Calling people by their first name is one of the indications of close friendship. When I got an email confirming my trip to ‘Base’, I felt like I was being invited to one of those multilevel marketing meetings where everyone seems happy and as if they’ve known each other for ages.
Since I was in Ukunda which is a few kilometers from Base, I confirmed my attendance as I tried hard to manage my expectations with little success. I have outgrown a couple of things in my life but the excitement of visiting a new place has refused to leave me.
When the cab driver picked me up in the morning I couldn’t hide my excitement so I went on to start a conversation, “What do you know about Base Titanium?” I asked as I ignored an incoming call. (I did not want any distractions at the time – sorry caller).
Luckily, the cab driver had a lot to say about Base Titanium and how it is benefiting the community by building schools, hospitals, roads and offering many other people employment opportunities. The guy went on and on and I was almost getting irritated because he was preempting my trip. To make matters worse, when we turned into the tarmac road that leads to the company he kept to the speed limit of 60kph! Who does that? There were no other cars in site!
As the driver went on speaking about how the company was helping the community, I zoned out and started focusing on the many road signs. Children crossing, sharp bend ahead… suddenly a 4×4 pick up with its lights on, a siren light on top and a reflective flag appeared from them corner. I hadn’t even opened my mouth to ask about it, the cab driver picked the cue and started talking about the many cars that Base Titanium had and how they had given jobs to many drivers.
I was ready to walk the rest of the way when I spotted huge structures that looked like silos or warehouses ahead. We came to a barrier and one of the guards started to approach the car waving for him to slow down. I could see some trucks in the compound and the huge structures were now fully visible. The guard asked for my ID and demanded to know what I wanted and if I had an appointment. He took my ID and went to talk what sounded like gibberish on the walkie talkie as he inspected the car, my bags even my camera! To be honest I felt like I had come to a ‘mini UN building.’
The guard came back smiling handed me my ID back and asked his colleague to open the barrier. Toyota should consider adding a sun roof to the small cars they produce. I felt as if I was being denied a basic right by being confined to the front seat. We came to another gate and just like the first one, everyone was in uniform, some reflective clothing on top (no political message at the back) boots and glasses. I felt like I was in the movies and this a “high security facility.”
I paid the driver off quickly because a very inquisitive guard came and stood right next to our car. I was escorted to another room at the gate where my details were taken and my bag confiscated (well, I added that to build drama). But they did ask me if I minded leaving the bag behind to pick it when I was leaving. Unfortunately, the security guys didn’t take my fingerprints. I had prepared an argument inspired by people with questionable character who operate under the motto; “Never let anyone take your finger prints.” Apparently, once they do, you can be tracked by all agencies including FBI, Interpol, KPF (Kenya Police Force – we need a cool name for them) and not forgetting the KMC (Kenya Maroon Commandos – these guys can get a confession out of you by just singing!).
Long story short, there I was seated in a class alone with a bulletin in front me, a visitor’s badge on my polo t-shirt and a pen. I was asked what my shoe size was and I answered hesitantly. After signing that I had read and understood the safety requirement while at Base, I was handed a pair of safety shoes, a reflector jacket, a helmet and protective glasses. I was given a brief safety talk which I suspect was because the lady realized that I was too excited to read the entire bulletin. I was asked if I had any questions and even though I had many, I decided to follow the instructions from The Good Book, ‘…even a fool is considered wise when he is quiet…’ I was asked to buckle up even though we were only driving to the next block.
Eventually, the fun bit begun! I got into one of the pickups with siren light and a reflective flag. Simon Wall the External Affairs Manager and Martin Macharia, the Communications Consultant introduced themselves and pointed out they would give me a brief introduction into Base Titanium and what they do. They also mentioned that the golf clubs in the bag at the bag were not part of any safety requirements. I had already started wondering what kind of mining they do here.
I soon understood why most of the vehicles needed to be 4x4s. We had to navigate through a lot of mud and at times I stopped listening to Simon because I was sure we’d get stuck but Simon casually engaged the four-wheel drive every now and then without losing focus of what he was saying. A successful case of men multitasking.
When we finally got to the mine and Simon showed me the multi-million mining equipment, I was so disappointed! After going through all that safety precaution there were no explosions, no tunnels or underground carriages not even big guys covered in grease. Seeing my disappointment, Simon drew my attention to a huge dozer that was pushing soil into a conveyor unit that mixed the soil with water and poured it into huge pipes. The pipes then carried the soil to another plant for further processing. That’s where all “the magic” happens.
As we moved to other parts of the mine, I couldn’t help but notice there was no noise, no thick smoke or residue hanging on nearby trees to be honest I did not see any environmental pollution. Maybe the movies had brainwashed me on what a mine was hence my expectations. Simon and Martin explained the whole process of mining as we moved to different parts of the mine including a dam that provided water for mining operations. I also got to see how they rehabilitate the mine so that it can be used for other purposes in future.
Truth be told, there is a lot that is happening up there that is more impressive than the machines, security and safety procedures. I found a group of interns being inducted and interesting enough they are not from the high and mighty campuses in the country. For every staff I met, I knew a family was being fed. I saw a school that Base has rehabilitated and heard many other things they are doing for the community. One company cannot solve all the problems of a county but Base is doing something. The enthusiasm of its staff tells it all!
After unwillingly handing back my safety gear, I decided to use public means back to Ukunda and the security guys were kind enough to call for me a boda boda to take me to the main road. My boda boda guy however was not enthusiastic about Base at all. He complained that it’s not giving enough jobs and building schools and hospitals was not good enough. According to the boda boda guy Base should focus on giving the community more jobs. He even said that the locals employed by Base were the ones hindering the employment of other locals. How sad. Misinformation is such a bad disease. I asked him where he would be operating from if Base hadn’t built the road we were using and he casually answered that the government would have built one. I guess the national government would also bring him clients like myself daily.
I resolved to plan and go back to Base for a complete tour hoping that this time I can fully digest what they are doing up there and maybe this time hitch a ride on one of the multi-million dozers. I’m sure the driver would have better stories than the boda boda guy.