This story is set in Nairobi’s CBD on a hot afternoon as the scorching sun approaches the equinox. At a time when Nairobi burns you without a bead of sweat making presence on your skin.
It is a story about two hawkers, two Kanjos (County of Nairobi Officers) and a Simba Jack. If you have no clue as to what a Simba Jack is, go by my definition, a maneuver law enforcement agents in Kenya are fully conversant with and quick to use. It involves grasping the rare side of your pants making sure your belt, trouser and any other garment you may have underneath are in an officer’s firm grip. It is concluded with a sudden and violent upward lift leaving you struggling to balance on your toes as you feel everything and anything you deem precious in your dearly beloved crotch being crashed in together.
Simba Jacks have the ability to have you catching your breathe when nothing is blocking your airways, the inlets at least, and leaving you to nurse bruises days after getting one.
While making a turn through a crowd with my colleague Zakaria at Barclay’s Bank, Kenyatta Avenue joining Moi Avenue, amidst is a man carrying a yellow polythene bag on one hand and a clear plastic container with a pink lid on his other. On his either side, are two men of medium build Simba Jacking him passed us.
“These Kanjos, man!” Zakaria sympathizes with the hawker tip-toeing like a novice ballerina as he was being hoisted away. I shake my head in agreement. I was also acknowledging the man’s agony of nursing bruises in his immediate future.
Our destination was outside Sonalux House a few meters from the Simba Jack encounter. We were meeting a guy I contacted to procure a car radio modulator. I got the guy’s number from a Facebook Ad.
As we stood waiting for our guy, we watch another hawker laying his flattened out box. He begins arranging cheap colorful women handbags. I look at him thinking how easy his merchandize make it for officers to spot his venture a mile down the road. All I could hear in my head was one Simba Jack on the rocks, coming right up!
“Wamebeba Jamaa saa hii tu! [They’ve arrested another hawker a few minutes back]” Zakaria warns him.
“Wakichapa round moja wameenda! [They don’t come back after an arrest!]” His voice has the sort of confidence that makes you think he is in copy to all Kanjos routing memos. “Hao unaenda nao huko mbele unawachia ka-hamsini na unarudi kazi! [You accompany them and with a fifty shillings bribe, they let you get back to work!]”
“Hii kazi ni ngumu kweli! [This must be a tough job]” I tell him as he continues arranging his colorful merchandise.
“Hakuna job poa duniani kaa hii! [There is no better job in the world than this!]” His enthusiasm is big it takes both of us aback.
“Huogopi Jela ? [Aren’t you scared of jails?]”
“Jela si ya mbuzi! [Jails aren’t for goats!]”
This man must have nursed bruises his crotch is all callus now, rougher than sandpaper.
We complete our transaction with the Facebook Ad guy. While leaving, the hawker was calling ladies to come view his latest products from Turkey and China. I hope for his sake he has bore all children for Simba Jacks distract a man!
Where does the handbag vendor find inspiration to do what he does? Despite the innumerable challenges he still thinks he has the best job in the world.
Getting mental stimulation that gives you the urge to do something, makes creating a lot more interesting. Picking your gear to go shoot with stimuli that energizes and guides you through makes better photography. One of the most frustrating things we all go through while on a project is the need to push yourself through it. You could put the energy into the project instead.
I get questions from my readers often along the lines of which equipment to use or locations to shoot. The same day I conversed with the handbag hawker, I was messaged something a little different for once: “I have a problem finding inspiration bro, where do you draw yours from?”
I answered the gentleman in brief but thought to elaborate the question.
Finding Inspiration in Thinking
The attention span of an average person today is about 12 seconds, 4 seconds longer than a goldfish. Scientists attest the reduced attention span to the smartphone age. Two minutes waiting for a microwave to countdown is a lifetime and we can’t resist reaching for the smartphone as the food is warming up. Even reading a 500 word article start to finish is a problem without jumping halfway to check on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and responding to a WhatsApp chat all in under a minute.
We no longer enjoy our own company and have the urge to stare at our phones at every available second. We have become allergic to nothing else but think. Thinking was easy at bedtime trying to sleep or immediately on waking up before getting out of bed. Unfortunately, falling asleep with the phone in the hand or checking social media accounts right after waking up is now normal.
Dedicate time everyday to sit and think, it breeds ideas and ideas are inspiring. During that time enjoy your own space as your mind wanders wherever it wants. Write down ideas as they pop to review them later or when you feel like you need inspiration. I use Evernote on my phone and if you choose to use an app as well, fight temptations not to meander into checking notifications before your thinking time is over.
Finding Inspiration in Hustle
Reading about big names in books, magazines and blogs makes us admire their lives finding them inspiring. Often we do not know their stories and how they got to where they are. It is made to appear like you open your door one early morning and success will be waiting at your door step next to the milk.
How can a handbags hawker who fights obstacles and still love what he does not inspire you? What truly inspires me is the hard work and dedication that goes into a hustle. Observing others at it, no matter how small it is, has the ability to energize. Think of the waiter politely bringing your order despite her feet killing her for being on them for hours. Or the underpaid and unappreciated security guard who opens up the gate for you and still says hello with a smile on his face.
Such kind of commitment, perseverance and good old hard work put into a hustle is inspiring, I know it gets me squeezing any creativity there is in my head.
Finding Inspiration from Other Artists
Anything artistic moves me. I take a keen interest in the works of other photographers and appreciate their craft. Listening to music is something I am fond of. Deliberately spending time observing paintings I come across is another. Reading of books, articles, blogs or any literature is also an excellent medium. Creativity on its own is inspiring.
These are works other people have spent tremendous amounts of creative energy to come up with. In other words, appreciating the works of other artists is feeding off their creative energy. Taking time to internalize what others have created raves you up with inspiration to craft your own.
Finding Inspiration in Time
What is modern now will be antique a century from today as what is an antique now was once modern ages ago. Time adds a new twist to everything making me to view things differently. It inspires me to craft while imagining how my work will be viewed long after I am gone.
Mombasa’s Old Town has amazing written throughout its narrow alleys. Unfortunately, all that remains are the dilapidated historical architectures and humble faces of inhabitants giving a glimpse of what once was. Mombasa is personal to me but in the sense of time value of art, inspires me to take personal responsibility to document it whenever am there. Perhaps generations to come will view my work and and appreciate what I do.