Improvising: A Must Have

Improvising A Must Have

Everyone has a breaking point. For Omar, one of the most honest guys I know, it took the agitation tenants without rent money in their pockets at the end of the month to topple him over to the other side. Lies and Omar do not exist in the same gamut but as circumstances would have it, they could. His inexperience in the art meant his attempt to deviate from truth was short of basic elements of a good lie; layers, back up story, supporting characters and events. He did not have a story to begin with. His strategy, avoid the landlady by all means and sell whatever story that pops in his head depending on when and where they encounter. Improvising was to be it.

He worked for Books First back then, the book store within Nakumatt branches. They would have him shift between Moi Avenue and Nakumatt Mega branches. Omar is not the kind to use rent money only to regret later. He would rush to Co-operative Bank immediately he got his salary, make a deposit into the landlady’s account and deliver the deposit slip to her. It was a time the universe had not seen WhatsApp, deposit slips reached landlords in hard copy. Without fail, his would reach the same day. This is the kind of reputation he worked hard to build. When his employer was late on disbursing salaries, Omar was suddenly in unfamiliar waters. The Muhindi kept taking him in circles despite making it very clear that landlady will soon start making threats.

Nakumatt Mega opens 24 hours while the other one does day shifts only. Omar would be working different hours of the day depending on which branch he was on at a particular day, at times working shifts back to back then resting for two days. Muhindi was fair to him. The irregular pattern made it difficult for the landlady to keep track of him. He once strongly believed his neighbours suspected him of being a drug dealer. The landlady never asked of his irregularities, she noticed but never asked. Omar was diligent with his obligation.

Avoiding the landlady meant coming home late and leaving early. Not willing to risk it, even when he was inside, he would padlock the steel door from outside. Lights off. The flashlight on his mobile phone was enough for the hours he spent in his bedsitter while adding bed sheets to the windows so that the little light in the room does not spill outside. He could not do without TV, he turned it away from the windows and door then watch it on mute. The landlady made numerous rounds to his door. A few times confirming the padlock was truly locked while Omar was inside. He could hear the huge bronze padlock knocking the red oxide paint of his door. He was a ghost in his own tiny bedsitter. The lady must have wondered whether the occupant left town in a hurry forgetting to inform her.

He finally got his salary and as habit, Omar went straight to Co-operative Bank followed by a trip to the landlady with a deposit slip in his hand. The story that popped in his head was he was in a grisly road accident and later hospitalized in Nairobi Hospital. He apologized profusely stating how he lost his phone in the process and that is why he could not alert her.

To date I still think his story has many loose ends. How does a man residing in the Ghettos of Mlango Kubwa afford a bed in Nairobi Hospital? I shared it with Zakaria and he told me it is plausible.

“How ?” I wondered.

“Mlango Kubwa could have a Nairobi Hospital.”


“I was once told Huruma has a cheap printing place. I got the services there next to a University Material Kindergarten!”

“A Nairobi Hospital in Mlango Kubwa is plausible!”

To date we have not been able to figure out whether the landlady bought the stroy based on Omar’s improvising capabilities or the fact that he had a good reputation. Either way, she settled for his weak story.

* * *

Often we end up in unfamiliar territories resulting from conditions beyond us. Weather, malfunctioning gear and uncooperative clients are part of a long list of things that can suddenly test your patience. You have a task at hand you are so focusing on and the unforeseen happens deterring you from completing it. You feel every drop of creative juice you have leaving your body as you wonder what is going on.

Truth is, the unexpected will happen time and again. There is nothing much you can do about it. However, succeeding will depend on what you decide to do about it. You can let unanticipated occurrences rob you of your precious energy or you can choose to be cognizant that there is more to creativity. We test true skill not in optimal conditions but under stress. Surprise limitations should thus not bog you down but challenge you to push forward.

Thinking on your toes is a quality you need to develop. The reality of improvising soon becomes second nature to a point it feels part of the creative process. Rather than letting the unexpected hurdles put you down, think of them as adrenaline boosters.

It helps a great deal to prepare in advance before going for a shoot. Meeting the client prior to the session to fully understand the job and knowing what is expected will save you a lot of stress. Plan it out on paper and where possible develop storyboards. If well done, all you have to do is to stick to the plan every time something pops up to halt your session. Staying in focus on what you intend to accomplish is simpler if you precede with a plan.

It may be easier said than done but panicking is the worst thing you can do. Take a deep breath, be in the moment, assess the situation then find a fixer. Remember every situation will be different. Look at what has changed from your original plan and calmly figure a way around it. There is always a way. Deal with the deterrence selectively while not allowing it to shut down your whole session. Once you identify your way through it carry on as planned.

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