Morris Kiruga is all for living in the moment on his travels, but preferably not without a good Internet connection and access to Instagram.
It’s almost 10 am, and my article is going to be late. I am sitting in a Cruiser parked somewhere on a hill in Machakos, plugged into one of the sockets behind the driver. I have 1,000 words ready to roll, but one problem for which there is no other solution than cursing and ranting. Internet. A good internet connection, that is.
It’s the middle of Capture Kenya 2015, a Safaricom road trip that brings photographers and writers together to make stories for the next year’s calendar. That’s the larger brief, the smaller one is that I have to file at least one story every day and pepper the internet with stories from the road, and photographers have to send in images every evening. We need internet to do that, and as we move further and further away from Nairobi and other urban centres, internet connection falters, and then in some places, all but disappears.
In Machakos, it’s failing me, and I don’t know whether to pull my hair or start singing. Even loading a page is taking more time than the gestation period of an elephant. You know that thing they say about seeing someone using slow internet before you marry them? If you saw me now, you would definitely return the engagement ring.
I’ve been in worse places with worse internet connections and even when it wasn’t such an assignment, it was still tough to deal with. I am all for living in the moment, soaking in each travel experience for its reality, but that can happen, too, even if you have a good connection. Then all that soaking in the moment is a decision, not a condition. Because I am one of those infamous millennials who continually ask, “If you travel and there is no internet to post photos online with, does it still count?”
For people who are paid to travel, like yours truly, getting online and selling a location is often in the fine print. So the assumption is that the destination has WiFi, and dependable WiFi at that, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you just facepalm and take multiple images of a glass of rum with a backdrop of a watering hole, and make a note to post it later. I’ve heard stories of people making it all the way to a destination only to leave when they discovered there was no internet. Whenever I travel to such places, I while away the time picking the manager’s brains on the need for internet in the wild. Only one so far has been a safari purist, arguing that people travel that far to get away from everything.
No discussion around how checking your Instagram while you sunbathe next to a pool is the dream of the modern traveller could win him over. “Why would you come this far to see all this wonder through your phone camera?” he says. “We are collecting memories, curating them for ourselves and the world,” I respond. “You young people don’t live in the moment anymore,” he says. “But we do,” I add, wearing my smarty pants mask, “and we force others to live them with us. There’s nothing as emotionally satisfying as posting images of a lakeside breakfast at Lake Elementaita on a Monday morning, and making everyone else jealous.” He didn’t find this funny, so I moved onto another topic. I hadn’t even reached the point where the best part of it is people running over themselves to comment “Utarudi tu” [“you will come back”] on the image.
Home has really become where the WiFi is. After a long sojourn in internet-free places, there are few things as satisfying as finding a good connection, whether it is on the road to civilisation or at the airport. That’s me almost missing my flight at Julius Nyerere International Airport after a few days with a weak connection in Selous Game Reserve. That’s also me standing on the spot on the walkway to get connection, forgetting the manager’s advice to watch out for hippos on a stroll. I am not even working, I am merely recharging. I normally hate notifications, but out in the wild, mentions on Twitter and supplies from my meme dealers feel and smell of home. We are digital nomads now. Whether it’s a mother who needs to relax but still do some work and make sure her family is fine, or a socialite who needs a break but not from Snapchat, the modern traveller is tethered to the internet. It’s where we work, play, connect and fight. It’s where we post photos of wine on a speed boat in the middle of Lake Victoria, or of an oasis in Loiyangalani. It’s where we write stories of our Nairobi nightlife, as we move from drinking beer at lofty bars to eating boiled eggs at the side of the street at 3 am. We chronicle our lives through our internet connection. My name is Morris, and I am a digital nomad. Morris Kiruga blogs about travel, culture and more at owaahh.com
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