Mombasa Field Component, Fall 2017

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.


Mombasa Spring 2017

Fort Jesus, Swahili Carved Wooden Door with Omani influence

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!

Mosaic and hanging linen Old Port, Mombasa

KSP with local members of CHEC

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!