Over the past week I’ve been getting to know several Kenyan guides, shadowing them in their work, and laying groundwork for the film. Samson Mwangi is a tall and lanky rock climbing guide working for an adventure company in Nairobi. Tyson, who now works for the same company, used to be a wilderness instructor for the Kenyan military on Mt. Kenya. He’s summited the mountain more than a dozen times. Both are a rare breed, which is why I’m following them around.
Climbing of all kinds (mountaineering, rock, ice, etc.) is typically a sport for the upper classes and has been dominated by wealthy Americans and Europeans for the last century. In my film I’m trying to explore the newer demographics of the sport, particularly the local Kenyans that have made it their lifestyle.
I drove Sam and Tyson out to a small mountain named Lukenya which is a popular destination for rock climbers due to several massive rock walls and a smattering of boulders up and down the slope. I followed and filmed Sam up several long climbs which he danced up with ease. There was something beautifully primordial in watching a man engage with nature so fluidly in this area of the world where mankind as we know it most likely originated. As we pulled up on top of the cliff, several hundred feet above the arid savannah, a cold wind pinned us down for a bit. Only Sam had had the foresight to bring a jacket (after all, we’re in Africa!).
On the drive back up Mombasa Highway, a two-lane road that accommodates potentially six-lane traffic, I questioned Sam and Tyson on the state of climbing in Kenya. They were optimistic about the future of the sport, but were more interested in why I was interested. This led to an interesting discussion, in broken Swahili, of my complicated identity as an American missionary kid from Kenya. Tyson, particularly astute, pushed me to admit that I was just as privileged as most Westerners that choose to climb and suggested that my African experience had been fundamentally limited. I had to agree with him.
This, of course, is why I came. To reexperience Africa as an adult, as an artist, and as a honest human. All of our childhoods were limited in scope and experience, but I think mine led me to believe I was more worldly than I really was. Sitting in rigid Nairobi traffic, the BBC blaring, matatus honking in futility, I accepted that in many ways, this is my first time to the real Africa.