The Net Mender

His name was Ali Ibrahim. It probably still is. In all honesty, I know virtually nothing about the man.

But, I was in Malindi, walking off the beach, and saw him sitting in a rundown shed, mending his nets. I started to walk off, paused, knowing he would make a good subject. Approaching random people to ask their permission for a photograph has been my biggest weakness as a photographer, and I have missed many opportunities because I wasn’t comfortable asking the question (the problem is magnified by my oft-inability to speak local languages). This time, however, I was with Wawi Amasha (more on her later). Wawi is a constant inspiration to me, and her presence coaxes me to push myself to achieve more.

I almost walked off, but I knew I would be disappointed in myself, like every other time it happened. Instead, I asked Wawi to help me translate, and I entered this rather ramshackle wooden shed. This Ali Ibrahim, in our brief encounter, had one of the warmest, most genuine personalities I have come across in a long time. He granted me the courtesy of shooting while he worked, and I only stayed for a few short minutes, before he gave me his address, for me to send some prints to him.

Walking away, I reviewed the photos, and felt I could see his gentle personality in the eyes of this portrait. I was so grateful to him, for allowing me into his personal workspace, and to Wawi, for unknowingly forcing me out of my comfort zone, in my endeavour to become a good, if not great photographer. That’s the goal, anyway.

When I return to Kenya, I must return to the red wooden Malindi Co-op Fishing building, and if I find him there, I can hopefully have a real conversation with him. I’ll probably need Wawi to translate again…

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The Perils Of The Kenyan Wedding

When you are travelling, you hopefully learn sooner or later to go with the flow, and open yourself to new possibilities and experiences. Admittedly, it took me a little while to get into this mindset, and looking back, I can see many possibly great memories missed because I either was too skeptical, didn’t know if I could trust the inviter, or simply because I had a schedule I wanted to stick to, or somewhere I planned to be (not one of the schedules was ever that important). Becoming comfortable enough to just say yes to these offers was one of the best changes I have made to myself since hitting the road.

One such offer came up when I went to dinner with some friends. I briefly spoke with Wawi, a girl at the table I hadn’t met before, who in passing mentioned her cousins’ wedding was in 2 days time, and I should come to her village with her and check it out. I didn’t think too much more about it at dinner, mostly because when having dinner with one other dude, and 8 women, 6 of them African, the atmosphere isn’t entirely conducive for thinking (these ladies were loud). The morning after, I woke up, thought more about the offer, and figured two things: 1- I had no solid plans for the weekend, and 2- How many Kenyan weddings am I likely to be invited to. So I packed my bag with a nice shirt, my camera, and 8 rolls of film, cruised into town, met Wawi for the second time, and squeezed into a matatu for the 3 hour trip to Embu, stopping on the way to buy pineapples (Apparently the best pineapples are grown near Embu… they were damn good so I could believe it).

I had been really excited by the prospect of shooting a traditional Kenyan wedding in Wawi’s home village outside Embu town. I found out that the wedding wasn’t going to be traditional, however. Like the majority of weddings in Kenya these days, the bride and groom decided to forgo tradition in favour of the more “modern”, or more “elegant”, or more “civilised” (read: expensive) Western style wedding. I’m not entirely sure of the reason they choose to emulate Western weddings, but it’s possibly the same reason they emulate western clothing styles, and much of western culture. I wouldn’t, however, call the mimicry of American rapper speak by young Kenyan males elegant. I also decided that, while not traditional, it would still be worthwhile seeing exactly how these church weddings went… and I wondered how the elder Kenyans felt about their children’s seeming abandonment of local culture. Again, this is all my perspective as an outsider.

I don't know.. tacky?

Plastic flowers.

Having only ever attended one wedding to my knowledge, and I was attending as a photographers’ assistant, not a guest, I had a very limited knowledge of what goes down at a wedding. To be honest, everything I knew about weddings was a result of movies, TV, and hearsay. This wedding was held in one of the local Embu churches. The decorations were, in my opinion, interesting. Plastic flowers when there was an abundance of fresh local flowers all around the area, cardboard signs cut into hearts, and a red, white and black colour theme. The service also dragged on (but I found out the next day this seemed typical of most church services). Aside from the introduction by the pastor, some singing and dancing, some talking in Swahili and Kiembu (the local dialect), some talking in English, more singing and dancing, and the typical wedding stuff (the speech things bride and groom do, the ‘I do’s, and the rings, and the signing of the papers, the pastor also launched in to some form of marriage counselling before they were even wed. She followed with a “short” (over an hour) sermon about God or Jesus or something I wasn’t paying attention to. After avoiding churches and religion for so long, I involuntarily found myself right in the middle of it, and unable to sneak out… I was the only white person there, it would have been a bit obvious.

Leading the bride in

After finally wrapping up the service, the congregation (I don’t know what we call a group of people at a wedding, moved up the street to the girls school, where the reception was held on the soccer field. While happy to be outside, and thankful that the pastor stopped speaking, Wawi and I were both starting to really crave a cold, strong drink. Thankfully the outdoor reception proved to be a bit less western influenced than the service (I think.. Again, I know almost nothing about weddings). When the bride arrived, guests from the grooms side crowd the car to welcome her to the reception, and the dancing begins from the car over to the marque setup. Something similar to a congo line formed and weaved between the brides side and the grooms side.

They even danced their way to cutting the cake

The wedding cake, in the theme of a traditional village, despite the absence of a traditional wedding.

There was more dancing, some entertainment, a point where people just seemed to socialise, then a good 15 minute buildup for the cutting of the cake. After the cake cutting came the throwing of the bouquet, then everything wrapped up. Mind you, the reception still took about 4-5 hours to get through these. The planned night party in the village didn’t eventuate. There was a goat given by the groom’s family to the bride’s family to be slaughtered for the party, but the bride’s stepmum apparently had a change of heart and decided to save the goat for some other occasion. Wawi, her brother Jimmi, and I went out ourselves instead, and I finally got the ice cold Tusker I had been waiting 8 hours for.

The bouquet throw.. Obviously..

All in all, I found it interesting to experience once, but I’m sure by next time, the novelty of the dancing, and listening to someone preach in 3 different languages, will have worn off somewhat. Still, I probably won’t say no if I get another offer.
Oh, and I recommend clicking on these two portraits

She asked "Will you take my portrait". Couldn't possibly say no

This man seemed so kind, I only wish I could have spoken his language