My house lay near the centre of Nairobi, Kenya. After dusk, the security guards that protected the property would gather around a fire to avert the evening chill, a result of the city lying nearly 6000 feet above sea level.
I would often see them handling pieces of wood and assumed that it was to feed the fire. One day I noticed one of the men carving the wood, and on closer inspection realised that he was creating game pieces. The carved pieces was part of a Mandala board which is similar to the Ayo game, a popular game played by many in Nigeria. Watching such a joyful gathering compelled me to want to put this happy scene on canvas. I would need to photograph them, but I had no idea if they would be comfortable or pleased with a foreign stranger disturbing their game. There was also the language barrier to consider.
Some time later, on a Saturday morning, I saw a group of four playing. I plucked up my courage and decided to bring my camera and my drawings to show them my art project. After the usual ‘habari’ greeting, I revealed my work, pointed at the camera a few times and made it clear that I wished to photograph them. After taking pleasure in watching my clumsy attempts at charades, they smiled, nodded and raised their thumbs. I took some snaps and gave them some Kenya shillings as a thank you.
Following this, on many occasions driving back from work, they would recognise me and would open the gate with warm friendly smiles.
Working from the photographs, I began the sketches, deciding to replace the Nairobi streets by a northern village setting which would compliment the mood of the group. The result is this painting.