Home PageHotels filled with Europeans chasing rainbows. Talk of 'The Big Five' - lion, giraffe, hippo, rhino, elephant (a reverse echo of distant childhood trips to the zoo, where the animals were enclosed and the thrill-seekers were free?). Coupled with browning bodies around the pools or on the white-hot beach. Life is slow ("pole, pole") and time slows, so relax and chill in the tropical sun.
My 'Big Five' - how, what, why, when, where - leads me as ever to explore the local culture, colour and communities. Mombasa is an island of paradox. A mixture of muslim, christian, rich, dirt poor, efficient and jocular. Hakuna matata. No problem.
Eide (the end of Ramadan) occurs halfway through my stay. The festival begins when the first sight of the new moon is seen in the sky, so we stand on the beach searching the heavens for the reclining moon. As in a dream, I walk the streets of old Mombasa surrounded by birka-clad shoppers and resist the photographer's urge to point and click.
I take a matatu (minibus) on a Sunday
visit to the local Seventh Day Adventist church and am impressed by the
preacher's exhortation to 'remember your covenant with God', illustrated by
extensive passages from the King James' version of the Old and New Testaments. The following weekend there is a
Hindu festival on the beach.
Bantu on the Beach
I am made welcome by members of many tribes - Kikuyu, Luo, Luyha, Maasai, Bantu and Guilliam.
I manage to break the stem of my reading glasses riding the matatu back to the hotel after the Shanzu visit. Reception cannot help but a fellow guest advises I go to the Lulu Centre in Mombasa. It is the eve of Eid and the town is full of shoppers buying provisions for the celebration. The optician's assistant is from Kerala in southern India. He assures me that new frames will be ready within 15 minutes, for the princely sum of 2000 shillings (around £16). Lulu means 'blessed' in Swahili and indeed I am blessed to have the use of my eyes back. I take a manic ride in a motor-scooter taxi past the harbour to the Red Fort - the only place where the tourist presence is felt - and decide not to go in but to walk the streets of the old town instead.
It is pointed out that the German flag is upside-down
Bombolulu ('Blessed bed')
Matatu time again and a visit to the Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre, 6
km north of Mombasa. I arrive just before lunch and thus have the whole place to
myself, with Moses my personal guide. He gives me a tour of the village hut
reconstructions and I meet the 'medecine man' who duly waves his magic props and
tells me that I am 'very healthy'. I am fascinated to watch a blind artisan
sewing a bed-mat (he later turns up playing the flute in the band - see above).
I evidently ask too many intelligent questions, as Moses assumes that I am a designer
and takes me to the design workshop, where I browse the design catalogues and
give my opinion on the various designs ("that one is too busy"). They make a
mean wedding outfit, I have to say. Something to bear in mind. In the mobility
aid workshop they are repairing and producing wheelchairs for local disabled
people. A complete wheelchair costs £90 and all donations are welcomed. They
will issue a certificate of donation, email
In the shoemaking workshops they are discussing the latest design. Fortunately,
my opinion is not required. We return to the dance arena and I am dragged
onstage, being almost the only onlooker. (Oh my God! Look at the audience in the
doorway on the left! I had no idea of the spectacle I was making.) Respect to the troupe for dancing in
that heat. Yes, that is the medecine man dancing with me, and also playing the
drums in the image above.
Quiet time at Haller
Bamburi Nature Trails
These areas were transformed from the old Bamburi disused coral limestone quarry (under advice from Dr Haller) into an eco-park and wildlife sanctuary.
I arrive just after 10am and have the place to myself, with Isaac as my guide. His home is near Mount Kenya. He is a mine of information about the butterflies (they have instituted a breeding and release programme) and the various palms and their uses. I tell him that he ought to apply to work in Kew, London and write their website address down for him. He is unsure that he would survive the temperatures ("but 18 degrees centigrade is very mild for October" does not impress him).
NB DRESS CODE (from the hotel's directory of services)
Dress is casual but guests are requested not to wear swimsuits, bikinis etc. in the lounge or dining room. It is against the law for ladies to sunbathe topless. For dinner, gentlemen are requested to wear trousers and shirts while ladies are requested to wear evening dresses. No shorts are allowed over dinner.
After the initial panic I suss that they are not referring to something along the lines of a ballgown, maybe. What a relief!
I meet Alfonse outside the hotel whilst waiting for a ride which never comes. He hails from Kisumu (in the West on Lake Victoria) but has lived in Shanzu for a number of years. We set off on a walk round the village in the heat. They are used to tourist curiosity and invariably greet us with 'Jambo!' throughout. One small boy shouts 'sweets!' and my packet of fruit pastilles is duly distributed around a group of children who appear from all directions.* Alphonse asks me if I would like to visit a local school. The Cashew Nut school was built in 2003 with funds raised by visitors from Britain. It has 350 pupils all dressed in smart school uniform. The Headmaster proudly shows me to each classroom in turn. The children greet him with 'Good morning, Sir! How are you?' I sign the visitors' book and make a token contribution. Earlier visitors that day had brought pens for the school. Around 80 per cent of Kenyan children are in school and the government provides teachers but no premises or school supplies, so they are extremely grateful for all support offered.
* I was dismayed to find that my small packet of pastilles was not sufficient for all the small hands and, the following day, I gave Alphonse the biggest bag of sweets I could find in the hotel. Talking to the hotel security guard about my Shanzu visit later, he said that he also lived there and his children had received a handful of my sweets. I apologised by saying that our children are so spoilt but he insisted that this was a good thing. A humbling experience.
St Catherine s House of Hope St Catherines, Kisumu, Kenya
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