“Work in joy”, general Yamashi used to say. Ok, Yamashi San, at least, we agree on this! The fourth day was a light one: we just had to go to the UN Kenya headquarter to interview Challisse McDonough, senior WFP spokeswoman, and Baptiste Burgaud from the Logistic Cluster. Both interviews were supposed to take place in the late afternoon, so we could finally wake up late, take our time, write a little and enjoy the view from the hotel. It was definitely nice, because as we opened our windows we had a 180 degrees view of a stunning African forest, green and dense, with trees I had never seen before. The interviews were quick and simple, without the need of guidelines, as no-one knew better than them what was going on in the Horn of Africa. Challiss explained in depth what exactly was a Plumpy Supply, which was a key point in order to develop our documentary. Baptiste gave us a detail account on the logistics. The job was done in less than an hour and a half, than Jen and me could spend the rest of the afternoon and the evening hanging around, chatting and relaxing. Nothing was planned for the next two days, so we decided to call Victor and manage to arrange a small Safari for Saturday…obviously on our personal expense.
Nothing wrong with it, it’s always good make the most of your free time. I have never been in Kenya before, I’ve never even been south of Sahara…since we had a day off…why not? The problems we faced on Thursday were than far away, since when we realized that Victor had fixed them, so we were in the right mood to enjoy our stay in Kenya. Our fifth day in Kenya was really relaxing. Nothing to do but write and chat and hang around. The weather wasn’t bad as the past days so it was a pleasure to take a small ride with Patrick, our personal security consultant, a friend of Victor that was hired to escort us to Dadaab camp. He picked us up during late morning and took us for a ride through town and finally brought us to a mall where Jen could withdraw some cash. Ex Kenya army Colonel and current TNT’s security consultant, Patrick was surely not a quiet person. While driving, he showed us his wonderful town, the complex reality of his country, people’s lifestyle . While waiting for Jen at the mall (she had several difficulties when trying to withdraw her cash), we had a long talk about Kenya’s recent history. He told me about the “troubles”, a rioting period that had taken place three years before, about the decolonization process, and finally about the famine that hits the Horn of Africa. It was amazing to have the chance to talk to him: I’ve always been very interested in history, and I am so glad I could discuss these subject with such an experienced person as Patrick. I have to say that it was ever so easy to establish a friendship with him. We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon, and we had time to rest and have fun while chatting at the restaurant. Another pleasant day.
Saturday 13 August, we woke up early in the morning and quickly packed a small backpack since a van was waiting for us in front of the hotel. The driver, a fifty years old man named Sam, drove us to a center where baby orphan elephants were being fed and looked after waiting to be set free again. Than again on the van to another center, where wild giraffes go to be fed by the tourists. For the first time in my life I saw and touched a giraffe…cool! At the center there also was a group of Kenyan schoolboys and schoolgirls. They were there to see the giraffes, but they seemed much more interested in a man, sat on a bench, that was giving colorful facepaintings for a few shillings... I saw Jen looking at the children, than looking at the facepainter, then taking off her wallet a thousand shilling banknote and giving it to the man.
“Paint them all!” she shouted laugthing, and suddenly all the kids surrounded the facepainter, shouting and laughing as well, too happy to listen to their teacher who was desperately trying to organize them on a queue… Jen kept on laughing and laughing, and I would have laughed too if I only wasn’t involved in one of the most intense photo shootings of my life…I took such great portraits! When time to go finally came, Jen said goodbye to the kids, and their reply seemed to be much more a sort of “HURRAH!!!” than a simple goodbye. Instead, when I said goodbye myself, they did replay although they seemed to mean “Who the hell are you? We’re saying goodbye to you just because you’re with her! ”… fair enough, I was just the annoying photographer!
After the giraffe center we stopped for a while at a coffee shop to have some food. Jen had gone with the driver to a supermarket nearby, to buy some stuff she needed, and I sat alone whilst having a drink. I don’t know what happened to me in that very moment… I felt a warm sensation in my chest. I smelled the air. At last I was used to Africa’s smell, and I liked it. I liked the color of the sky, I liked the moves of the trees while waving at the evening breezes, I liked the sound of people speaking Swahili, laughing and smiling all around. I felt comfortable…very comfortable, almost happy. I picked up my mobile phone and I texted my girlfriend:
“This place is stealing my heart…” I wrote her. I wanted to share that sensation with someone that loved me…didn’t know why.
The day ended with a Safari on a small Nairobi Natural Reserve. Giraffes, lions, baboons, buffalos, antilopes in the wild, ancestral savannah… is it possible not to fall in love with such a place?
As we got back to the hotel, we had a good dinner. Together Jen and I went through everything that had happened during the day, made jokes and have a lovely chat. Surprisingly I realized that also Jen was now becoming a friend and not just a colleague, a manager. It’s much easier to open up and talk about everything when you are deployed, when you have to live 24 hours a day with someone.
We said each other goodnight early, because the next day we were supposed to jump into the 4WD Victor had provided, and go straight to Dadaab’s Camp, the final and most important part of our mission. I wrote a little in my room, sat next to the window, listening to the frogs singing. Then I went to bed and tried to sleep. Five minutes later I received a text on my mobile. It was Jen:
“Chaliss wrote me to say that we can’t go to Dadaab unless we have the authorization of two other UN representatives. She’s in Afghanistan now and can’t help us…Riccardo I’m so tired…”
Damn…a constant challenge…no way to get out of this without suffering…
“That’s UN Jen….” I replied “no chance to fix this up tonight anyway. Let’s try to sleep now. We’ll think about it tomorrow.”
I couldn’t sleep anyway.