Crossing the Equator

By Anne Cottringer

Travelling from Nairobi to Meru in Kenya


... approaching from the equator, we are all like children excited at the prospect of translating the fantasy of childhood geography lessons into the experience of adulthood... a rite of passage from one hemisphere to another. We reach the equator at Nanyuki in Kenya... there are only a few buildings and a decrepit sign to mark this great moment... 20 years of anticipation. What did I expect?

EXT. DAY: THE HILLS OUTSIDE OF MERU
Clouds of smoke rise above the dark green foliage of the hillside. Women move slowly along the path with huge bundles of wood on their heads, like great gnarled heads of hair.

An all-women film crew follows ROGER, the director, down the path at a much slower pace. As they descend, they discuss among themselves what a breakthrough it is to be an all-woman crew on a film that isn’t about women’s issues, and that isn’t directed by a woman. They arrive at the unit Landrover. A woman under a bundle of wood stops and says something to GABRIEL, the Kenyan driver, who is leaning against the Landrover.

GABRIEL
(Laughing) She wants to know which one of you is the number one wife.

CAMERAWOMAN
What does she mean?

GABRIEL
She wants to know which of you is Roger’s number one wife. And which is two and which is three?

The woman nods, smiling. She says something else to Gabriel.

GABRIEL
(Laughing again) She says you are just like a Kenyan family – the women do all the work – and that Roger is lucky to have three such strong women to carry everything for him. But she says you should try carrying his things on your head like a Kenyan wife. It is much easier.

ROGER (VOICE-OFF)
Over here quickly. And bring my file with you, could you?

The THREE WOMEN pick up the equipment again and in a single file march towards ROGER. The CAMERA ASSISTANT hoists her back onto her head and tries to balance it as she walks along.

CAMERA ASSISTANT
Coming dear! What was it we were saying about breakthroughs?


EXT. DAY: MASAI MENYATTA NEAR MASAI MARA
A group of young Masai warriors are gathered around a Landrover parked outside their menyatta. They take turns preening themselves in the wing mirror, patting their mud-caked hair into place. A few yards away the three members of the film crew play and joke with a group of children who have gathered around the camera sitting on a tripod. Further away, under a tree, the director and t he fixer are talking intently with a small group of Masai.

DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR
Tell him we’re only a small independent production. We don’t have very much money.

FIXER
He says the price is very reasonable.

DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR
I can pay half of what he offers. That’s it.

They continue haggling.

DISSOLVE TO...
EXT. DAY: COUNTRYSIDE NEARBY
The CAMERAWOMAN hurries across the landscape carrying a camera and tripod. The DIRECTOR hurries after her. The FIXER and a young Masai girl try desperately to keep a flock of goats together and to stop them from crossing the ground in front of the camera. In the distance Mt. Kilimanjaro turns blue and gold in the late afternoon light.

CAMERAWOMAN
The light is fading fast. We’ve got about ten minutes. What were you doing under that tree for two hours?

DIRECTOR
They wanted too much money. It’s ridiculous! Tourists come and pay them to pose for photographs. Now all they are interested in is money. It was completely different five years ago – you just came and filmed... no-one ever mentioned money. You can’t film anywhere anymore. (Yelling irritatedly to the FIXER and the GIRL) Keep those goats back will you? I’ll shout when we’re ready.

EXT. DAY: RUSAPE, ZIMBABWE – A GRASSY YARD OUTSIDE A NEW SHOP AT THE DGES OF A SMALL VILLAGE
A group of about 40 Zimbabwean women are singing and dancing a greeting to a British film crew. They move in a long sinuous line around the yard, laughing and clapping as they go. The finish their song and a woman with a picture of Robert Mugabe on her dress comes forward.

WOMAN
The women of Rusape Savings Club welcomes you to our village!

WS The large group are neatly arranged in rows in front of the shop to have their photograph taken. As they relax between shots, the woman in the Robert Mugabe dress speaks.

WOMAN
Now it is your turn to entertain us. We would be very happy if you would sing a typical song from your country for us.

Panic seizes the features of the crew. They whisper desperately between themselves. Then, arranging them-selves self-consciously in a line, they turn towards the expectant crowd, look at one another, draw a deep breath and start to sing in stringy, off-key voices.

FILM CREW
She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes

Whoo-oo

She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes

Whoo-oo

The enthusiastic crowd laughs and claps. Then a middle-aged woman picks up a basket, puts it on her shoulder, and moves around the singing crew pretending her basket is a camera. Her movements are a brilliant imitation of the camerawoman’s hand-held shooting. The crowd roars with laughter and clap even louder as they watch the crew being filmed.


INT. DAY: MEETING ROOM IN LLALLAGUA – MINING TOWN IN BOLIVIA
A group of ten Bolivian women sit around a long table. Some are dressed the typical Bolivian fashion of polleras (full skirts) and bowler hats. Outside the window are great mountains of slag. The women are being interviewed by two earnest British film-makers who listen intently, nodding or shaking their heads in sympathy with what is being said. There is a click as the tape on the small cassette recorder in the middle of the table runs out.

1ST WOMAN
Excuse me a minute. I just have to change the tape. I  mean... Perdoneme. Tengo que cambio el cassette.

There is a silence for a moment. Then a young woman wearing a blue ski jacket speaks.

IRMA
How is it in your country? Is the situation as bad as it is here?

1ST WOMAN
It’s not very good, but it’s not so bad as here.

IRMA
So why do you want to come here? We want to leave.

THERESA
We want to go to your countries and make films about you. And then you can answer our questions! 

IRMA
... flying to the moon would be easier.