Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The five steps to becoming a Kenyan Tour Guide

Karibu! So, you want to be a tour guide? Well, the good news is that there are plenty of opportunities out there and most of the time you don’t even need to be employed at the attraction you are showing people around. You just need turn up randomly. The even better news, though, is that there is a simple Five-Step Method you can learn in only ten minutes, allowing you to start raking in those tourist dollars after lunch! This method is simple and proven, having been culled from the experience of guides out there in the workplace RIGHT NOW!

1. The first step is easy. Simply find yourself a tourist attraction - be it a stunning natural wonder, a Hindu temple or a pristine beach – and hover outside it. Don’t worry about getting a uniform, or a badge or any of that nonsense. Simply say to tourists: “I’m a tour guide. Yah.” This functions as ID. And besides, you don’t actually work there anyway.

2. Many tour guides mistakenly believe that the most important skill you need is knowledge about your chosen attraction. Wrong! We in Kenya know the most important skill is sharp elbows, which you use to thrust yourself to the front of the horde of other guides haranguing a startled looking tourist who has turned up hoping for a relaxing half hour strolling through peaceful surroundings. Also ensure you have an iron grip to clamp onto the tourist’s elbow. This will enable you to win any ensuing tug of war.

3. Don’t worry about knowing much about your attraction. Usually one fact, the more obvious the better, will suffice. For example, if you are showing guests around Fourteen Falls, the only thing you should tell them is that it is called Fourteen Falls because there are fourteen waterfalls. Then you should count them out loud, very slowly, pointing to each waterfall in turn. Other facts, such as what kind of animals live in the water, how long ago this attraction was formed and what that stinking five-foot-high mound of yellow foam collecting at the bottom of the falls is are irrelevant.

4. Remember that tourists are really, really stupid. Therefore you need to repeat everything you say many times before the idiots absorb your marvellous factoid. If there is a silence lasting any longer than three seconds, you may be tempted to think that the tourists are quietly marvelling at whatever you are showing them. This is incorrect. It is more likely that their miniscule brains are so busy trying to process the information you just imparted that they have lost the power of speech. Help them by repeating your fact. Again. And again.

For example, as we in the industry know, the most important thing people need to know about the Crocodile Farm in Mombasa is not how long crocodiles live, what chameleons eat or if that rather large and bristly insect crawling up the child’s leg is poisonous. It is whether or not each and every creature in the place is edible or inedible. So, at each stop along the tour of the aquarium and the insectarium, spideriaum or whatever it is called (just invent something), repeatedly proclaim the edibleness of the beast in question.

For example: “Lobster. Edible. Lobster. Edible. Lobster. Edible.” “Spider. Inedible. Spider. Spider. Inedible. Spider. Inedible” “Sea Urchin. Inedible. Yah. Inedible. Sea Urchin. Inedible. Sea Urchin.”

5. If somebody asks you a question about something you don’t know the answer to (and let’s be honest, this will happen a lot) it is perfectly acceptable to do any of the following:

- Pretend you don’t understand their squeaky foreign voices

- Mumble something unintelligible in response and hurry to the next attraction

- Say something, no matter how stupid. For example Q: “What kind of monkey is that?” A: “It’s a monkey monkey.” Or, alternatively, use your one fact to create a credibly answer: Q: “What kind of snake it that?” A: “Edible snake”

-Make sweeping statements: Q: “Why does that lizard have holes in its neck.” A: “It is its nature”

-Read out any signs or information cards that may be in the vicinity, even if they have nothing to do with the question asked

And that, newly graduated tour guide, is it. Now get out there and do Kenya proud!

Monday, August 04, 2008

CNN puts its foot in it

Oh dear. CNN, in an effort to spice up its report on right-wingers protesting in Belgrade against the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, cut in footage of earlier riots. In Budapest. It is so blatant, with Hungarian flags and the Budapest metro (Belgrade has no metro) on full display. CNN yanked the video from their website, but it has cropped up on youtube (watch below).

It does make you wonder how often CNN, and some of its supposedly lower-rent peers, do this kind of thing and get away with it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nairobi slam poetry

I went to my first slam poetry night in Nairobi on Friday. It was in one regard not too different from such nights in other countries. The poets were a mixed bag, ranging from the awful to the inspired.

What the poets all shared, though, was an energy and fire to get their political message across. The themes concentrated on many of Africa's problems, from Kenya's post-election violence to the colonial legacy.

The only spoiler on the night was created by an American teenager, who seemed like an escapee from every teen movie every made. My friend shushed her after she decided to screech about spilling her drink on her precious blouse while one of the poets performed. Cue catty remarks, much tossing of teased blonde hair and a cascade of dirty looks. She even forced her poor uncomfortable boyfriend to come over and ask for an apology. He clearly knew she was being a buffoon.

Some people should be locked up in the malls they clearly belong in.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Kwani Litfest 2008

I just found out that I am going to miss much of the Kwani Litfest 2008, which has workshops run by such luminaries as Chimamanda Adichie, whose novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the Orange Prize in 2007.

Suffice to say I am very disappointed at missing out on the opportunity to meet and learn from authors of this calibre.

I get back on the last day of the festival in Nairobi before it moves on to Lamu, which means I will miss the long workshops.

Ever the optimist, though, I am going to contact the organisers and see if I can blag my way into the tail-end of one of the workshops.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The emissary

I have been very fortunate to have the wonderful Vanessa Gebbie agree to read out my story at the Fish anthology launch in West Cork next week since I cannot make it.

I am convinced she will do a far better job than I would have done. I have never read in public before and I am not so sure my Glaswegian accent and ability to machine gun out a sentence in about 0.2 milliseconds would have worked terribly well.

Thanks Vanessa.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Blowing your own trumpet

I am not normally one for blowing my own trumpet, but on this occasion - toot toot! (I am not sure I can accurately spell the noise a trumpet makes when I play it - something like thhhhhhhhhhsssseeeeeffffffffffffftthhhhhhhhttt-PARP!)

Anyway, I recently managed to win the Fish Publishing 2008 One-Page Fiction contest, with We Will Go On Ahead And Wait For You. I won't tell you what it is about, because it will spoil it. You will just have to buy Fish's 2008 anthology, which you will be able to get from their website and amazon from July-ish. Autographs can be added for the price of a tuna sandwich and a cup of tea when I next come to visit.

Unfortunately I can't go to the awards ceremony at the start of July, since I have recently moved to Nairobi and West Cork is a bit of a trek. It is a shame, as I was hoping to meet Vanessa Gebbie - she who judged the competition and has since kindly accepted me into her crit group - in person.

Oh, and I know this is my first post in about a year. I will update this more regularly now I am in Kenya, as there are many things that don't fit neatly enough into the press agency boxes to put out on the wire.