For the last two weeks or so Yael has been working on the mural that she came here to paint. Just up from the landing site there is a little shed that marks the beginning of a twenty five metre stretch of wall that, hopefully, will be fully plastered and painted by the time we leave. This may be a tad optimistic given that the wall is twenty five metres long and only the first five have been plastered and we’re nearing the end of week five out of eight, but Yael can always come back to do more in future.
She’s planned out how it’s going to look and the idea is awesome. The wall is going to tell the story of the area, Kuruwitu, starting alive and happy with corals, fish and a whale, then the fishermen come in and start exploiting the area so there are no fish, just sea urchins everywhere, then you see the village gathering under a mango tree to discuss how to solve the problem and then finally the area as it is now, once more alive and full of fish. And of course it helps that Yael is preposterously talented so it really is going to look insane. After a Swahili lesson with Benji, I walked with her down to the landing site to see how everything was coming along. I’d seen it a couple of times before, after she primed the wall and sketched the chalk outline of the corals and the humpback, but now she had started painting. She bought two shades of yellow and three shades of blue to use and had filled in the yellow sky and the dark blue of the water.
“Wow, dude this looks incredible,” I said, taking it all in. She brushed the comments aside and shrugged,
“It’s not yet finished,” she said and reached into the shed to fish out her paints and brushes (pun not intended… just kidding it’s always intended).
“So what are you going to do now?” I asked, getting closer to the wall so I could really see the paint. I stroked the smooth surface delicately with the tips of my fingers. It was cool to the touch.
“I’m going to start painting the macro algae. I should probably do the second layer of outlining around the school of fish as well, but I can’t face it yet. I spent all day yesterday just going over those tiny things,” she gestured to the group of blank fish that were to become blue-green chromis and I could see how long it must have taken. There had to be at least fifty or sixty fish that needed to be carefully outlined in dark blue. The paint was patchy, because it was only the first layer, so would need a second coat.
“I don’t mind doing it,” I said. “As long as you’re okay with it,” I added quickly, knowing that she might not trust me with her baby.
“Can you stay inside the lines?”
“It’s the only thing I can do,” I laughed, “My only artistic capability,”
“Awesome,” she said, handing me a brush and gesturing inside the store. “There’s a big tin of dark blue in there, could you grab it?”
“Sure thing,” I said and prised the lid off with a paint scraper. Yael turned to get our her phone and her speaker. Music was non-negotiable while painting.
“Just a second layer, yeah?” I asked, my paint brush dipped and poised, hovering in front of the wall just in case she changed her mind. She glanced up from her phone,
“Yeah, perfect,” she said and turned on the music. I gingerly pressed the brush to the wall and started outlining the fish as carefully as I possibly could. I was so anxious not to mess up the lines or smudge the paint that I went very slowly. But after I started a few of them I got more used to the feeling of the brush and the paint and got a little more confident.
Yael had good music on and so we chatted and sang along. It was so much fun. It felt so nice to use a completely different part of my brain for a little while and the satisfaction of adding colour to the wall was fantastic.My lines definitely weren’t perfect, Yael would have almost certainly done a better job, but I gave it my best shot and had such a great time doing it. There was something so blissfully simple about seeing the results of your efforts displayed out in front of you like that.
“You need to come here in the morning,” Yael said, wiping stray hairs off of her face with the back of her hand, “The light comes through the trees and falls onto the wall so that it looks the same as the light under the water,”
“Ah, that’s so cool,” I said and we lapsed back into quiet, humming along to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.
“Did you ever have that thing where you didn’t understand song lyrics as a kid and then you listen back to the song and you realise how wrong you were?” Yael asked, leaning over me to reach the top of one of the plants.
“Oh yes so many.” I replied. “There was one – Evacuate the Dancefloor by Cascada – did you know it?”
“I don’t think so, how does it go?” I did my best to sing the chorus loud enough to drown out Changes (sorry Bowie) and she shook her head. “No, I don’t know it,” she said.
“Well anyways, there’s a lot about drugs and one of the lines goes ‘Feels like an overdose, feels like an overdose’ and I thought that it was ‘Feels like an open door, feels like an open door’.” Yael burst out laughing,
“You thought it was what?”
“Yeah I was really confused about where this open door had come from and why it was on the dance floor, but I went with it. So all of my dance routines to that song had me miming opening a door so everyone probably thought I was crazy,” I smiled at the memory of my primary school talent show. What talent indeed.
“You’re such a weirdo,” she said and I chuckled.
We heard a noise behind us and turned around to see a little girl from the village lurking a few metres behind.
“Jambo,” I said, ‘Hello’, and waved a little with a smile. She smiled shyly back and shrunk away another step or two. Yael said something to her in Swahili as well, but she only edged further away. We turned back to the wall and thirty seconds later there were more giggles from behind us and she had been joined by two other children. I smiled and waved again. Every time I glanced back over my shoulder at them they seemed to have inched just a little bit closer. It was like a game of grandmother’s footsteps.
Soon they were right behind us and Yael turned and bent down to talk to them in the basic Swahili she knows. I desperately tried to remember anything, literally anything, from our Swahili lesson earlier that day but my brain abandoned me. Unless I was going to start talking to them about mango (embe) I was pretty limited for conversation. I just kept painting, occasionally smiling and waving at them, before turning back. Not long after this their dad showed up and said something too. Yael and I glanced blankly at each other, both of us out of our depth and adrift in a language we couldn’t quite grasp.
“Sorry?” Yael asked, dipping back into English.
“Is very nice.” he said, pointing at the wall. “Picture?” He asked, gesturing to her and the children.
“Sawa,” She replied ‘Okay’ and she handed me her phone to take pictures while the dad tried to navigate his way through a brick phone to get the the camera. The screen was so small that one of the children didn’t make it into the picture and it was mostly the top half of Yael’s face. ‘Whatever makes him happy’ I thought, as he ushered his children along the road. Suddenly I remembered one of the phrases that I’d heard Yael and Cameron say a lot, meaning sleep well. I figured it was near enough into the evening to get away with saying it so I called out after them,
“Lala salami!” Once they were out of sight I gleefully jumped over to Yael, “I remembered some Swahili! Did I get it right?” Yael carefully composed her face,
“It’s actually ‘lala salama’,” she tried not to laugh. Ah, crap.
“Oh my god did I just tell those people to sleep sausage,” I asked, looking up the road as the family walked out of sight.
“Yes I think you did,” Yael replied and we both started laughing.
“I’m such an idiot,” I said, “I tried so hard to actually say something in Swahili and this happens.” I put my face in my hands in mock shame.
“What will be next?” Yael asked, “Buenos nachos?”
“Probably,” I said laughing and resumed my painting of fish outlines. It was starting to get dark, making it much harder to see the edges of the fish. They swam in and out of focus (again with the pun – not even on purpose) and I worried about messing up.
“I think we should head off soon,” I said, “I can’t see a bloody thing any more,”
“Okay cool I’m just going to finish this leaf and then let’s go,” I put the lid on the paint pot and another man from the village came up behind us.
“This art it is very good,” he said. “I like it much,”
“Thank you,” Yael said, graciously.
“Which plant is this,” he asked, pointing at the one Yael was painting.
“Oh no,” she said, “This, I made up in my head. It’s not real.” She tapped a paintbrush to her temple to illustrate.
“Is it a cactus plant?” He asked, inching closer and leaning forwards towards the wall to get a better look.
“No, this is all underwater,” I explained, pointing at the massive whale.
“Oh okay,” he said and paused, turning to Yael, “Can you add a cactus plant?” He smiled and nodded, clearly pleased with this excellent idea.
“No, it’s underwater,” Yael said more firmly, “These are corals.” She glanced up to see if he was following, “and these are fish,” He looked thoughtful while he contemplated this information.
“What about a cactus plant?” He offered again.
“No I think not.” Yael said and I could see the disappointment glance across his face.
“Sawa, sawa,” he said, nodding, ‘Okay, okay’, and walked off.
“I think that’s a good time to leave,” Yael said, rinsing her brush in the pot of water at her feet. “Let’s go find the others,” We packed the remaining paints and brushes back into the shed and walked along the beach back to Shwari house. Des had a friend, Phil, staying over so we were having supper at their house.
As we walked along the beach the last pinks of the sunset streaked over our heads, setting the palm trees in darkness so they looked almost like stone. The tide was high so the sea lapped around our feet, sending ripples of warm water across our toes. Yael paused.
“Do you ever just stop and look and think that you’re in paradise?” Yael asked me as she took in the view. I turned around to face her.
“Every bloody day man, every bloody day,”
UPDATE ON THE WALL:
- Pre-breakfast snorkel
- Marketing (newsletter)
- Swahili lesson
- Painting at the wall
- Dinner with Phil at Des’s house
- Scuba dive (two turtles and getting stuck at low tide)
- Email address sorting
- TaeKwanDo with Bavel
- Drinks and dinner at the beach bar with Chris (who lives a bit further down the coast and keeps his wind surfing kit at Shwari house)