Photos Courtesy: lifeinmombasa.com, http://blog.jovago.com/, http://www.travelstart.co.ke/
There is a reason why people from all over the world keep saying, ‘Mombasa Raha’. Of course the statement is not over-rated, if anything, Mombasa can be the best place to take a break. And by Mombasa I am referring to the larger Mombasa of the old times that extends to Lamu, Malindi and Mambrui on the North and to Likoni on the South. We just have too many blessings to ignore. Here is why:
1. Mombasa has the most hospitable people: Oh yes! This is the place where you need direction and the person drops everything they have in hand to escort you to your destination. This is the place where people can welcome a total stranger who needs a bed into their homes. We have seen since ages ago, our grandparents allowing exchange students and tourists to live amongst us and within our premises and most of the times free of charge. Well maybe security issues have disadvantaged this tradition to go on as before but still, in some places in the Coast it still happens. This is the place you can comfortably talk to a stranger in a public vehicle and chat like you’ve known them forever. This is the place you greet anyone and they reply even when you don’t know each other. I mean, go to Nairobi and try saying hi to someone on the street and see how they will freak out like you are the psychopath who has been stalking them in forever. Especially if you have a beard! man you are doomed 😀 But we’ve been doing it here in forever. We have neighbours living close together as one family and sharing both the good and bad moments together. Well this may have changed with time but it still happens in some places especially during the month of Ramadhan where neighbours, friends and relatives take plates of food to one another which is commonly known as bembe and sometimes even eat together. The place just becomes too comforting and the unity makes your heart bloom with joy.
We also have people assisting you with fare in a public vehicle when you have lost your own. People defending you when you are being mistreated or taken for granted. I remember an incident where two young high school boys were boarding a matatu but unfortunately, the driver took off just after one had boarded; leaving the other one behind. So the one who had boarded told the conductor he needs to alight because he cant go without his mate. The young boy really looked confused and agitated. It seemed like he was going to boarding school which may be far and perhaps had his own reasons why he wanted his mate to be with him. But the stubborn conductor wouldn’t let him alight with the saying, ‘si atakufata nyuma tu’. The boy kept insisting as he helplessly stood near the vehicle door. The more the boy pleaded, the more the passengers got agitated as well. So they started telling off the conductor, ‘wewe acha mtoto ashuke bwana’ and they really seemed irritated by how the conductor was ‘bullying’ the boy by not allowing him to alight. So it went on until some ladies in the car said, ‘usipomshukisha basi sisi sote pia twashuka.’ When the conductor saw that the pressure was rising, he decided to let him alight. If you were in the car, you’d think all those people knew that young boy by the way they were complaining. So yes, definitely this is the place you will find the kindest and most hospitable people. They can sacrifice their own dinner or their savings to let you, the visitor eat very good food, be comfortable and to your full.
2. Food? Is that even a question? The best of recipes and foods come from here. From the delicious breakfast of mahamri and mbaazi, with tea or coffee commonly known as kahawa to the heavy lunch of wali wa nazi, samaki wa kupaka and fresh juice and ending it with dinner that could be anything really. The varieties of food are uncountable; giving you the utmost satisfaction by eating whatever you love most. Could be mishkaki, shawarma, biriani, pilau etc etc. The desserts are not any less mouth watering! To make things even more interesting for a visitor, there are cafes and ladies beside streets selling palatable food and bites at every corner in Mombasa and you may end up getting confused where and what exactly to eat. You can always ask those who travel out of Mombasa what they miss most, our Coastal food is always mentioned! Oh our mothers and ladies are just blessed with that kind of hand that can mix up anything and end up making a new invention; a superb recipe haha.
3. The Coastal beaches, hotels, historical sites and wild life parks are just a wonderful place to relax your mind and have the peace of mind that you just need. The breezy Coastal beaches are filled with coconut trees that make it such a wonderful scene and some magnificent hotels are positioned right at the shore. What more would you need? You can always wake up early to watch the sunrise at the beach or the sunset.
The places to visit are many and it’s your choice to just make up your mind on which shore to explore on your sunny Sunday and yes, you can get an exciting ride on camels, donkeys and horses as well. Historical sites such as Fort Jesus and Jumba La Mtwana have so much meaning to the residents of Mombasa and they display the deep culture that has for long been an attraction for tourists.
4. The deep culture and beautiful people in Mombasa make it an interesting place to be in. We have all sorts of tribes inter-marrying and associating with one another. As such, we have inherited so many cultural traditions all at once. The Swahili, Arabs, Bajunis, Indians, Mijikenda, Barawas, Somalis amongst many others have been able to adapt each others traditions and live peacefully together despite a few differences here and there. There are several festivals such as Lamu Cultural Festival, Lamu Food Festival, Shela Dhow Race among others. Don’t hesitate to join the festivity!
5. The outstanding evenings- In Mombasa, the afternoon is usually the nap time for many who are free and the evening comes with such merry. You will find men just after their evening prayer seating with their mates, drinking kahawa chungu sometimes with haluwa or tende as they play backgammon. As for the ladies, an evening in Mombasa is not complete without the delicious viazi karai, bajia with chatini and ukwaju, sambusa, vitumbua amongst many other bites or sometimes it would simply be eating of the famous mabuyu, achari and sunflower as they sit watching TV, listen to taarab or most commonly chat with fellow women in their lesos and deras in their homes. The mabuyu and achari from Mombasa are used as gifts internationally so I guess this is where we make them best I guess? As for the children, you wouldn’t miss seeing them jump and run about playing with their age mates. You won’t miss to see boys and young men playing football in different grounds. They would go to buy barafu or babu kachri (It consists of a thick tangy potato gravy, sprinkled with crushed potato crisps and khara sev (a fried crispy snack made from chickpea flour and spices and topped with a spicy chutney) to spice up their evenings too. Well, what is life without food anyway? Sometimes they go for outings and walks in places like light house, buy kachri (crips), sit by the beach or go for ice cream. To top it up, there is no annoying jam to slow down your day. Here, people are always in the celebrating mood. Any day any time is the time for an outing. Where else do people have such spectacular evenings filled with joy, merry and children’s laughter?
6. Among the best of house wives come from the Coast. Ladies are taught from a very young age how to cook, how to handle a home and children such that when they get married, they are experts in being exemplary house wives. Being a house wife is really underestimated yet the work the ladies do to ensure their homes are up to date can’t be ignored. They beautify themselves with piko and henna for their husbands, use vikuba which have different flowers like vilua, mawardi (roses), Asmini (Jasmine) sown together to perfume their hair and the most commonly known Udi to perfume their clothes, bodies and their rooms. They wouldn’t miss a couple of lesos in their wardrobes from the famous Abdallah Leso with powerful messages and sometimes with mafumbo and methali.
7. The traditional Coastal weddings are just another thing!! The setting, the food, the pretty ladies!! During weddings, ladies wear crowns, necklaces (shada la pesa) or any other designs made of money and sometimes gift it to the newly weds or their relatives. I previously wrote an entire article about Swahili weddings, you can always check it out!
8. Religious Upbringing: As much as the Coast has different religions, the majority are the Muslims. Children are encouraged to go to madrasa at very young age, to participate in religious challenges as well as memorization of the holy book. We have Christians as well who have their own schedules for the young people and gladly, we have been able to inter-mingle with other religions without any problems. Such upbringing is to instill upright behaviour and humbleness in the children.
Mombasa and the Coast at large has been on the edge in the past few years. Things have changed, situations have changed and the people keep changing. With the coming of technology, many of the traditions, values and morals have been going downhill too. Nonetheless, today, let us just forget all the ills of Mombasa and appreciate the good and the multiple blessings we have. These are but a few, there are many more. I am not saying the above mentioned doesn’t happen elsewhere, I’m just saying this is ‘home sweet home’.