick-ups for Mosi that became apparent after I edited the soccer scene, we dropped off Emma and Rispa then Benson and I headed further south to the town of Burnt Forest.

I want to shoot some exterior shots in front of the clinic there and between the university and Burnt Forest I wanted to find some good locations for shooting star time lapse for Afiya during Wednesday night’s new moon. Burnt Forest is a place of major unrest during the Kenyan elections. There was a lot of houses and business were burned to the ground which were still quite evident. They area is quite rolling and we found a great place. That involved meeting people and getting permission. Benson is great a at that. He is Kalenjin as were the people we wanted to approach, so Benson was just right at home finding out how to work things out so we can get onto private property and get some nice angles with trees in the foreground. One guy got in the car and showed us how to reach a big tree I could see on a hill. (see the pic below.)

After wrapping up that business, we were heading back to Eldoret when I got a call from Emma. Apparently things got very out of hand at the university, as in riots with rock throwing and the police. (There are 42 different tribes in Kenya and there are students from nearly all at Moi, but the predominant two are the Kalenjin and the Luo. And they were clashing over the student elections. Student elections are a big deal in Kenya because they can help launch the winner’s political career. So the stakes are way higher than student body president in the US.) Emma had to run back to her house after we dropped her off. (Little did we know, all seemed fine when we dropped them off.) So the university has been closed and everyone ordered off campus by 5:00 today. How long it remains closed is anyone’s guess, but Emma said it could be two to three weeks. Hmm.. my crew has been sent home. That doesn’t sound good either. So time to figure out a new strategy!

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Day 26, Saturday July 11

Today was the big soccer shoot day! I have sorta been dreading this day as running around a field with this camera rig isn’t exactly my forté. This is a rather extensive scene that carries a lot of narrative significance, so not only is it covering a sport, it involves making sure certain story points are clearly communicated.

I made an early morning run to the Nakumatt to buy yet more sodas for the crew, the cast and today two “soccer teams.” (I have now purchased at least 200 sodas for people.) Then it was back up to Moi to face the soccer challenge. I have to say it was a lot of fun. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t difficult at times to clearly communicate exactly what I needed to have happen. Choreographing 22 players on a field is pretty intense. Ultimately though I think I got what I needed and we were able to wrap by 5:00 and send the soccer kids home on time.  A big shout out to the crew: Brian Mutuchi, Timothy Mwaniki, Craig Omomdi, Chris Wambui,  Rispa Kiragu and of course Emma Ngare for a job well done.

Fanta, Sprite and Coke for everyone!

Fanta, Sprite and Coke for everyone!

Players take the field!!! Here we prep for the first shot of the day where a players runs downfield.

Players take the field!!! Here we prep for the first shot of the day where a players runs downfield.

And that's a wrap on Mosi.

And that’s a wrap on Mosi.

Day 25, Friday, July 10

Today back at the school we had to shoot a scene that directly follows the end of a soccer game that opens the film. In this scene Mosi walks from the field with his friend Amani. Mosi asks Amani why he thinks John is acting so strange toward him. This was the first handheld backward tracking shot of the production. The field is pretty rough and a bit tricky for walking backward with a heavy camera. After 3 takes I declared it good enough as I didn’t want to risk my foot one more time.Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 7.57.46 PM copy

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Day 24, Thursday, July 9

Our first day on Mosi was at the Primary school located on Moi University’s campus. Our first scene was a classroom scene in which Mosi becomes very self-conscious during inaccurate talk about HIV. He then leaves and is confronted by a bully who wants him off the soccer team. Mosi is being played by Emmanuel Mwangi. The morning went well and we had quite the crowd of interested spectators. It is amazing just how quite the crowd can be when action is called.

We brought a soccer ball donated by Rachel Vreeman. The school doesn’t have one. It felt everyone in the school kicked that ball at some point during the day.

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In the afternoon we moved out to the soccer field to shot a sideline scene. In this scene while members of the team are on the sidelines during a practice game, John moves his way over behind Mosi to sing a nasty little song in his ear.

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Waiting for a cloud to block the sun so we could continue shooting.

Waiting for a cloud to block the sun so we could continue shooting.

Waiting for the clouds with Emma.

Waiting for the clouds with Emma.

After the incident on the sidelines Mosi runs away and is soon joined by his friend Amani who is concerned about him. This shot now holds the record number of takes, 12. I wanted the conversation, the last shot of the scene, to play out in this single shot. We had to cut a bit of the dialogue to hep them out.

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Day 23, Wednesday, July 7th

I decided to get up and leave IU House by 5:00 to drive to Kerio View to shoot the rising sun. Kerio View overs looks the Rift Valley floor and is a spectacular view. Unfortunately I was awake a 2:00 AM and by the time I was on my way back to IU House I could hardly stay awake. But I had my 3rd Swahili lesson, so I rallied my strength. The rest of the day was spent preparing for the upcoming shoot.

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Day 20, Monday July 6th

The next film on the list is Mosi. Mosi is a really good soccer player at a boarding school. A jealous teammate learns of Mosi’s secret and tries to turn the team against him.

Today we just handled basic tasks. After getting up at 6:00 and working on the script revisions and breakdown for a few hours, we had our usual Monday morning production meeting up at Moi. Following the meeting we headed over to meet with the Headmaster of the Moi Primary School where we will be shooting the Mosi film. We had a handful of questions regarding the soccer team and scheduling the various scenes. Our questions were quickly answered and very much to our satisfaction. After a short tour around the campus to scout various locations we were on our way. Our next stop was the clinic to see if we could get early afternoon access to the clinic on Friday. We were able to check that off the list as well. So it feels we are in pretty good shape going into this film. The soccer scenes are a little daunting, but the rest of the film is pretty straightforward and should be fairly quick to shoot.

Day 19, Sunday July 5th

Today we had a particularly interesting challenge. We were shooting at the church again today. This time we had to shoot the congregation that the pastor gave the sermon to during Friday’s shoot. We decided to shoot the sermon and the reverse angle on separate days because we wanted to spare the congregation from hearing the inflammatory sermon. I decided a good strategy would be to shoot the pastor from behind and have him pretend to give the sermon and that way we could record the sound of the congregation’s response. In post we’ll mix the sound and intercut between the two views. I think that strategy will work just fine. The big trick today was that church is over at 1:00 and the church is also used by the local sudanese community directly after. While there were about 40 Kenyans in the congregation today there were about 150 Sudanese over at the Sunday school just waiting to use the church as soon as the service was over.  Jarius planned to hold them off until we finished. I say planned because ultimately that proved impossible. We got everything shot inside that we needed, but when we went outside to shoot a couple of things we needed around the front entrance, the sudanese saw their opportunity and just took it. I managed to get one shot off but a dialogue scene we planned between the pastor and Joshua unfortunately had to be sacrificed.

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Day 18, Saturday, July 4th

Today we were shooting at the medical center on Moi’s Campus. We had two scenes to do. In one the pastor visits to learn about HIV and in the other Joshua is taken there by his grandmother to have his status disclosed. It went pretty well. I am finding it a bit of a challenge to come up with shots in these locations that feel more than just serviceable. I think it will cut together pretty well. That is important and probably half the battle, but I feel like I am missing the mark a little when it comes to the cinematography potential. I have to come to terms with the fact that there is only so much I can do, but I still think there is more potential here than I am realizing. Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 7.58.22 PM copy Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 9.45.15 AM copy Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 9.46.26 AM copy *****

Day 17, Friday, July 3rd

Today was the day of Jeanette’s departure. Benson took her to the airport very early in the morning. Jeanette is the Co-PI on this project. She got here two weeks prior to me to start on the pre-production. And now it was time for her to depart. A big shoutout to Jeanette for all she did to make this happen. None of this would be possible with the commitment and hard work of several people, Jeanette being key among them. Now I have to go it alone.

Today we were shooting at a church in Kapsoya which is very close to Eldoret. We shot at the Lighthouse Church, the actual church of the actor playing out Pastor Boke. I posted shots of it in an earlier entry when we first visited. We had three scenes to do: Two interiors and then a rather elaborate exterior sequence. The plan was to start inside on the final scene of the film, we would be fresh and be sure to take our time to get it right. It went pretty well. For reasons too technical to go into here I was battling lens glare from the windows. It was a constant battle all day and in the end I had to just go with it. I am a bit concerned about how soft-spoken the actor playing Joshua is. The ambient sounds of traffic and the wind blowing the metal roof were not insignificant. Anyway we got both interior scenes done in time for lunch. This left the exterior for the afternoon. The day was cloudless to begin with and that is actually not ideal for shooting midday outside. The shadows are quite harsh. But by the time we finished lunch some clouds started rolling in. This makes things a bit tricky. You have to commit to either shooting everything when a cloud is in front of the sun or when there isn’t. Obviously I prefer the former. It is a bit of a gamble because you have to continually wait for the next cloud to roll through before you can shoot. So we simplified the shot list significantly and started playing the waiting game. It worked. We managed to get it done. It won’t win any cinematography awards, but it will do the job. Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 7.31.51 PM copy Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 7.33.19 PM copy Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 7.36.48 PM copy Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 7.31.15 PM copy Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 8.10.47 PM copy Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 10.10.17 AM copy *****

DAY 16, Thursday, July 2

Today was our first day of shooting on the Joshua film. In this film a 10-year-old boy lives with his grandmother and is very attached to the church he attends. Things change suddenly when the pastor of his church finds out Joshua is HIV+. Today’s shoot was at Joshua’s home. Joshua was supposed to live with his grandparents until the actor scheduled to play the part showed up this morning and said he couldn’t really commit to the next 3 days. Consequently, now Joshua suddenly lives with only his grandmother. So today was a pretty easy day and we were basically done by lunch. If only all the remaining shooting days could be so easy. Here are some stills from the film.

Joshua home at might talking with his grandmother.

Joshua home at night talking with his grandmother about something he saw at church that day.

Joshua and his grandmother eating breakfast.

Joshua and his grandmother eating breakfast.

Joshua cooking breakfast.

Joshua cooking breakfast.

Joshua trying to let the sheep out.

Joshua trying to let the sheep out.

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Day 15, Wednesday, July 1

Today was spent going over the script breakdown to organize each of the shooting days. It takes quite a few hours to visualize each shot, number them all and then sort them into shooting order. Once that was done I ran a few errands and came back to IU House for Swahili Lesson #2. Of course I didn’t quite review and practice the last lesson as much as I would have liked and that was quickly proven at the start of the lesson. Today Lesson 2 was all about numbers. Oh my what a brain binder. Try this on for size: 193,465 is elf mia moja tisini, mia nne satini na tano. While that might be a tricky mouthful, the far trickier part is figuring it out. Number Lesson: sifuri 0 moja 1 mbili 2 tatu 3 nne 4 tano 5 sita 6 saba 7 nane 8 tisa 9 kumi 10

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Day 14, Tuesday, June 30

Today was my 51st birthday. And the “hard to believe” cliché seemed to ring very true. How did another year fly by? But when I really think about it, it didn’t really fly by. It was one of the most packed years of my entire life. That is easily borne out with a quick look at all the blog entries. In fact my 51st year was a juggling act of way too many things. So the goal this year is to taper back to a more manageable pace and incorporate more relaxation into the mix. It seems like I haven’t had a birthday at home in years. I am usually traveling somewhere during that time and this year was no different. I spent the day trying to relax a little bit, by relaxing I mean prepping all the gear for the upcoming shoot, (which actually took almost 4 hours) organizing everything and doing my laundry. I was surprised at lunch with a wonderful cake that Jeanette arranged to have baked for me. Such a delicious chocolate strawberry cake! And in the evening I went to Sikh Union with a couple of new friends and had the most wonderful Indian dinner I have had since the last time I went there 2 1/2 years ago.

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Day 13, Monday, June 29

In the morning we picked up Pastor Jarius and had a trip up to the Moi campus for a Joshua (the next film) production meeting with the students. Pastor Jarius is a very funny man and had us all laughing the whole drive there. We arrived very late because Benson had been delayed with a work meeting. Being 40 minutes late the students had already left and planned to return once we arrived. Emma called them and soon we were in full swing discussing the Joshua story. As we tried to get a sense of what Pastor Boke, being played by Pastor Jarius, would say in certain circumstances, I knew we chose the right guy as he improvised in such a convincing way I got goosebumps. He will easily be able to handle this. After the production meeting I had lunch with Emma and Rispa over in the area called the stage. The stage is the community on campus where there are a lot of businesses and a lot of students live. (It is seen in some of the images below.) Anytime we shoot on the campus we will use this restaurant for lunch. After lunch I met with the head of the school Dr. Mboyo. He wanted to hear how things were going and wanted to discuss their desire for the possibility of future collaborations. I am very intrigued by the thought, but I am not exactly sure how it would work. But conversations regarding that can happen after the immediate task at hand. And hopefully in the meantime IU students will be allowed to return to Kenya. Right now IU has placed a travel ban on students coming here because of recent terrorist incidents. If I am not mistaken they are the only school in the AMPATH consortium to put a travel ban in place. (And consequently there are far fewer people staying at IU House than there normally would be.)

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Day 12, Sunday June 28

For our fourth day of shooting we were back at AMPATH one last time. With 26 shots remaining we had a lot of ground to cover to put this film to bed. The necessity to shoot on Sunday and to start in the morning was not welcome news for the Kenya team. And I can understand that. But unfortunately the situation was very clear: if we didn’t shoot in the morning the film would not get completed and there was absolutely no available weekends remaining in the production schedule. (The clinic is closed weekends and is why we are allowed access.)  There really were no other options, if there had been I would have taken it. So I enlisted everyone to come back and we trudged our way through the rest of the film. And oddly enough the last shot we did is the first shot of the film. It wasn’t planned that way. So I have to say in general the four days went really well. The students really took to the gear quickly and didn’t need a lot of reviewing. With such a small crew it can be tough to manage everything that has to be managed, but with all the shots already listed in shooting order and knowing how most of them were to be shot helped tremendously. The trickiest thing was keeping on top of wardrobe changes. Since the film is shot so out of order and scenes shot in AMPATH take place 6 months apart there are multiple wardrobe changes. But during our entire four days of production it seems like we only made a single mistake when at the very end of the fourth day we started to shoot Michael in the wrong shirt. But I realized it in time and we fixed it on take 6. Disaster averted. So I have to give everyone involved a big pat on the back for being a new team that ran a good show!

******

Day 11, Saturday June 27

Our third day of shooting brought us to the AMPATH clinic in Eldoret. We had a big day scheduled and needed extras to make the clinic look open. With so much to shoot and so many people on set the day was intense. More intense than I had hoped. With so much commotion is is hard to concentrate on how I was going to cheat the space so that a location behind the building would actually seem to be out the front door. Screen direction and access rules can quickly get very confusing when trying to fake two separate places that you are shooting at different angles. I had ti mapped out, but I kept doubting my drawings. I think I managed to get it right in the end.

Michael being greeted by the counselor.

Michael being greeted by the counselor.

Michael following the counselor.

Michael following the counselor.

some of the crew and extras.

Jeanette and Michael with some of the crew and extras.

CJ and Emma on set.

CJ and Emma on set.

Shooting Father confronting the counselor.

Shooting Father confronting the counselor.

Trying to coax Benson into acting mean.

Trying to coax Benson into acting mean.

******

Day 10, Friday June 26, 2015

The words of the day are rain and mud. The entire time I have been here it has been nice in the morning and raining in the afternoon. Until now. Today we had to deal with weather. And it isn’t like you can just go inside and shoot interiors instead. The house we were using has a metal roof so it is deafeningly loud when it rains. Anyway after a light morning rain we were able to get some matatu (private bus) shots done and some tracking shots shot out the back of the car. I am particularly happy with the way those turned out. Back at the house we had to shoot a scene where an uncle arrives unexpectedly. The room is so small it is really a challenge to cover the scene well. Plus it is a continuous scene with yesterday and with the sky so much darker I don’t know how well it is going to intercut. Oh well it is what it is and I will make the best of it. I don’ think I mentioned that we have our driver, Benson, playing the part of the father and he is really good.

Michael going to the clinic.

Michael going to the clinic.

Uncle arriving on a mutatu.

Uncle arriving on a mutatu.

Uncle talking to father.

Uncle talking to father.

IMG_6463 IMG_6464 IMG_6474 IMG_6481 IMG_6494 IMG_6524 IMG_6535 IMG_6577 *****

Day 9, Thursday, June 24, 2015

Today was our first shooting day. Finally! And all in all it was great. Everything just clicked into place. All the students were great. They learned what was expected of them, did it well and had fun in the process. What more could you want? Everyone had fun and at the end of the day we had some seriously beautiful footage. And also at the end of the day I was seriously tired. Standing on my bum foot all day didn’t help. Our call time was 7:00 at a house by Moi campus 45 minutes north of Eldoret. We arrived just as it started to rain. The rain lasted the first couple of hours, but I think it added a lot to the outdoor shots we started with. I love shots in the rain. The rest of the day inside went really smoothly. I broke the students in with a relatively light day in terms of film shooting. We were wrapped by 2:00. Then is was time to head back to IU House, drop of the gear and make our way to the Nakumatt to buy more food for tomorrow’s shoot. The drive to the supermarket was during rush hour. Now that is an experience. Driving in Eldoret is like no other place I have ever seen. Rome traffic has nothing on Eldoret. Words, not even pictures, can do it justice. You just have to live it to believe it. Needless to say that was long trip. But we returned with another supply of 25 yogurts and other items to feed the troops tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a little more intense and then the weekend we have two days shot in the clinic that will be pretty major. So we are ramping up.

Michael doing chores.

Michael doing chores.

Michael waking up.

Michael waking up.

Michael's step-mother yelling at him.

Michael’s step-mother yelling at him.

Father, played by Benson, chopping grass for the cows.

Father, played by Benson, chopping grass for the cows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

James getting ready to wake up.

James getting ready to wake up.

*****

Day 8, Wednesday June 24, 2015

I started my day with a Swahili lesson with the resident language instructor named Wycliffe. I had so much fun. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I am not sure how much of it was learning a language and how much of it was truly delighting in Wycliffe. Meeting such friendly and interesting people at IU House adds such a dimension to this entire experience. I have met so many great people and had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with people giving so willingly of their time and talent. After my lesson I went to the cancer centre to record Sylvia’s performance. Sylvia teaches at IU Bloomington and knows a Kenyan student who is studying opera there Eddy Muney. He was in Nairobi for the summer and she invited him to perform with her. He joined us for dinner the night before, so there was a lot of anticipation growing over the performance. The show was really great and a lot of people attended. I shot it, but I don’t think I did it justice. Sometime in the not-so-distant future I will find the time to edit it together. Eddy is a talent to look out for. He will be doing amazing things! After the show, we picked up James at his school to drive up to Moi. About 75 little kids opened the gate at James’s school and the car was literally surrounded by kids wanting to shake my hand and rub the freckles on my arms. Yet another photo I missed. At Moi we introduced James to the university students working on this particular film. We did a little icebreaker and then rehearsed some of the film. But before we knew it it was time to make the 45 minute drive back into town to get James home.

******

Day 7, Tuesday June 23, 2015

After my daily early morning workout at the local gym, the rest of the morning was spent running errands. Chief among them was meeting Pastor Jarius, who will be playing Pastor Boke in our film currently called Joshua. He has kindly offered not only himself as an actor, but his church, his Sunday school and even his congregation. It is an amazing feeling to be so welcomed by a man who read the script and really believes it is an important story to be told.

The church on the left and the sunday school on the right.

The church on the left and the sunday school on the right.

Inside the church building. This pastor has opened his church to Sudanese refugees. Two are playing a synthesizer here.

Inside the church building. Pastor Jarius has opened his church to Sudanese refugees. Two are playing a synthesizer here.

Jarius, the pastor who has welcomed us to shoot our film at his church.

Jarius, the pastor who has welcomed us to shoot our film at his church.

Inside the Sunday school building.

Inside the Sunday school building.

An english lesson on the blackboard in the Sunday school.

An english lesson on the blackboard in the Sunday school.

In the late afternoon Jeanette and I finally got to meet with Rachel Vreeman and her team to discuss the current status of the films. (We are making these films to be used with Rachel’s NIH study called HADITHI.) We met at AMPATH‘s new Chandaria Cancer and Chronic Disease Centre. (When I was here shooting films in 2013 they were just break ground on this building. Soon it will be home to the premiere cancer center in all of eastern Africa.)  Out of that meeting we decided that the Mosi story needed to go through some more revisions, so we switched it in the line-up with the Joshua story. So now after we shoot Michael this week we will move onto Joshua next. It was also good to have a face-to-face meeting so we could all be on the same page about where the various film stood. This past week everyone here at the IU House has had the pleasure of the company of Sylvia McNair. She is a grammy award winning singer who now teaches at IU Bloomington. She is a regular visitor to IU House and will be singing a free concert at the Chandaria building tomorrow morning. I volunteered to shoot the show for her and I am really looking forward to hearing her sing.

****

Day 6, Monday June 22

This morning we were back up to the Moi campus to look at a couple of locations and to have a meeting with the students who will be interning on the films. We looked at the hallways of the Information Science building to see if it could be used as the hallways of the health clinic Michael goes to, and we visited the HIV clinic to see if it would work. The challenge would be shooting these two locations in a way that could be seamlessly intercut as the same location. This is not something I am crazy about doing, because one mistake and the whole thing fails. Continuity is hard enough as it is. Given the way the two spaces are to interact with looks occurring through a glass door, trying to fake the two as one might just be more than my overwhelmed brain can handle right now. After scouting the locations I met with all the students for 2 hours to discuss the Michael story and create dialogue. It went really well. I got a lot of great feedback and feel much better equipped to take the story to a more authentic level. Big thanks to all the students who participated in the meeting. I got so wrapped up in it I forgot to take any pictures. The students from Moi University working on the project are: Joan Rispa Kiragu, Megan Cherotich, William Nyoro, Brian Mutuchi, Craig Omondi, Jairus Kibagendi, Christopher Wambui, Anita Murunga, Simon Kairu, Teresiah Muhuta, Octavious Onyango and Kevin Wanjiku.

*****

Day 5, Sunday June 21

Today was spent at IU House working on the script breakdown of Michael. I had to determine which shots were happening on which days. It is basically a matter of mentally running through the shot sin my head, numbering them and then looking at the logistics of locations to determine which shots are shot what days and in the best logical order. We start our first film shoot on Thursday, and will shoot Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

****

Day 4 Saturday June 20, 2015

Today started with a trip back up to the Moi University Main Campus to visit the HIV clinic, to see some of the homes we would like to use, and lastly to work with the University students for a few hours going over the gear. We went the clinic but it was closed. Even though I couldn’t get in it seemed pretty small for a particular scene in the film I had visualized. It was hard not to take this as a sign that this filmmaking is going to be presenting a lot of logistical hurdles in the on-coming weeks. With the door locked we did not have much choice but to move on to the next item on the agenda, seeing homes.  After seeing a few homes that I did not think would work out, we stopped at one that I think could serve our purposes. It is a little tight but I think I can make it work. This boosted my optimism a good bit. I don’t know that it completely made up for the clinic being closed, but it helped. At 2:00 we went to the university and Benson kindly lugged all the gear in so I didn’t have to. At first only 4 students were there on time at 2:00. By 2:20 there were 8 of the 12 so we started. After introductions we set up the camera and sound and the students got their hands on the gear to shoot several synch sound shots.

What will be Michael's house

What will be Michael’s house

IMG_6374 IMG_6394 *****

Day 3

Today I joined Emma and a student Rispa, who is working with us regularly as a production coordinator, to go back to the school in Longas and audition James. Benson picked me up shortly before 11 and we made the ride over. At the school I had a chance to get to know Emma and Rispa a bit better as we waited for James’s teacher to return from an errand. This was my first real opportunity to talk about the project with Emma and Rispa is a good casual way. As soon as we met James I knew he looked the part. He has a nice but determined look about him and I could easily see him play a role where he has to defy his father. We auditioned him and worked with him a bit to find his character. By the end I was convinced he could do it. There is only on empire hurdle and that is getting his grandmother to sign the consent form. (The consent forms still have to be finalized this weekend so we can get them signed by actors next week.)

James who we auditioned for Michael. With his Grandmother's consent he will have the part.

James who we auditioned for Michael. With his Grandmother’s consent he will have the part.

Emma with her student Rispa, who is working as a production coordinator.

Emma with her student Rispa, who is working as a production coordinator.

After our meeting with James, we headed back to IU House to have some lunch and discuss the project more formally. We expected CJ and his boss Mboya to also attend. CJ was running late, but Mboya couldn’t make it. Nevertheless I think we had a great exchange of ideas and laid down some good production plans for Michael. We shared quite a few good laughs. We also had a great conversation about filmmaking and good and bad techniques for approaching storytelling. It was fun sharing similar thoughts regarding our mutual love of filmmaking. I felt quite inspired afterward and I am glad that Emma and Rispa have a way of calming the bit of concerns I still have about being able to pull this crazy project off. All of them repeatedly mentioned how the other students are so excited about seeing and learning the gear I brought with me. They had already heard I had scheduled the afternoon tomorrow from 2-5 to get to know them and do a big demo and practice shoot up at Moi University and enthusiasm was reaching a crazy crescendo. I am super excited about doing it.

*****

Day 2

While I am here we are attempting to make 6 films. The films are currently named after the lead character in each. They are: Michael, Afiya, Mosi, Kaluwa, Chiku & Bavana, Joshua. Each film will be cast with students from a primary school located on the campus of Moi University which is about 40 minutes north of Eldoret. We are also going to be shooting most of the films in and around the Moi University campus. Consequently we have hired a car and a driver to shuttle everybody and everything around for the next 6 weeks. Our driver Benson is great! Over breakfast at 7:30 I met with Jeanette Dikerson-Putman, my Co-Pi on this project who has been busy over here for the last two weeks working on pre-production. We discussed the day’s plan over fruit and yoghurt. We are planning on shooting the Michael film first because the students from our primary school are going to be unavailable to us for the next 10 days because of exams. We felt during that time we could cast Michael from somewhere else and get that film shot. Unfortunately the search for a Michael had not been going very well for Jeanette. But now over breakfast I was informed that she had found someone and she was quite excited. A security guard here is somehow related to an orphan named James whose mother died of AIDS. He lives in a nearby slum and goes to a public school. Apparently he is exceptionally bright and very serious and has done some previous acting. So part of our morning plan was to drop by his school to drop off a script for James to read before we visit with him the next day for an audition. The rest of the day’s plan was to visit the primary school for more auditioning. Jeanette along with Emma, one of our Moi collaborators, had been doing auditions on Monday and almost 50 kids came out with their parents, way more than we expected. During that time they auditioned for Kaluwa, Joshua. We arrived at 3:00 and had dozens of students there. Emma along with her students Priddy, Kevin and Rispa directed the audition session and shot the auditions. A couple hours later I felt good that we had the right students lined up to play the major parts of our remaining films. Yay! A successful day!

The Primary School where we held auditions.

The Primary School where we held auditions.

Emma Ngare, one of our collaborators from Moi University.

Emma Ngare, one of our collaborators from Moi University.

Emma setting up for auditions.

Emma setting up for auditions.

Auditioning for Mosi.

Auditioning for Mosi.

CJ Odhiambo, our Moi Collaborator, leading a group exercise after the audition.

CJ Odhiambo, our Moi University collaborator, leading a group exercise after the audition.

*****

Day 1 June 17, 2015

A few weeks ago I decided to get a driver to Eldoret rather than face the hassle of bringing so much gear on a domestic flight where they have become far more stringent about what you can bring on. Now with my foot as it is, I am really glad I made that decision. I have had enough of being cramped on a plane. Anthony, my driver, was there at 7:30 and we hit the road right after breakfast. We enjoyed a great conversation largely about politics and international relations. We passed the time quickly. At IU House I got my room, had a late lunch, took care of my paperwork and took a desperately needed nap.

Typical View from road to Eldoret. That is mist in the BG not smog.

Typical View from road to Eldoret. That is mist in the BG not smog.

Typical view out the front.

Typical view out the front.

My Room for the next 6 weeks.

My Room for the next 6 weeks.

*****

Day 0 June 16th, 2015

Today was spent in transit to Nairobi. I was told I should leave the Hotel (a very nice 65-acre compound called Sunningdale Park) 3 hours before my flight. I thought that was a bit much considering my bags were checked through to Nairobi and I already had my boarding pass, but since I was not sure how long the drive would take during rush hour I agreed. Well the whole drive and getting through the highly efficient security took 45 minutes total, 30 minutes to drive and 15 to get though the security of one of the busiest airports in the world. One reason their security is so efficient is that they have a state of the art conveyer system for the bins. You take the bin out from under the counter, where is immediately replaced, and load it onto the conveyer. On the other end you put the bin in a hole in the counter that sinks underneath and shoots them back to the other end. I have never encountered this system in any other airport, but it sure simplifies things that is for sure. So by 8:15 I was inside waiting for my 10:30 flight. A little more sleep would have been nice. The 8.5 hour flight flew by, but the airport experience in Nairobi left a bit to be desired. After getting through immigration and getting to the baggage pick-up, there were no carts left (trollies as they call them here.) Everyone was leaving with them and none were coming back in. While I could see my bags there waiting for me as soon as I arrived, I had no way to move them. Of course there were a handful of others in the same boat. Eventually I found a sympathetic officer who took pity on the crutched American and he made sure I got a trolley and a help to load it and take it to the street. Once I passed through customs and left the terminal there are 100 drivers holding up names. Luckily mine was easy to spot (unlike last time). But then he wanted to meet me with his taxi across the street in the official pick-up area. So I hobbled over there and after 45 minutes he still wasn’t there. I was starting to become convinced he couldn’t find me and just gave up. He finally showed up and about half an hour later I was at the Mennonite guesthouse known as Amani Gardens. It is a really beautiful place. I was told it was a British army barracks back before Kenya’s independence in 1963. And after independence the Mennonite church in the US bought it from the British government and have been running it as a guest house ever since. My room was modest, but the grounds are really beautiful and it included breakfast for $80/night. Far cheaper than the $275 place I stayed last time.

IMG_6310

The grounds at Amani Gardens.

*****

Departing Greece for Kenya An hour before leaving Paros for Kenya via London I broke my right foot. This caused a lot issues in Athens but after the dust settled and it was determined I would not be needing surgery, I headed on to Nairobi only a day behind schedule.

2 comments on “On the Ground in Kenya

  1. jairus kibagendi
    June 22, 2015

    Nice record Thomas

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kelvin Mburu
    June 10, 2021

    working with you on this projects gave me key employability skills. Than you Thomas.

    Liked by 1 person

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