So I have been wanting to write this post for the longest time….since I got back from Kenya but every time I sat down to do so the words would not come. So I have been spending time praying about this post because I want to convey the right message.
This has been my third trip to Kenya and more specifically to the Mombasa/Diani area. I don’t think it will ever change….the excitement I feel when I step of the plane. Of course it last all of 2 seconds cause once the heat reaches your sense you will think you have stepped through the gates of hell. Customs is interesting but the customs officials are so friendly that you tend to make it through without any hassles and with plenty of smiles. The porters, bus drivers and even the taxi drivers waiting at the arrivals gate overwhelm you with their polite manner and they will fall over each other to take your bags to your arranged transport.
It takes between 45 minutes to an hour (traffic dependent) to reach the resort in Diani but it takes a lot less to realise that although this is a beautiful tropical oasis it is also a place where for the most part the people live a very difficult life. The journey from the airport out of Mombasa does not take very long and it is mainly through the “better” part of town. I don’t know that I had ever really paid much attention to my surroundings (normally to tired and drugged on motion sickness pills) on my previous trip but this time it was different because I was taking notes to share on this blog.
I noticed the amount of churches, Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist and of course Muslim Mosques. It is interesting to note that most people who live in Mombasa are Muslim where the majority of people living in say Nairobi are Christian….the distance is only about 7 hours by car and 1 by plane!!
I noticed that the women don’t wear pants not even jeans. If they are not wear a burka and tunic then they wear a hijab and tunic and if the women is not Muslim she wears either a dress or a skirt. The length of the skirt did tend to differ but I later learnt that the shorter the skirt the more you could assume the women was from Nairobi.
I noticed that there were shops and restaurants which looked good and even some hotels and hostels which looked reasonable…..oh how wrong I would be proven to be.
On the Thursday JENNY asked me to go with her to Mombasa and the surrounding areas to look for accommodation for a group of engineers who would be coming out from the UK to do some work on the project her company was working on. I jumped at the opportunity to see more of the area……….I wonder if I had known what I would see if I would have been so eager??
We took one of the hotels taxi’s and I was glad we did as our driver was very knowledgeable about the area. Near the district of Waa he showed us a school which was built by the British in 1923. There is a primary school and a high school for boys and one for girls. I was not permitted to take photos at the school but that might be a blessing in disguise. The buildings are built like stables…there are walls, with a roof and unstable floors as most of the floors I saw in the classrooms needed some serious repairs. There were no desks and no chairs so the children have to sit on concrete floors. Only some of the classrooms (mainly in the older British built buildings) had windows and doors. I am not sure what they do during the monsoon season because the rain would pelt down on the dinky roofing and stream in the openings which serve as doorways. As we drove away I wondered how children from South Africa would cope under these conditions……no proper classrooms, not desks and chairs and constant noise from the busy road? And what happened during monsoon season when the electricity is prone to blackouts? I also thought that I had never seen happier and more well-mannered children in my life. Somehow I think even many children going to school in the more rural parts of South Africa would find this challenging. As we drove towards the ferry and even after reaching Mombasa it was difficult not to observe that hardly anyone appeared to have a regular job. There was a lot of sitting around (a lot of men sitting around while women were hanging washing) doing nothing. I would later find out that unless you have a trade (mechanic, woodwork etc.) the government pretty much keeps the people unemployed and dependent on them. Now, I want to quantify that statement by saying that I only spoke to a couple of locals who either work at the resort or were visiting the resort. I did not get into any real political debates or discussions but it this seemed to be the general consensus. Either make your own way or…..
Getting off the ferry you see the stalls on the roadsides selling everything from bananas to cell phones and air time, there are some shops (but nothing like we have at home), huts and hovels side by side. A lot of people and cars (and trucks) aimlessly wandering. What is new is the amount of motorbikes. No one seems to know why they have grown in popularity and how people are affording them but what they do know is that few who own bikes have a licence or the proper training to drive one. Our taxi driver told us that there are deaths almost every hour because of bike accidents….many of them teenagers and young adults.
When you look at the resorts on the Indian Ocean and drive down the roads which run concurrently with the ocean the view is breath-taking it is a seaside paradise but seeing it like this it looks dirty, grimy and desperate and it is buzzing.
There are some beautiful buildings in the old town which have been restored to some measure of their former glory but those are the exceptions and not the rule. There are some brick houses which are crumbling around their inhabitants. Then there are the hut type structures. The roofing on many of these make shift huts are made from rusty corrugated iron in fact even some of the structures themselves are. Somehow I think of them as the lucky ones.
We stopped at various hostels which we found on the internet. Some were only barely erect, others stank so you could not breath and others well the filth was lining the passage ways. Some of the self-catering places had potential, they were pricy but could be considered. The outside façade did not look great but the insides were basic but clean. However, when with this in mind we looked at where the team from the UK would obtain their food it became clear that buying meat off the pavement stall would not work!!
We visited several more places including a resort close to the building site which had been closed down for 5 years (but you can still book accommodation online) but it became abundantly clear that the guys would not be comfortable in any of the places we had seen closer to the site.
Driving back through Mombasa and the surrounding areas I had a different perspective…sure it is a bustling city you could compare with New York or London…..if New York or London had piles and piles of waste on street corners with children (with swollen bellies) and cattle sifting through the trash and eating plastic bags……think about that…..eating plastic bags!!!!
For the rest of our journey to the resort Jenny and I sat mostly in silence, I know I for one realised probably for the first time how desperately in need of help the people I had seen are. As we clocked up kilometres we passed various small villages and watched as people walked alongside the road struggling to carry gigantic vats of water. Then we saw a man sitting beside his hut selling water from pipes which protrude from the ground. He was selling the water!!!
I did not take photos of everything, mainly because the memories of what I saw are seared into my brain never to be forgotten but also because I did not want to embarrass or offend. So most of the photos below are taken from the car and at times we were told to roll up our windows because pick pockets are a problem. I post them not to offend or to shame or to cause discomfort, I post them because of a situation I encountered shortly after arriving back at the resort after our excursion.
I went to the gift shop to buy some cashew nuts and while I was looking around I overheard a conversation a South African man was having with the cashier. Basically he was complaining about the cost of his purchases. He said something along the lines of it being crazy what they charge for the items. Friends, I wish I could tell you what snapped in me but I honestly don’t know because I have never had the courage or been brave enough to stand up and just let someone have it. Now just as an aside the man in question was huge and African while I am a women and lily white. I knew that this could be seen a racial thing but I choose to follow the voice in my heart (yes, heart) and speak my mind. I told him that if he works the currency back he will find that the costs per item are cheaper than in South Africa and that even if it wasn’t how can he complain about prices when he has seen the poverty, when he has seen the need and when he just has to open his eyes and see that these people are starving, but they smile, they treat you with dignity, they are polite and friendly and always always ready to help!!! I told him that he comes from a country where he has the means to earn a salary, where he has a home with electricity and running water. I looked at his suit and I asked “Did you buy that suit at a stall alongside the road?” he shook his head and said no that it was a boutique suit. I looked him in the eye and said “you are wearing a boutique bought suit, tailored to fit you and you dare to complain about the price of a few items. You come from the land of milk and honey but complain. Shame on you, you make me feel ashamed to be associated with you.” I turned and walked away leaving the man stunned.
As I reached the door a hand grabbed my arm and my first thought was “boy, you are in trouble now” but it was the man’s friend. He moved his hands grip from my arm and held out his hand to me. I took it and as I looked into his eyes he said “I wish there were more of us like you. You see that the people are hurting and know how to respond. My friend, complains about the prices here but tonight he will eat and drink until he can’t walk. He will go and have a hot shower and crawl into a comfortable bed. He will read by the light of an electric lamp and fall asleep with the TV on. And tomorrow he does it all again. You are right that we complain but we live in the land of milk and honey.”
After this exchange I walked down to the beach and just talked to God about what I was feeling and why. I did feel guilty because I have so much when others have so little and I am an ungrateful so and so!!! Right there with the sand between my toes, the sun setting at my back, the wave crashing on the shore I counted my blessing naming them one by one.
And that’s what I want to achieve with this post….I want us to CHOOSE to count our blessing, I want us to CHOOSE to name them one by one. I want us to CHOOSE to see that we have so much to be grateful for even when things are tough. I want us to CHOOSE to realise that there are those that are less fortunate than ourselves and I want us to CHOOSE acknowledge that we live blessed lives.
I may not have the life I always wanted, I may have a complicated existence in terms of caring for my family but I CHOOSE to see the blessing that I have in the wonderful friendships I have, I CHOOSE to be grateful that even though demanding I have my mother and my father and my brother with me. I CHOOSE to see the woods for the trees and see God’s blessings in every aspect of my life. I CHOOSE to understand that I can smile in the storm...because if the people of Mombasa can have smiles on their faces and be so overwhelming friendly then with Gods help so can I!!!!!
I truly pray that I have relayed this message in a positive manner.
|Looks like any other bustling city...|
|Tusks to welcome tourists...|
|Notice the water vats/barrels|
|Notice the hair salon....|
|The car wash|
|The rubbish heap and the food stall....side by side|
|Socks and belts for sale|