Immediately following our Amboseli component, we met Njau at a shop in Emali and from there drove the whole day down to Mombasa. Immediately after stepping off the bus, the change in climate was apparent. The humidity was higher than many of us had ever experienced, and despite it being 7:00 in the evening, it was still 85 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Palm trees lined the edges of the resort we stayed in, called Neptune Beach Resort, and dinner was on a patio overlooking a pool, which was just in front of the beach where the Indian Ocean awaited. After a good night’s sleep in our rooms, we headed into Mombasa the next morning to experience it for ourselves!
(Fort Jesus, Old Town, Swimming (Emily Hoffman)
It was incredible to say the least to see the ocean and the vast blue horizon line for the first time in months. Ever since coming to Kenya we’ve been daydreaming about swimming in the ocean, let alone the Indian ocean. Within the first hour of arriving at our hotel, a few people ran to the beach. We craved the salty film on our skin, open-water, and effortless floating. The warm indian ocean left people feeling giddy and excited. Some of us even got into the routine of waking up with the sun and swimming before breakfast as the soft yellow light lit up the ocean. What a magical place to live.
On our first full day in Mombasa we explored Fort Jesus, the ruins of a fort built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, along with the sites of Old Town. We traveled in and out of the ruin catching little pockets in the stone that looked out on the ocean. A reminder that we were on the coast. The color pallet is so different here than Nairobi. It’s soft yellows and exuberant blues and green sprinkled with the array of vibrant kangas and diras that followed us wherever we went.
The colors, the small buildings, and the chaotic street environment reminded me of what I thought coming to Kenya would look like. We roamed down streets popping our heads into windows, surviving wild spice markets and the bustling streets that double as markets and roadways. My nose was overwhelmed with everything it was experiencing. Smells quickly switched from delicious to rotting fish to somewhere in between where I couldn’t decipher if I enjoyed it or not. I loved watching the way that people roamed the streets. It reminded me of how people cross highways in Nairobi, effortlessly migrating through chaos. It’s safe to say that everyone slept like a rock our first night.
On Wednesday morning we headed out in the bus with Njau and Sinnary to go and learn about a local organization (Haki Africa) that was centered around protecting and providing justice to human rights violations. Their vision, as described on their website, is “A Kenyan society devoid of poverty and all forms of marginalization and where each person has an equal opportunity to participate in self-development.” In Swahili, haki means “justice,” however each letter has been assigned to have a meaning. The H is for humanity, A for activism, K for knowledge, and I for integrity. Haki Africa also advocates for progression of socio-economic well-being as it relates to Article 43 of the 2010 Kenyan constitution, which asserts that every human is entitled to various healthcare services from clean water, reproductive services, to freedom from hunger. This group is also in the process of being recognized as an NGO. They also recently won the 2016 James Lawson award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonviolent Conflict.
Despite being oppressively hot inside, the company employees were very welcoming and even had ready a large assortment of snacks for us. We all packed into a small room where we were introduced to the company by one of the employees, and then were introduced to Hussein Khalid, the executive director of the organization, and a man who has been subjected to a lot of government controversy and oppression for his work. He had been arrested eight times as he led demonstrations against violence, corruption, and human rights violations within the Kenyan government, but was still incredibly enthusiastic and hopeful about the work he and his colleagues were doing.
He gave us a brief overview as well, and explained some of the cases they deal with, which were eye opening to us. The police treatment of those suspected of terrorist activity was often brutal and inhumane, to the point where if one person even suggested somebody had terrorist ties, they were picked up and often never heard from again. When asked about it, they would also say they have no knowledge of the situation, and in many cases the only way to open up a case was to bribe them a large sum of money. This speaks to the overall theme of police corruption we have heard of in Kenya, although it is seemingly exaggerated on the coast where the Arab influence is much higher. We also learned that Hussein had done some incredible work in his career along with his organization, which at one point even earned him an invite to the White House from Barack Obama, while he was on Kenya’s blacklist for allegedly sympathizing with terrorism. The reasoning for this was that the cases Haki fought for were often disappearances of those suspected of terrorist activity.
After lunch at a traditional swahili restaurant in Old Town, we moved back to Haki and discussed politics on the coast with a lawyer associated with Haki Africa. He gave us an overview of how all of the different coastal people of varying ethnicities often worked together, particularly in relation to coastal politics, and the issue of cessation. A theme we addressed throughout the week, many people on the coast felt left out or disregarded by the central government led by Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi. This in itself was interesting to learn about first hand all week, and it was something we would later be able to discuss in interviews and group discussions. Although not everybody supports cessation, usually because they feel it would lead to more corruption in a new coastal government, many people we spoke to did call for it, and this is what we discussed at length during our afternoon at Haki. It was interesting to see how corruption was almost even more an issue on the coast than in Nairobi, which created an interesting dynamic to what we had experienced as we have spent most of our time in Nairobi.
Corruption is what seems to be the biggest and most pressing issue within much of Kenya’s government, if the coast is going to feel more included in the country of Kenya, corruption has to be fought against through grassroots nonviolent action, following a model similar to that of Haki Africa and their work in dealing with human rights violations.
Neptune Beach Resort (Grace Riehl)
We stayed at the Neptune Beach Resort, right along a private beach. It was a huge contrast from our camping situation in Amboseli! We were also back down at sea level for the first time in months! We had a pretty busy schedule the entire week, but we were able to spend 2 full days at the Resort, exploring as much as possible. Usually, we would spend our free time alternating between sun-bathing, swimming in the cold pool, and swimming in the hot tub-like Indian Ocean. However, there were plenty of more activities to be involved in! A few of us joined in on a beach volleyball game with some locals and played a short game of water polo with some hotel staff and other guests! During the afternoon, when there were low tides, a few shops were set up on the beach, such as dresses, jewelry, art and other knick-knacks. There were more people wandering around as well, offering camel rides and glass bottom boat rides. Many of us put our bargaining skills to the test!
However, it was not all fun and games. In between our free time at the Resort, we were having interactive discussions with various members of the Mombasa community, in order to gain a better understanding of the Swahili culture and the current on-going issues. We talked with female sex workers, the youth, Muslim women, and local Mijikenda professors of the community.
As we alternated between our Resort and traveling through the rest of Mombasa, it was easy to see the contrast. The beaches were sparse, with a few guests and locals around, but soft white sand. The resort reminded me of resorts and hotels in the United States. It was the most American I’ve felt in a place while in Kenya. You could feel the slight difference between the beach and the resort. Mombasa on the other hand, had a strong Arabic influence that could be seen not just in Old Town, but everywhere! It was a very crowded and busy place. Neptune Beach Resort also almost felt a little pocket of paradise compared to all the pollution that we saw in parts of Mombasa. Nonetheless, it was still all beautiful! We ended our time with a Tamarind Cruise on a dhow for dinner and drinks. This was a very special week that we won’t forget!
As we settle down on the compound and getting ready to set out on our next big adventure on our independent studies throughout East Africa, we conclude our last night with a thanksgiving dinner. The table was set with flowers and kangas, Isaiah’s delicious cooking, and 20+ smiling faces. We went around and said what we were thankful for and many people expressed how lucky and appreciative for just being here, the people we’ve met, the stories we’ve heard, and the places we’ve seen. As Dr. Seuss once said, “Oh the places you’ll go”, and look at where all of our feet will travel to tomorrow. From Central Kenya, Nairobi, Uganda, Rwanda, the Coast, and Tanzania to your computers wherever your feet lie, we think about what we are grateful for and the list is long. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and stay tuned to see what’s next for our travels in East Africa.