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IS BEING COOL THE COOLEST THING TO BE IN MOMBASA? Part 2

By Lubnah Abdulhalim

Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy

The first thing any parent would ask you when you go ask for their daughter’s hand is, ‘what do you do for a living?’ of course it is their right to ask that. All parents want the best for their children and when you mention that your job is carrying cement, the first instinct would be that you wont be able to provide for their daughter and the children to come. Well maybe it would be your duty to prove them wrong by elaborating how you have a plan for the future. Parents easily get impressed when they see someone had previously arranged for their future; say, you have a saving account that was just for your wife-to-be and children and so on. of course it will be tough to convince them that carrying cement can make you sustain a family so maybe it is up to you to put in the effort to prove them wrong. But the question one should ask themselves is, ‘is it really worth it?’ Sometimes you may do all you can to show the parents of the girl that you can take up full responsibility, they will still put up walls to prevent you from marrying their daughter. But that is where we are always advised to marry/get married from people with same backgrounds as us because there will always be a time whereby the issue of class will be an issue between the two families. If you are hustling and you go approach a family whereby their daughter wakes up to find breakfast on her bed, then they will obviously not want any less than that. If their daughter is always in a prado, they will expect you to drive her in nothing less than a prado let alone make her board a matatu. As much as this is a wrong way of living and thinking but this is the reality. For you, providing ugali for both lunch and dinner may be what you consider as enough to sustain a family while for someone else, sustaining a family means being able to provide for their daughter a full meal from starters to the dessert. And this is how most people end up being rejected in families. I will repeat, it is not the right way of thinking or even living because this is definitely not what our prophet p.b.u.h taught us but nonetheless, sadly, not everyone is ready to follow his example. But still, we are taught to believe in qadar; which is our destiny, and if Allah has already planned that you marry this girl from a higher social class than you, you will still marry her by God’s will, even if the whole world is against the marriage.

So parents always have this notion of, ‘ah what will I be telling people when they ask what my son-in-law or even son is doing?! How can I say he is does a bodaboda business/sells vegetables in the market or that he is a carpenter?!’ Why? because to them this is not cool; not classy. And this is even why you rarely see Mombasa youth driving bodabodas or selling vegetables in the market; because they have always heard it from their parents criticizing such jobs, so they too grow up with the notion that it is not their standard to have such jobs. They would rather stay jobless and keep complaining about leaders who haven’t accomplished the promise of providing proper jobs. Truth be said here, we have jobs like the matatu industry, these people earn a very good amount of cash per day than quite some people working in offices. But there is also this perception of matatu workers being miraa chewers and drunkards and so on and the parents therefore wouldn’t really accept a matatu worker to join their family. We can’t really blame them for such a perception because this bad image exists but nonetheless, you won’t miss some of the matatu workers who are clean from any kind of drugs and may be all they have to do is prove it…but again, only when it is worth it and when you know your efforts can bring out a good result of being accepted in the family.

As much as we will blame the youth for only seeking what is cool in their eyes, the bigger blame goes to the parents. When they see that their sons can’t get an office job, then they would rather send them to Dubai or Suudiya or Qatar so they work there. Funny thing is, the jobs that they are given over there can still be done here but their hilarious notion is ‘I’d rather that my son sweeps the streets of Dubai rather than Kenya or Mombasa.’ Why? because to them it is really cool to say ‘my son works in an Arab country or abroad’ irregardless of what they are doing there. And the people being told this rarely ask ‘what kind of a job is he doing in Dubai?’ all that matters is that he is not here and he is there. Some would give the excuse that doing the local jobs in the Arab countries will be earn them more but hey, how do we forget to account for the lifestyle there? The high and expensive lifestyle there will end up draining the money just like the way the struggles of our country would have costed. And if there is any difference, we have to admit, it’s not really that big not unless we are talking of professional jobs.

Sometimes, working out there becomes the easy ticket of being accepted as a son-in-law. This is a stupid way of thinking honestly because it is just like those people who do business just so that they are recognised as business men even when they are not benefiting from it. As in kiswahili we commonly say, ‘yani bora wao wajulikane wana biashara tu! ata kama haileti faida!’ They’d rather drive a prado bought from lent money rather than own a bicycle bought from their own sweat.

Sadly, we have let our egos take over us and now all that matters is our outside image; how our neighbours will see us, our class and our standards, be seen driving a mercedes even when the petrol was bought from lent or even stolen money, even when in reality inside our homes we are dying from hunger. Just because it is cool? That is sooo NOT cool!

IS BEING COOL THE ONLY COOLEST THING TO BE IN MOMBASA? Part 1

By Lubnah Abdulhalim

Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy

Well since Mombasa is an amazing island with blue oceans and beautiful scenaries, the immediate first instinct of any person would be ‘if Mombasa is not the place to be cool then where else?’ but my ‘cool’ that i mean here is the extended kind which to some would be termed as laziness and irresponsibility. I am a resident of Mombasa myself; of course i wouldn’t want to talk ill of our people but truth be said; youth and even some of the elders are misusing the word ‘cool’ and how to be it.

In a research on community resilience against violent extremism that I participated in four different areas in Mombasa, there was this common factor among all the four places, which is the behaviour of the youth of Mombasa. It’s nice to be cool and to feel nice about oneself but that is totally a different case when a person decides they are too cool to do a certain thing.

So the typical scenario of a Mombasa youth is that of: I wake up at nine or ten in the morning, I go to the table and my lovely mum has already left some good breakfast for me on the table. After eating I will go out and do totally NOTHING sensible but when I come back home at lunch hour, my lovely mum has already covered some food for me. I may be 24 or even above that, I am jobless and probably so is my dad but there is nothing to worry, because this lovely woman in the house will always find a way to provide good food or at least some food on the table even when we don’t know how or where she gets the money from. So where is the coolness I am talking about here? You may find that this young man has been offered several jobs but his ego won’t allow him to go sweep in the streets or carry cement. come on that is totally not cool right? ‘I mean, what if pretty girls come by and see me in shaggy clothes sweating under the hot scorching sun, carrying cement?!’ Isn’t that the mentality that most youth have? So what they would rather do is wear their lowered torn jeans revealing their inner wear, have a funny ‘cool’ haircut sit at a maskan, chew miraa and smoke bhang, walk with some swag and have the ‘you-cant-tell-me-a-thing’ attitude. The best any of these young men can do is wait at the maskan for an attractive classic matatu with banging music so that they can ask for a one round of reckless driving like in ‘fast and furious’, because to them, that is what is ‘cool’.

The reality is that this kind of young men are untouchable in these times because the kind of power and command they put even in their actions has created fear within us. Right now we are having very young boys below 16 walking in gangs, carrying pangas and murdering people and scaring us out like hell because we know they are no joke; that once they raise their pangas up then there is no way that they will let the panga fall down without touching blood. Another not surprising factor that emerges is that most of these young gangs start with a fight over a girl. Then a boy from a certain place is beaten up to death and the others come to revenge and it goes on like that till the gangs become organized groups with full leadership. And this to them is so cool because it is giving them the recognition they want. They want people to talk about them in every corner and be scared when they hear their names and well, they have succeeded in that. Yet when you see them, you would never think that such a young boy can fight you to death.

It is only in Mombasa where you will hear a person saying, ‘come on I am learned, how do you expect me to sell water’ or such kind of a thing. It is also only in Mombasa where you will hear a youth demanding that their parents give them the freedom they want yet they can’t take responsibility of their lives. They want to be left alone so they do evil and harm people yet they still want to come back home and find food ready on the table. And this where we have to admit that the upcountry fellows are doing a pretty good job in raising their children because at a very young age, they teach their children to take responsibility and how to take control of their lives. Whereas for us, that is where we have failed terribly. Our parents have shown us clearly; ‘My son, for better for worse I will provide for you even when you have a wife and children, I will cover up your mistakes for you, even if you are murdering and attacking people aimlessly. I will give you the money you need, even when i know you will use it in buying drugs.’ And that is the attitude most of Mombasa youth grow up with in these times.

Then we complain when our upcountry brothers come to Mombasa and lead us. But we have no right to complain! These fellows come from wherever they are from, they start from the very bottom; sweeping streets, cleaning toilets, making tea but give them just two years and you will see the same guy already a secretary in the organization. Give him five more years and he will be the manager. Then the Mombasa lad will come to the same organization and be given the sweeping task and he will say, ‘I am more educated than the manager. I completed form four while he dropped out of class eight. I can’t accept such a job.’ Ask him why he will tell you because it is unfair. But they never put into consideration where this manager started from. I have a neighbour from upcountry who is a graduate from pharmacy course yet she opened her own saloon when she didn’t get a job. Then try asking a Mombasa educated lady to do the same and you will hear the response, ‘That’s not my kind of job.’ And this where the difference comes from; our fellows have a focus while we don’t! We are always comparing our journey with someone else’s! “He has a Subaru while I have a probox or, I have nothing that can’t be!” We give the lame excuses of ‘upcountry people run the country that’s why they advance in life’ yet we all know that they are not coddled and that’s why they never lose neither their cool nor their focus. As for us, we just want the short cut. We want to get employed in an office that will make me the boss from the first day. A job we can brag about and get recognition. When you ask why the response will be, “because it is cool isn’t it? to be the boss, to own a nice car, to come in the time you want. If not that then i’d rather sit at the maskan and have a good time.” And it is this mentality that has made most of the youth remain jobless, because they want heaven without struggle. They therefore create their own ‘heaven’ by being in gangs smoking bhang and other hard drugs, harm people, maintain some swag and well, life goes on!

Yet another sad truth is that, even when parents know their children are causing harm, they would do all they can to release their children when they are arrested; even if it means selling their houses and property. Well, understandably, parents will still be parents especially the mothers. In the end of the day, they still want them to be fine and be with them. They will always be protective, but the question is, are they doing any good favour to their children by bailing them out always yet they will still continue to murder and beat up people? Till when will the parents keep pampering grown up youths instead of toughening them up to be responsible youth?

It is at this time where no one should even talk about the children of others. It’s scary. Really scary. Today you may be pointing fingers of how lost the neighbour’s children are, yet you don’t know what surprises your own might bring you tomorrow. We just have to ask for God’s mercy and protection; even for ourselves as youth. As the Swahili methali says, ‘Ukiona mwenzako anyolewa, chako kitie maji.’

Photo Courtesy: Unknown

Hey you over there. Yes, you! This is kindly for you. I hope this letter brings my concern to your gentle heart. Please give it a minute or two, or perhaps a few minutes of your golden time. This is for everyone and for no one in particular. This letter is to my leader whom I hoped would hand me a ladder to my dreams; to the rich of Mombasa whom I wished would stretch their hand in the pursuit of supporting me; to my neighbour whom I believed to help me when in need. Don’t be mistaken, this is definitely for you just as it is for anyone else. THIS…is to whoever it may concern.

Mombasa. The place with the most beautiful sunset on earth; the area of undeniably eye catching blue waters and ever-green palm trees bowing down to you, a region of rich and deep culture which we inherited from diverse tribes and races; the place we forever will cherish. This is home sweet home.

This city has grown so much over the years and the changes can’t be defied. We have grown to be like the mysterious city where all we can see is the sickening mixture of success and failure; unity and selfishness; joy and grief. The Mombasa that the older generations knew of was the one that had a vision; a vision that was later diluted with the lethargic nature of the current generations. All we have now is a mishap of ideas within the community where everyone talks but no one acts. The great say, an idea is only when it is implemented. There are many ideas but the implementation remains a far-stretched theory. So where are we heading to when all we do is jog at the same spot year in year out?

We have now inherited a multi-cultural personality which would be to a great advantage if we could join our thoughts of religions and education system to be unified. Truly, love for your people is not bought-it is gained through community awareness and progress. So how much do we really lose if we put aside all our differences of social class, religion, tribe and whatever else that separates us from the ultimate success?

I have always been amused to hear of how the Mombasa we know of was during old times; how everyone was a brother to another even when there was no blood relation, whereby a neighbour could punish another neighbour’s child for some wrongdoing, how people would support each other in weddings and funerals; it all sounds like Mombasa was this one big family where everyone knew everyone but it didn’t just end at the knowing each other, it went further to deeply expose the brotherhood and unity that was there. All this harmony and peace was suddenly grabbed from us by the unknown and all we are left with are skeletons from the past.

The blessed month of Ramadhan; the month of mercy and forgiveness, has always displayed the golden hearts of our people in a platter. There is the great sense of unity and love as we join hands in this glorious month and it is so touching to see ourselves remember the poor, do charity in abundance, remember our neighbours for the first time in months, visit the sick, join hands to do community work and so much more. This doesn’t just define us as religious beings only; it defines us as a community. It shows our real potential and ability to do a great job to reap fruits for our people. It is out of the prayers that I have that I am hoping that this unity could be extended throughout the other eleven months; not just for our sake but for the betterment of our children too.

It is high time we embraced our fears and grief; it is due time we stopped stigmatizing the homeless child that lies on the dirty road with nothing but a piece of torn cloth to cover the body, the poor old frail man who owns nothing but the soul in him, the woman who wakes up before dawn and walks for miles in search for any random duty to make her ends meet, the man who struggles to push an overloaded rickshaw as he sweats profusely under the bright sun; this man who would probably just cough one day and spit blood and becomes his doomed end. It is important for us to tackle our egos and have a more gentle view on others. We need to appreciate every minor character in this tale of Mombasa; all these people we ignore and sometimes abuse, yet they are the growing power of our town.

Let’s turn our focus on the moral rot and impunity in our region; let us put our energy together in fighting all odd and immoral trends that make us walk face-down in shame. Let us fight for our once most peaceful environment. We have to bring back our love for each other, the harmony, the tranquility, our traditions, our language; that Coastal flavour that we can never find anywhere else.

Just as I want to be a Kenyan proud to be a Kenyan for what Kenya does for Kenyans, I want to be overly proud to be a Coasterian for what the Coast does for the Coasterians to gain ultimate success as a unified County. Let us all unite; be it Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Atheist; be it rich or poor; be it literate or illiterate. This is the time to join hands.

My bottom line is just; peace, love and unity once again for us all.

Yours faithfully,

Lubnah Abdulhalim.

(A citizen of Mombasa)

Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy

Mama’s laughter was always hysterical. It would echo all around the three-bedroom house. It was something I always enjoyed hearing, especially when Mama Aisha came home. The short stout woman always had a story to tell; an adventure to narrate. I would hear her talk endlessly as if there was no tomorrow. White saliva would gather at the end of her lips and she would rarely pause during her narrating spree. Being the young boy I was, I always found it amusing just watching her lips move up and down. I usually wondered whether mama really believed her stories. I never asked but whenever Mama Aisha was telling her endless stories, I would keep glancing from mama then to her, trying to capture mama’s expressions.

Mama would squint her eyes tightly to show how deeply engrossed she was in the story and she didn’t fail to bulge her beautiful black almond shaped eyes when there was need to. In short, she was a good listener, whether she really believed the stories or not.

I could not withstand missing out on Mama Aisha’s adventures and thus, whenever I would just hear the doorbell and her loud voice start narrating from the doorstep, I would quickly slip out from my room, run downstairs and sit on Mama’s laps.

“ Hehe! Mamake Fatma!” she started with a great urgency.

“Ehe? Nini tena?!” Mama asked quickly; always prepared for a story.

“Today at the market…hehe!” she said; purposely pausing to keep us in suspense.

“What happened in the market?” Mama asked from the kitchen as she made her some juice.

“That lady…I don’t even know what she was thinking!”

“What lady?” mama asked excitedly.

“Juma’s niece! You do remember her right? The one who had gone to America for her studies!”

“Yes I do remember her. Her name is Leila. What happened to her?” mama asked, more calmly.

“I don’t even know where to start!” The suspense growing ever more.

“From the start mama Aisha…from the start,” Mama said, rolling her eyes.

“Basi Leila leo! She came to the market in those short tight dresses from America. She didn’t even have her hijab on! I heard she snatched a mzungu’s husband and came with him to Kenya. So sad!” she said as she vigorously shook her head.

Mama shook hers too, as if in shame.

“Watoto wa siku hizi!” mama Aisha said before circling her index finger around her temple, as if to express how much abnormal the current generation is.

“May God guide us and our children. Western life is really having a negative influence on our girls and boys,” mama said, caressing my hair.

“Yes indeed,” Mama Aisha said before she stood up to leave.

She chattered away until she was outside the door. I always stood out to see her disappear into the third lane with her quick steps, frequently throwing the edges of her long scarf to her back. Each day she would go to the market and come by with a brand new story. It would either be about the thief that was beaten up or how the vegetable vendor smells like rotten fish. As I escorted her with my eyes as she walked away, I always wondered what it would be like to have a mother like that.

I grew up frequently hearing mama being called ‘mama Fatma’. I always wondered why they still called her by my older sister’s name while she no longer lived with us. I still remember that tragic incident that shattered our family forever; the night when Fatma called from America. She had finally graduated and now she had her degree in hand. Mama sounded very excited talking to her; telling her to take the first plane back home. Suddenly, she fell silent and handed papa the phone. I stood still at the door, listening quietly. I could see how much mama was straining to hold back her tears. Papa took the phone, gesturing to mama, as if asking what was wrong. It didn’t take long before I saw papa’s face turn red with rage. His voice grew into a thunderous roar as he barked several questions into the phone at once.

“What do you mean you got married?! How could you do that without seeking our blessings?!”

I didn’t like the sight of my parents but for some reason I couldn’t detach myself from the room. I looked at mama once again who was now seated at the edge of the bed, hugging herself tightly and crying silently. I stared at her for a while before I was startled by the end of the conversation when papa slammed the phone into the floor. I had never seen him that livid, even for a policeman who had been through so much stressful times. Papa had always been very patient. I always considered him to be the coolest police officer ever, and now I held my breath, unsure of what would happen next and afraid for the first time ever around my papa.

He moved around the room in restless steps, fidgeting with his fingers. He then sat next to mama before he turned to her after a short pause.

“You knew that she was interested in an English non-Muslim man?”

Mama nodded slowly before sniffing loudly.

“I…I tried to stop her…I did, I swear!” She sobbed.

“You should have told me!” papa said with finality before he stood and left.

The whole neighbourhood soon knew about Fatma’s marriage. It wasn’t surprising at all that they knew even without mama telling them. The news just had to get to Mama Aisha and the whole neighbourhood soon knew the story. Some friends came to console her silently and Mama Aisha was obviously there. Soon though, as with all other stories, it died away and people found more interesting topics to gossip about.

We didn’t hear from Fatma for quite some time. It was much later that she called to inform Mama that she was expecting a baby. Being the golden heart lady that Mama was, it wasn’t surprising that she was soon in frequent communication with Fatma. She often tried to give the phone to papa so he would also talk to her but he would push it off by saying, ‘I don’t have a daughter.’

Papa was my biggest role model and mentor throughout my life. He was tall, masculine and his brown skin shined under the sun.  He walked in quick steps and he spoke very little. I looked up to him with so much admiration as he sat with his colleagues and held what seemed to be very important conversations. He never spoke much but it was very clear how the visitors frequenting our house respected his opinions and thoughts. My friends were always amused that papa was a policeman, but what was even more amusing was that he wasn’t rough as many expected; he was simply a tough hard-willed gentleman. He and mama always took turns entertaining guests at home. They would talk on politics, the society and many other things. I always felt proud when he’d call me along to sit with him as he spoke with his guests.

He sometimes took me along to the police station where he worked in Mtwapa whenever he could. Because of this I always though he wanted me to become a policeman like him and like his father and his grandfather too. It felt like family heritage that the men ended up being protectors of the law, or more importantly, guardians of the common mwananchi. In fact, for the sake of continuity, I never imagined myself doing any other job apart from being a police officer. So I just followed him without complaining.

Mtwapa was the kind of town that had a stretch of bars from one end of the town to the next, which meant the police always had their hands full. I would stand outside the police station and watch drunkards stumbling as they walked past and the provocatively-dressed women who had no business being out so late.  It was a queer town. When sunset approached, just before the evening prayer, I would get a stool from the office and sit by the gate next to the guard. I was always amused and concerned by the sheer number of bars situated just next to churches and mosques. It seemed like a never-ending struggle between servants of their own desires and purists. There were times when I could hear the call to prayer blend with the loud booming music from the nearby bars and I’d just shake my head. Strange world.

When papa was done with his work, he joined me where I was seated, shook his head and said, “Where Satan is involved, fickle humans always grow weak. It is the end of the world.” I slowly nodded in agreement. I was thirteen years old; old enough to understand his perception of life.

One day, after another long one at school, I stood by the bridge together with my friends watching the beautiful ocean beyond. That had always been our norm. We would stand there for as long as it would take before dispersing upon hearing the evening call of prayer.

I fastened my steps and dashed into the house to avoid mama’s scolding for coming late but she didn’t even notice my entrance. I could hear some loud weeping from the sitting room. That isn’t mama’s voice, I thought to myself. Puzzled, I peeped at where she was seated and saw that it was Mama Aisha who was crying uncontrollably.  She was chattering away, pausing once in a while to wipe away her tears and blow her nose. I couldn’t clearly hear what she was saying but I could read the deep grief on her face. She kept calling out her eldest son in a depressing tone. I inched closer to the door to eavesdrop some more when papa appeared and gestured to me to follow him.

I rushed into my room, dropped my back pack and changed into a kanzu. Papa was walking really fast and I could see he was deep in thought. I tried to ask him what had happened to Mama Aisha but all he did was whisper, ‘Not now!’

When we got back home after prayers, Mama Aisha was in the company of another elderly lady. I could see that she was still crying and all I ever heard was, “He was going to Dubai and now they say they found him at the Kenya-Somalia border! This is too much! They won’t even allow me to see him…” Papa interrupted my attention as chaperoned me off to my room and ordered me to stay in there.

Back in my room, I pressed my ears to the door. My curiosity was really getting the better of me. It was hours later after I had climbed in bed when I heard some commotions from our front door. I rushed downstairs immediately to find Mama Aisha’s husband at the door, yelling at her.

“Come back to the house woman! Why are you bugging everyone about your useless son who can’t even help himself?!”

Mama Aisha cried as mum held her hand.

“I’m looking for help unlike you who does not even care about his own son! The only thing you ever know to do is spend your day at the maskani and chew khat and get high on your family!”

I stood still on the stairs hoping I would not be noticed. Papa led Mama Aisha’s husband out of the house and they talked for a moment. Then papa called Mama Aisha outside as well. I never found out what happened next for I was asked by mama to go to sleep.

The next morning Mama didn’t come to wake me up for morning prayers. I woke up several minutes late and rushed to my parents’ room. Mama was busy folding clothes in a suitcase and Papa was fully dressed; checking some papers on the bed.

“Where are you going papa?!” I said as I went to kiss his hand.

“You have to go to the mosque by yourself today son. I will pray on my way to the bus station” he said without looking at me.

“Where to?!”

“To find justice son. To find justice,” he said as he picked up the now closed suitcase and left the room. Mama followed him to the door and waved him goodbye.

“What is happening mama?” I asked, worried without question.

Mama took my hand and made me sit down next to her.

“Your dad is going to help Mama Aisha find her son. He will be leaving with her husband to find out what really happened.”

“But why was he arrested mama?”

“They say he was caught at the border heading to Somalia. The police are now holding him as a terrorist suspect….so sad. I’ve seen Hassan grow up in the neighborhood all his life. He was a good boy,” mama said, tears welling up.

“Do you think that he might really be involved with terrorists?” I asked as I stared at mama, scared of the answer she might give.

“That is what your papa has gone to find out. There might be a misunderstanding, maybe a case of mistaken identity, or at least we hope it is so…Last we knew was that he was heading to Dubai for a business trip.”

“But what if he is found guilty mama?”

She took a long breath and said, “Then it would be very unfortunate…” She patted my back and asked me to prepare myself to go to the mosque.

A week passed without a word from papa and mama was getting so worried. The days seemed so long and the nights were dragging. Mama could barely eat. She had dark marks under her eyes and her face was so pale. Weeks turned into months and the silence was deafening. But Mama was not alone in this misery. Every evening upon entering the house from school, I would hear mama Aisha’s loud weeping; she had not only lost her son but her husband too. Mama was mourning silently, she would let her tears flow yet she was too quick to wipe them away. She made sure to smile when with me to make me believe that she was alright yet I knew how much she was hurting deep inside. Then finally we got the call we waited so long for; a call from papa, only it wasn’t papa on the phone but someone else using his phone. No one had to tell me that, it was just so clear from how mama talked. She had started talking with a very excited tone before her voice slowly died away.

“What do you mean?!” she said in a slow yet anxious tone. Her eyes were watery and her hands were visibly shaking. My heart was beating fast and I kept hovering around mama, trying hard to hear what was being said on the other end. Mama suddenly dropped the phone and fell on her bed. She sat frozen as tears welled up her face.

“What happened mama?! What happened?!” I asked, panicking. She sat still in her position, staring at the wall as the tears mixed with her running nose.

“What happened?” I asked, almost shouting and in my anxiety, I broke down too. I hugged her and stayed in her arms for the longest time.

Papa and Mama Aisha’s husband had been shot; Mama told me in the quietest, most depressing tone. Millions and millions of questions raced across my mind as the house started getting crowded with visitors coming to console us. I watched Mama as she sat silently in a corner, wiping her tears. Mama Aisha was seated next to her and she kept wailing uncontrollably. I was confused and depressed, but mostly I was angry; I did not know what or who exactly I was angry at but all I knew was that the fury inside me was going to consume me. What had happened to papa? What had gone so wrong that he was shot? Who had shot him?!

The next morning I bought all the local newspapers I could get my hands on and sat in the sitting room, poring over each one.

‘A local policeman shot dead by unknown people during his investigative probe into the arrest of one terror suspect …’

‘…shot along with the suspect’s father where he was planning to release the terrorist suspect from the hands of law…’

‘It is alleged that the policeman had connections with the terror suspect’s handlers…’

‘As to the question of who could have carried out this heinous act, that still remains a mystery…’

‘Could it really be possible that an officer of the law was so deeply connected with a terror group …?’

I pushed the newspapers away. My anger had now turned to bitterness and my mind seemed to be moving in circles. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to hit a wall; I just needed to do something. I looked up to see mama standing at the window staring outside with longing; as if expecting papa to appear any moment. She sniffed slowly and wiped her tears every once in a while with her head scarf.

“I talked to Fatma, she cried so much. Your papa died before they reconciled,” mama said between tears, “She will be flying in this evening with her husband.”

I moved to where she stood and hugged her tightly.

Strange world this is, I muttered to myself, where in the struggle between good and bad, the bad always won!

I did not know how, but I was going to avenge papa’s murder somehow. Even if it meant the death of me!

…Even if it meant being on the Wrong side of the law!

#To be continued…

Photo Courtesy: lifeinmombasa.com

There is a lot of mystery behind the buibui and the ones who don’t wear it probably wonder how the Muslim women survive under those ‘heavy blankets’ as some would get sarcastic about. The buibui has been worn in the coast and around the world since time immemorial and many view it as Islamic attire.

The buibui is presumed or rather believed to be a traditional dressing by the Arab tribes and when they came to spread their religion of Islam in the Coast of Kenya, people quickly adapted to their traditions and assumed the buibui to be part of religion, which is actually not true. The Islamic religion required a woman to wear a loose fitting and non conspicuous attire in which the Arabs then, believed that the buibui was the best suiting the characteristics of the attires required. A young girl would be introduced into wearing the buibui as soon as she reached the puberty age or even earlier so that she may adapt to the culture.

The old buibui which was worn by our ancestors was the very simple one, with no shiny or beautification on it at all and the only colour used was black. The buibui itself was made of three pieces of black fabric; the lower piece that is attached to another upper piece. However, these two pieces were only attached at the back; leaving the lower piece hanging loose at the front and thus, the women then, had to hold the piece while walking. The third piece was a light fabric that looks like a veil that is attached to the upper fabric at the head. The main upper fabric had ties for tying under the chin. When one wears the main upper and lower fabrics attached only, some part of the front hair remained exposed by this. Therefore, the third light piece becomes handy. This light material had two purposes; one, the woman could pull it forward to cover the hair that is exposed and bring it down to the chin and tuck it in around the cheeks. The lady would then use the main upper fabric that is still loose to make the ‘kizoro’ which is to pull the loose piece across her chest and face, which leaves only the eyes section uncovered. Two, the woman could let the light veil fall over her face and thus covering herself completely. The piece of material however, is light enough to allow her see through though the person seeing her may not be able to clearly make out her face. It is very rare to find anyone with such a buibui nowadays with an exception of our grandmothers’ maybe or the very traditional people remaining probably in Lamu county or Zanzibar in Tanzania.

Soon afterwards, new styles of buibui came up. The open abaya at the front which could expose the dress one is wearing inside, the ones which had simple design of flowers at the end of the arm, to the buibui coats which came in various colours before they disappeared for quite a while and are now back once again. The coats look more official like and the difference between the ones that were there long time ago is that they were not body fitting like the present ones. Afterwards, came the very conspicuous buibui which have all kind of designs all over it. Slowly by slowly, the buibui evolved to be a fashion thing rather than tradition or religion.

It is believed that there are various reasons as to why Muslim women wear buibui. The first is as Islamic attire in which, the buibui is perceived as a symbol of respect, honour and dignity. The buibui is worn so that the woman may cover all her beauty and only expose it to direct family and husband. The old women would often say, ‘buibui ni stara’ to show its actual essence of it being a cover.

The old women who we probably call the grand mothers and great grand mothers of our time know of the buibui as a tradition and you may come across pagans or non practicing Muslims who still wear the buibui. This is because many have grown up seeing our parents, relatives, neighbours wearing it and we grew up believing like the buibui is the main attire and symbol of the coast region, which is actually true.

 

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The current generation has given a priority to fashion and all what it entails. Since the old buibui seemed too simple and unattractive to the youth of today, business personnel had no option but to make something trendy to suit their tastes. It is then that new buibui styles of all kind evolved; from the very colourful ones, to the transparent ones, to the body fitting, to the official coat buibui and much more. The Muslim clerics would not differ with me when I say that the buibui has actually lost its essence and is now taken lightly not as of before. Even the loose women use it to cover themselves while doing their dirty businesses. The current buibui is very conspicuous, shiny with much to which a man would fancy about. It is tight and has become more of fashion attire rather than a cover as previously perceived.
With all this, there are some women who still uphold the buibui with dignity and treat it like the symbol of respect it is. The buibui though, is not only found in the coast of Kenya but all over the nation too. Without being bias, we all will admit that the Somali community makes the best use of buibui of being a cover more than any other community. You would always see majority of them with the buibui and jalbab and they very well portray the ‘true Muslim woman’ image. Still, we can’t completely blame fashion for straying away the purpose of the buibui since there have come new styles like the abayatul ra’s which allows a woman ton cover herself from head to toe very well.Now this can be hilarious but some people believe that the buibui is worn due to laziness of wearing smartly and being neat? This sounds so absurd but some people can even confess that since they wear the buibui, they tend to get lazy to wear something smart and instead go for simple clothes like the dera or such. If that same person were to walk out of the house without a buibui, she would definitely wear something totally different. Some may even go to events like weddings with very simple attires inside but with no worry since they know that the buibui is good enough and will not expose the inner dress. Those who fall under this category know themselves but then, it is obvious that that isn’t the main essence of wearing a buibui.

However you may take the buibui, let us not forget that its main purpose was to be a symbol of dignity and honour rather than fashion or beautification. As for those who feel pity on how much women in buibui suffocate, you shouldn’t worry…the buibui is our lifestyle that we are proud of!

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The Coastal wedding is not only an event of family gathering but also a deep cultural affair. It is one of the most prioritized events in the Swahili community which is one of the largest language groups in Coast and these cultural events can be very interesting. Once a man has come forward to the lady’s family to bring his proposal, then that is just the beginning of the Swahili weddings. The engagement event itself has a lot of merry and the lady’s family prepare with different kinds of foods and more to that; mashairi are recited to the bridegroom’s family to show the great joy that is joining the two families. Dowry is discussed whereby the two families negotiate on the amount of money, property or furniture to be paid to the bride.

Swahili weddings are quite similar to the Arab traditions of weddings since there is said to be a blood relation and connection between the two tribes. The Swahili elders are said to save money, utensils and even gold special for such an event in the family. This just shows to what extent this event is important to them.
A Swahili wedding is never complete without the numerous tasty foods served for the guests and most importantly, for the men of the two families which is known as ‘chakula cha mkono’ which is normally prepared by the bride’s family. The foods include mikate ya sinia, vitumbua, sambusa, kebabs, vilosa amongst others. And of course biriani being majority’s favourite doesn’t miss out for the lunch event. The recipes have not changed over the years and they really display the Swahili culture in depth.The families prepare themselves by making arrangements of the initial wedding day. The women apply the ‘piko’ and ‘henna’ at their arms and legs which are the most likeable adornment amongst the Swahili culture. Shopping for the bride are done immediately while the men share duties on the wedding program. The Swahili women have always been known for the colourful and glittery attires and jewellery that they wear during the event without forgetting the complicated hairstyles everyone prepares for uniquely.

 

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Most of the times, the event occurs in a hall or sometimes at home grounds. Some families send invitations through cards while others send family members in small groups to invite other guests. This has always been according to the pockets of the family and how big or small a wedding is going to be. The hall is usually decorated in such an attractive way with colourful designs with a couch or comfortable seat placed on a stage for the bride and groom when they arrive.

The initial wedding event is the ‘nikah’ ceremony which is mostly done at the mosque whereby the bridegroom is asked for the consent of the marriage while the bride is represented by her father or brother or uncle in the father’s absence. The women are usually located in a place near the mosque whereby they hear the Imam or Kadhi asking for the consent. This is done according to the Islam religion since majority of the Swahili are known Muslims. Both the bride and the groom are asked to give their consent thrice to ensure that no one forced them in to agreeing. Halwa and kahawa sometimes with meat is usually served during this event.

After that, the men are served their food separately while women have their other events going on like a lunch party ‘the shinda’ whereby the women wear the same kind of clothes ‘sare’ to show solidarity amongst them, ‘kupamba’ and ‘kesha’ whereby the latter are commonly done during the night to wee hours of the morning. The Swahili weddings are commonly characterized with the ‘tarab’ songs and a lot of dancing and thus, usually, no men are allowed in the area.

The climax of the event is when the bride arrives at the hall where the merry is taking place. She is made to sit at a special seat or couch on a stage where everyone can see her. Not long after that, the bridegroom comes along. The guests and all family members have a photo session with the couple where lots of pictures are taken with the ones present. The bridegroom then takes away his wife after a long tiring night at the event.

The bride is advised and given tips on the new marriage life she is about to begin and the couple is usually regarded as newlyweds until the first child is born or after a certain period of time has passed. The bride is also given so many presents to start her life and mostly it includes house utensils, jewellery and clothes especially the leso which is very common amongst the Swahili.

The Mijikenda weddings also have quite some similarities with the wedding programs of the Swahili and thus, have an aura of the unity at the coast. If you haven’t been to one, then make an effort to get an invitation. For sure, it is an eye catching event; that you will always remember.

The village elder of Mtopanga area by the name of Mwanajuma Suleiman has a story yet to be told. She runs an orphanage with a total number of 38 children;18 boys and 20 girls whereby the oldest child is Hussein who is 21 years and the youngest is Mwanajuma who is just 3 and a half years. The children live in a house that is just temporarily given to them but the owner may come claim his house any time. The children don’t have the priviledge to go to school and only obtain education from the teaching trainees who come and volunteer to teach them. Mwanajuma explains that the children are from different parts as far as Tana river. The classrooms are turned into bedrooms at night where the 18 boys stay. The girls are taken by Mwanajuma to her house where they sleep with her family. The state of the house is sympathetic and Mwanajuma can’t do anything about it since she only depends on good Samaritans to support her in feeding and clothing the children. Mwanajuma is doing a noble job as a leader and deserves to be imitated by the more well off leaders. To contact Bi Mwanajuma or send your contribution or help,you may get her through this number: 0729020972