Friday, October 20, 2006

A beautiful day in Kinshasa

We start shooting tomorrow so today is it (or was it). Today was an absolutely perfect day with beautiful blue skies and hot sun. It’s the first time I’ve witnessed this kind of weather in the Congo in 3 visits. Apparently this is the norm during the ‘rainy’ season. Blue sky, sunny days interrupted for brief thundershowers. If this is the case then we’ll have great light to shoot with. As I’ve learned, however, nothing turns out the way anybody says it will so I’m not holding my breath with the weather.

Great sunset from the office window.

Finished my 5th week of my yoga challenge today and walked out of the office at 7pm leaving Omar, the local producer, to hold the reigns. It’s a bit scary for me to do this but if I don’t let him do it on his own he’ll never learn. Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Call time on set is 7h30. Who knows what will happen!

I had to change accommodation from a house in the hills which is too far to drive to and from set everyday (more than an hour during rush hour), so I brought my clothes into town and when I arrived at the apartments they are renting for me and the other South African crew my room key was nowhere to be found. I very quietly threw my toys and insisted that I be taken to the only real hotel in town where the only rooms available were $400 per night which seemed to galvanize everybody into action and I ended up staying in what I would graciously call a ‘passion-palace’.

So I went from this...

To this.... The d├ęcor is conducive to sudden rather dissatisfying bouts of passion with strangers.

As I was ushered into the room I almost fainted from a lack of oxygen. They had just emptied a full container of air freshener just prior to me entering the room. Gagging, I insisted they get me another room and no spray this time. The new room was marginally less garish (marginally) and I immediately had a bath. When I got into bed I discovered that the Aircon (mounted next to the bed and blowing directly onto my pillow) had only one setting so it was either 33 degrees or ice cold air.
Oh yes, and I also discovered why they emptied a bottle of air freshener into the other room, the aroma of piss was everywhere!

If I had the conviction of a certain friend of mine (Wendy, you know who you are) I would have burnt the f**king place to the ground. By this time it was 10h30, I had to shoot the next day and I needed sleep more than I needed to have another fight.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Beware the Undertoad

Day 4, Sat 14 Oct 2006

This is my temporary Yoga room while I'm in the Congo. I started a "yoga challenge" four weeks ago. Basically to do 5 90min sessions a week for 8 weeks and then this job was confirmed and I decided to just continue. This may seem straight forward but I do Bikram Yoga which is usually practiced in a room heated to 40 degrees celsius which does wonders for one's flexibility. The congo get's hot, 33 degrees on average, so I'll have some heat and I've got a CD of Bikram talking through a class and I'm playing it on my laptop (which you can see on the chair). Tomorrow I finish my 5th week.

After my yoga this morning I began to think about what it means to act here. What it means to have an intention and to follow through with it. There is such a powerful pull, undertow, that seduces (not the right word, there’s very little seductive here) that seduces one to just let go, to let things happen exactly as they will. I can feel it now, gently tugging at my consciousness, suggesting that I just let the day turn out the way it will. It even has a logic. I can hear it’s voice if I concentrate. “Don’t get into too much of a plan today because only so much can happen,” and “take it easy, every body else is,” and “why set yourself up for disappointment, just take it as it comes.” Of course, these voices are only the thin edge of the wedge.
I have to shoot three television commercials in four days and deliver quality as well. On the face of it, this seems to be an unrealistic expectation of anybody. Why? Well, for starters, a commercial requires a huge amount of planning and co-ordination of a variety of resources during a specific day plus the good fortune of a whole number of uncontrollable forces like the weather, the moods of all the crew and so on.
My experience so far is that if anybody can get away with not doing what they are supposed to do they won’t do it. Oh, eventually they’ll do it, eventually.
There are no consequences. Nothing happens when you don’t do what you said you would do, apart from a baby dying somewhere of course, or a woman get’s beaten to a pulp, or a whole country is left to scrabble around in the sand while the leaders get fat off the natural resources. And if you think this is judgmental then please write to me and tell me where is the judgment? This is what happens.
I wonder what I’ll do today. Maybe I’ll just take it easy, read a bit, have a swim. Or maybe I’ll be ready for my driver at 8 o’clock as agreed and go into the office and wait for everybody else to eventually arrive and start work. I wonder.

The lift in the Agency's office does not operate on weekends or after 7pm so it's up and down 9 flights of stairs a few times a day!

Friday, October 13, 2006

The first rain!

Thursday, 12 October, was a bit of a blur. I spent the first part of the day looking for cast and the second part of the day for locations. The event of the day was the first rain of the rainy season. The day began dark and gloomy and while I sat in the advertising agency's offices with the window open I suddenly heard this rush of air and suddenly the rain hit. It was a 2 hour monsoon like downpour.

looking up at the office building, 'tres modern'

Omar, my producer, and I took the gap and went and had some lunch. Lunch as you can see consisted of batter fried fish. I don't know if the photograph does the fish any justice but it was a lurid Orange and I had to perform culinary surgery on the batter to extricate the fish.

This is the first city in the world that I've travelled to where you have to drive a 4x4 SUV to get from A to B. While the main drag, boulevard is fairly navigable, the moment you drive into one of the side roads in the city you are faced alternatively with bottomless pools or series off-road conditions.

I went home and fell asleep immediately, this time with the aircon on.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A bad Trip to Kinshasa

There's nothing better than that feeling of excitement the day before an overseas trip. Which is why I couldn't figure out why my stomach was in knots and I felt the anxiety move through me like a bit fat aligator looking for something to kill.
Perhaps the fact that I was on my way to the Congo, the veritable heart of darkness, two weeks before the next election might have something to do with it. The Congo (DRC to be exact) where more than 2.5 million people are reported to have died from famine, disease and that most pernicious of plagues, civil war driven by greed and more greed.

Anyway, this was not my first trip to the Congo, and I wasn't prone to the kind of debilitating fear that seems to run the editors of the major news organisations, never mind most of the world. Colleagues of mine were in the capitol, Kinshasa in the weeks running up to the first set of elections. They, like me, were there to film a series of television commerials, and I got a series of sms's like "They are running through the streets firing automatic rifles right now," and "which direction is the airport?" The surreality of it all was that the incidents that there were, were so contained to a specific street or goal, like burning down one of the candidates TV station that life could and did continue fairly normally. At this point I have to point out that using the word 'normal' comes with a huge disclaimer, but you have to be here to know what I mean.

So, if I wanted to be afraid and paranoid about my impending trip I could be, but being me I shouldn't be so what's going on. Early the next morning on my way to the airport, feeling just fine, it dawned on me that I had taken my malaria medicine a little while before the paranoia set in. Silly me. I was just having a bad trip.

I arrived very late at the airport to a very full plane and had to take a middle seat which did my head in. So when I boarded the plane and sat down in my middle seat I instantly had the intention that somebody was not going to show and I was going to get my isle seat. I asked the flight attendandt if they could move me if an isle seat presented itself and all he could say was "the flight is very full" and roll his eyes. SAA truly knows how to pick them. I ignored his attitude and repeated myself. He rolled his eyes again and did a funny thing with his wrists which reinforced the stereotype that all male flight attendandts are gay.
As I sat down I marveled at how sure I was that I would get my isle seat, that somehow the fabric of reality, "the plane is full" would get off it's point of view and I'd get my seat. Not 10 minutes later another lovely attendant asked me if I was the gentleman who wanted the isle seat and promptly escorted me to my new seat. I ended up with french woman sitting in the window seat and the middle seat open next to us and I promptly decided that nobody was going to sit there either. Wonderful stuff, the power of intention. So, needless to say, the plane filled up and nobody sat in the middle seat and I had a very relaxing flight. The french woman and I made a silent agreement not to bother each other with our respective stories and we listened to our ipod's and read the whole way to Kinshasa.

The airport at Kin is a textbook case. I have to admit that since my last visit the whole checking in procedure has drastically improved. The first time I arrived (May 2005) I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of an experience business man I met on the plane. He had a handler who took us immediately to a special waiting lounge for VIP's where we sat in airconditioned comfort sipping cold drinks while it took the handlers the better part of an hour to get our luggage. This cost my business man friend $100, which I soon came to realise was the costs of efficiency in this part of the world.

This time round I was through passport control and had my luggage within 30 minutes. I was dumbstruck. I then had to wait 30min for my lift to arrive.

Where have you seen a bus like this before. Seeing one in Kinshasa is the equivalent of going forward while moving back. Or put another way, even thinking that you are in America for one second could damage your brain here.

the market en route from the airport.

Day 1 ends with a swim at Kris's house and some supper and bed. I switched the aircon off, thinking I'll aclimatise while I slept. Woke up at some stage in the night swimming in my sheets but too out of it to turn it back on.