KSP on the Coast
Our first official day in Mombasa began at Fort Jesus in Old Port, Mombasa. Fort Jesus was established in 1596 by the Portuguese. Throughout the next few decades, Fort Jesus would change hands about nine times between the Portuguese, the Omani, the British, and ultimately to Kenya as an independent nation. The struggle for power is reflected in the enchanting architecture of the doors, rooms, and paintings in the fort, richly influenced by each culture. UNESCO named Fort Mombasa a World Heritage Site and museum, and rightly so, for its well-preserved carvings and structures.
Fort Jesus, with its juxtaposition of the past decayed and conserved, is absolutely beautiful. Each intricate carving or functional watchtower gave off the echoes of decades of historical importance. The stories of the Fort is alive in its’ half moon arches, ornate carved doors, and breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean.
Not only is Fort Jesus acclaimed for its strategic military position on the coast, but it also was the site of many treaties between nations. Political landmarks in the history of the Swahili peoples and Omani sultans took place in Fort Mombasa. The great political actors of the past are commemorated with their great achievements throughout the Fort.
After the tour inside of the Fort, we took a walking tour in two groups in Old Port. The Arabic architecture, stray cats, and beautiful ocean view makes Mombasa stand out from other places we have spent time in within Kenya. It is certain that ethnically, Mombasa is extremely diverse compared to Nyeri or Amboseli.
We saw lovely old buildings, visited a spice shop, did a walk-through of the fish market (Mhmm Samaki!), and met a wonderful seamstress at the market. The kikoys, kangas, and kitenges were colorful and much cheaper than they are in Nairobi. Mombasa is known for having the best selection of kangas and kikoys in Kenya. Some of us got bargain deals for such beautiful fabric. Two kangas, yards and yard of fabric, cost about four to five USD!
On our fourth day in Mombasa we had the opportunity to meet with a local NGO, Coastal Hostess Empowering Community (CHEC). CHEC was started by local sex workers to provide basic health education, mentoring, and counseling to female members of the local sex work industry. Along with a booming tourist industry, the coast is also home to a prominent sex-tourism industry, with Mombasa being no exception.
CHEC works closely with local sex workers to offer them support and a safe place where they can work to battle the stigma and discrimination that is associated with working within the sex profession. Local members work on a grassroots strategy to offer necessary services to a community that otherwise would not have access. Along with basic necessities such as food and shelter, CHEC offers its members support through a variety of programs entitled “Family Matters”, “Healthy Choices”, and “ETA”. “Family Matters” is a program started by CHEC members that emphasizes creating healthy role models for children within the community. “Healthy Choices” provides local children and teenagers with information about the dangers of unhealthy habits, such as substance abuse and peer pressure. Through this program kids are taught that it’s okay to say “no” unhealthy choices. “ETA” is a new program that focuses on providing basic education for both members and their family members.
Through forming solidarity within the community and working alongside local organizations that promote the well being of male sex workers, CHEC aims to demonstrate to local workers that they have access to necessary resources and to help ensure that their rights are protected. Currently, CHEC has over one hundred members from the local community and works closely with larger Kenyan associations such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance of Kenya, and the Kenyan Sex Worker Alliance to organize new programs and events to spread awareness of issues, such as HIV, facing these industry workers.
We found this experience to be incredibly beneficial and rewarding, and allowing us to gain a greater understanding of the culture within Mombasa. We had the chance to meet some amazing people and had wonderful discussions about the local culture, and different challenges that local communities face.
On one of our last days in Mombasa we visited the Kenyatta Public Beach in the afternoon to check out the local scene. Upon our arrival, vendors who were attempting to sell us sunglasses, bracelets and even camel rides swarmed us immediately. A few adventurous souls of ours decided to take the men up on their offer of a camel ride and had a great time! While some of our group decided to walk along the beach and interact with the locals, the rest of us decided to rent a glass-bottom boat and take it out into the Indian Ocean. As Patrick (our guide) moved the wood paneling of the boat’s floor away to reveal the glass, we were all quickly amazed at the beautiful marine life. We saw an abundance of coral, fish, sea urchins and more on our tour. We stopped far off of the coastline to jump off the top of the boat and go swimming in the salty, warm and beautiful Indian Ocean. After many jumps and giggles we headed back to meet up with the rest of the gang and leave for our hotel. It was an incredibly fun day and allowed us to gain a better understanding of the culture that exists on the public beaches.
The next morning, on sadly our last day in Mombasa, we had our group presentations in the morning after breakfast. The topics that we presented on mirrored those that we had been learning about over the course of our visit. These included: the ongoing war on terror in the Kenyan coast, the relationships between various ethnic groups, the socio-economic impacts of tourism in the coast and the future of the costal people and their Kenyan government. As our time in Mombasa was coming to a close, the group presentations allowed us to look back at all of the knowledge we had attained regarding many different aspects of the coastal culture.
For our last hoorah Sinnary treated us to a private Tamarind Dhow Cruise for dinner. The cruise gave us a new perspective on what the coast looks like at night from a distance. This was an incredible way to spend our last evening in such an incredible city. We ate as much seafood as we could stand and danced the night away under the stars to the live music. The next morning we watched the sunrise over the beach as we ate breakfast and sadly made our way to packing up the bus. Although we might not have enjoyed the 12 hour (!) bus ride back to Nairobi, we most definitely enjoyed our time on the coast!