First the film stuff. I left for Africa with seven hours of tape which is way less than what I wanted. When I got there, I told Jake I’d wait a week or so then start shooting after I had an idea what to focus on. There was also an issue with camera batteries since we spent two weeks at a time in his village. It’s a full days’ journey on busted trucks and minivans to a power outlet. Initially I was shooting daily life kind of things: the soccer team, kids playing, women mashing corn. Then around the second week two guys showed up at the house with M16’s. That morning Jake had sent a report to the Game Reserve to let them know there were rumors of an elephant outside the reserve near a village. These guys showed up with guns on bicycles to let Jake know everything was fine. The leader seemed put together, but his buddy sat there sweaty and nervous rolling a joint with a machine gun in his lap. After that everything was focused on poaching. Place is nuts.
We went to interview the game scouts at the reserve about ten days later. When we got there Kennedy (second from the left) asked if they’d look better in their uniforms with their guns. So they got geared up and we walked a few yards into the reserve and did an interview with them. Malawians are the nicest people in the world. I would challenge anyone to beat them. You can ask these guys anything; things that feel rude or prying and they’ll just laugh then answer. I’ve never seen anything like it. I asked these guys if the NRC (Natural Resource Committee) were corrupt and they cracked up. I thought it was gonna be kind of a hard hitting question.
When I was getting down to my last tape I figured I better use it right. There’s a guy in Jakes village that’s pretty much in the middle of it all. His name is Koza and he’s sketchy. Jake refuses to communicate with him at all. He’s from Zambia and he came to Malawi a long time ago after he shot a man. He’s really charismatic and somehow worked his way into the local politics and landed himself damn near the top. He’s the chief’s right hand, and a top of the line poacher. According to Jake he’s got blast burns all over his forearms from firing home made rifles. He wore long sleeves when I talked to him. I went over to his house and asked him a stack of point-blank questions. The guy is smart. I caught him a little with the stuff about the guy he killed, he told me it was manslaughter and he served a year and a half for it. Other than that, the guy was slick. As good as any western politician, maybe better. Walking home, I couldn’t help but admire journalists who consistently do good interviews. It’s so hard. Regardless, I went home feeling charmed by the guy. Dangerous personality.
It’ll be a while, but I have some pretty good stuff to edit. I should be able to cut a solid half hour from the footage. The big surprise for me was that most of the poaching in that area isn’t for ivory or exotic animal parts. It’s for meat. People don’t have much protein in the diets at all. Someone goes in and shoots a buffalo, then carries out what he can. Others hear about it, then they go in and get a share. What ever you can carry out on your back, you can eat, and that’s it. There’s a network. The game scouts get spotted away from the reserve, word gets to the poachers that its clear, and that’s kinda it. The thing with Koza though is much bigger because he’s a leader. He’s tightly connected to the chief and the patron of all the local anti-poaching organizations. Just hope I didn’t make Jake’s life more difficult than it already is by provoking him.