Avaes Mohammad

Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

Kenya: DON’T ASK…IT’S A SOUTH ASIAN THING! (210409)

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2009 at 12:55 pm

210409

DON’T ASK…IT’S A SOUTH ASIAN THING!

Apologies to all who will have been worried about me the past week or so.

I’ve been recovering from a fever that I developed last Tuesday, 14th of April. Only today have I felt able to walk a respectable distance in a relatively straight line. The debilitating, sharp pain in my head feels on its way out too, thank God. My temperature seems more stable and I’m grateful, so very grateful for the fact I can write again. After a few pathetic attempts, I was actually afraid I might not be able to. Blessings abide!

I was at the coast in a town called Mtwapa, around 50 km from Mombasa, with my mother and her ‘friend’ (a woman she’d never met before who she insisted we visit and stay a night with…don’t ask…it’s the South Asian way!). We woke up on the morning of Tuesday, 14th April at my Mum’s ‘friends’ house in Mtwapa. Neither my mother or I had actually slept. Our room was facing onto the main road so traffic kept us awake along with Mosquitoes getting their belly’s worth through the mosquito nets. The following morning I was already knackered without the day having begun.

Since arriving in Mombasa my mother had been like a child. Excited, exuberant, excusably selfish. Every minute of everyday it seemed we were travelling. In, out and around Mombasa. Travelling to family members, places, her old homes, restaurants. It was intense and most of it was fun at first. I was fast becoming tired though. The heat of Mombasa, to put it bluntly, ain’t to be fucked with. I don’t know what the temperature was but it’s the first time I’ve had to have my hair in a ponytail to prevent my black locks from scalding the back of my neck. Travelling any distance at all around here isn’t easy. Full stop. Most of the roads are fine. But undoubtedly there’ll be a significant part of the journey where the road will be nothing but a random arrangement of protruding rocks, boulders and ditches that look as though someone’s just taken a huge bite out of where there once should have been road. All held together by dust. When sat in the back of a bare pick-up truck, a 4×4 that had the seats welded in only the night before or when sharing the front seat of a car with a 10 year old who’s still to learn the gentle art of sitting the fuck still, all for hours on end, these journeys are akin to a physical beating.

Point being, we arrived in Mombasa the evening of Wednesday, 8th April. By the 14th, I needed just one day off. Just one day to do my own thing at my own pace. No vehicles. Just wander. And then join my Mum again on her ratty race. I told her this on the 13th. That I don’t know these people she wants us to stay with, they’re not even related and I wanna rest. She was having none of it in a very polite way. Telling me it’d be rude to cancel now (they were on their way to pick us up), I wouldn’t fall ill and then packed our stuff like there was no problem. Admittedly I should have piped up earlier, but things were happening so quickly it was only when these strangers/friends called to say they were round the corner, I realised I couldn’t carry on. Too late anyway. I ended up spending most of the rest of the day competing for arse-space with that annoying 10 year old.

So we’re in Mtwapa the morning of the 14th. Over breakfast my Mum and I discuss the mosquitoes of the previous night. I feel like maybe it’s the longest conversation we’ve had this trip together. Just the two of us. It’s 8 o’clock. We get picked up for Mombasa at two. ‘Let’s go out’, she suggests. ’Somewhere around here just. We’ll go beach or something’. The beach is never too far away and they’re idyllic here. Silver sands, crystal blue warm waters. Palm trees…shall I stop? Fine. Let’s go to the beach.

My mother, her friend and I walk out.

‘Mum where we going then?’

‘Malindi’

‘You what! How?’

‘In a Matatu…it’s only an hour away…aunty said’

Can’t believe it! Feel like I’ve been hoodwinked by my own mother…there’s no trusting anyone in these dark times. Another gruelling journey in the cruellest of all the transport modes. A Matatu isn’t big enough to be a van or a minibus. It’s not small enough to be an estate car. It has 13 cramped seats including the driver. But that’s not to say it’ll stop picking people up after 13. It’s uncomfortable and heated. Of course for some it’s a charming display of African vitality and self-reliance, with great local music blaring through striking, individually painted vehicles. For me this morning, on a journey I know will not take an hour, it’s a cruel pain. Nearly two long hours later, we arrive. And I’m dehydrated. I make my Mum and her friend promise that we’ll get a taxi on the return journey. I’ll pay.

We go to the beach and it’s beautiful. Fishermen are bringing in huge catches and I jump into the warm sea. As I walk out again a bitter cold wind wraps around me. We leave the beach soon after to visit a shop famed for it’s Halwa. An Indian sweet. They’re made fresh before you and come in 500 gram packets. My Mum buys 10 kilos. Don’t ask…a South Asian thing!

As we’re about to leave, my Mum’s new friend whispers to her how expensive the taxi will be. Around thirty or fourty pounds. It is quite expensive but I really feel I need it. Convinced by her friend though, we take a shuttle bus. ‘They’re big and comfortable like a Nairobi to Mombasa coach’, she says. They’re not. How surprising. It’s just another Matatu. Except it doesn’t stop anywhere. The windows in these things are strange. They’re at face-level. If you open them, the driver’s travelling so fast that you feel your face will soon rip off. So mine, along with everyone else’s was shut, unwittingly creating a greenhouse to the early afternoon sun. As the journey progressed, I became increasingly uncomfortable, increasingly heated and increasingly irate. All the while wishing I was in that taxi, this was the biggest test of my pact: that I wasn’t to argue with my mum. And so I didn’t. Instead all my frustrations towards her bubbled inside. It wasn’t her selfishness of putting her adhoc schedule before my well being, it was having the wishes of people we really didn’t know that well put before my health and well being that was beginning to really grate on me. I remained quiet. And as it boiled inside me it no doubt contributed to the heat boiling in my head.

We stepped out of the Matatu in Mtwapa. I stepped out and nearly fell. I had to be held a while as I made my way inside. And then I fell. Unable to talk. Unable to move. My head a pulsating ball of heat. On the verge of tears I begged my Mum now for us to go back to Mombasa. In a car.

My fever had arrived with a temperature of almost 40 Celsius. The following day in Mombasa I went to the doctor. They took blood tests, injected my arse with Paracetomol (I still prefer the two tablets with water after meals method) and gave me a cocktail of medicines. Later that day I broke out in sweats which made me feel better enough to travel back to Nairobi with my Mum. It’s cooler in Nairobi. My temperature dropped first, to return again on occasional mornings. The weakness and severe headache drifted slowly, day by day. Only yesterday was the main milestone reached. My aunt who I’ve been staying with since I arrived back in Nairobi took me to a spiritual healer. She diagnosed me as ‘not being at peace’ and I’ve begun a three day course of treatment with her. It involves her praying on me whilst holding her hand on my head and then my heart. It’s had the most dramatic impact on my feeling better. I’m starting to feel confident again that I can do this journey. Even on these roads. Just not the whole while in a Matatu!

My Mum left for England on Saturday the 18th. She had a great time and I’m glad she did. I’m glad I could have had some part in it. I’m also glad I can be on my own soon. I hope tomorrow or the day after I’ll be strong enough to check into a hotel and start seeing Kenya through my own eyes. Just for a week or two before I leave for Zanzibar.

Kenya: NAIROBI TO MOMBASA (080409)

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2009 at 4:38 pm

080409

NAIROBI TO MOMBASA

While this stretch of the Nairobi to Mombasa road is smooth, I may as well put fingertips to keypads.

I feel like a proper travel writer peeps! I’ve got the best seat on the bus (like all good travel writers have), right next to the driver. I’m in a great leather seat with arm rest, head rest and recliner and my feet are outstretched onto the leather dashboard. It’s like an afternoon at my mate Clives’ house. Except I’m looking straight out onto the Nairobi to Mombasa road and Kenyan countryside surrounds me.

Endless sand stretches out reddish in the distance but…bright burnt orange by the roadside. Intense, like orange powder paint’s been spilt everywhere. Although there’s no grass, there are loads of trees and bushes. Trees just like you’d expect from an African vista. Quite small with the leaves all at the top of the branches…like a slab. Leaving the branches exposed. Perfect for a leopard to hide in. The uber-cool driver next to me has been singing along (quite well) to a mix of Kool and the Gang, Spandau Ballet and Dancehall wonders…versatile!

By the side of the road I’ve already seen antelope, wildebeast and giraffes. The driver pointed out zebra but I ain’t sure I actually saw them.

I’ve just looked up from the computer screen and now we’re in the middle of a range of hills. Hazy purple, burnt blue hills.

Road’s rough again. We’re driving through a cloud of dust.

[Pause]

A cluster of round mud huts just passed on my left.

A beautiful man wearing a bright yellow/green shirt just passed on my right.

The road is very rough now.

[Longer Pause]

We’ve only been on the road two hours. Another 5 or six to go I think. Its early afternoon still. Hot. Sticky. I have a window though.

The colours are so bright vanity has taken a back seat, for a moment, and my sunglasses have had to come off. On this bed of bright orange and reddish brown powder paint, there’s the occasional tree with bright yellow flowers. A bush with purple flowers so intense its like an explosion. Bang!..there you go…Purple!! another bush with …Bang!! ‘ave it! Red!!

The colours alone have me paralysed in my seat. It’s like the first time you’ve ever put on glasses. The world is so much brighter, sharper, so much more beautiful.

This really is beautiful. I really am lucky.

Fuck! It’s raining.

[5-10 mins later]

And now it’s stopped.

A young boy’s chasing his goats by the side of the road.

[around 30 mins later]

A family of Baboons trying to cross the road.

[5-10 minutes later]

Baboon roadkill.

[around 30 minutes later]

Pit Stop. I have sandwiches and a cold Coke while Vultures perch on the trees around us…

Vulture 1: Ehhh…Whadda-you wanna-do?

Vulture 2: Ehhh I dunno…

Whadda-you wanna-do?

[Pause]

Vulture 1: I dunno…

[Longer Pause]

Vulture 1: So Ehhh…Whadda-you wanna-do?……………………………

Back on the road now…the heat is increasing and I swapped my great front seat with my ‘cousin’ for a lesser back one.

Those leopard hide-out trees are less now and Baobab’s have sprung from the ground.

They’re huge…there’s a tradition of them housing spirits.

[An hour later]

All colour’s been wiped out …we can’t even see an inch out of the window. Out of nowhere It’s raining like there’s no tomorrow. We’re in a storm. Thunder, lightning and the bus is leaking…don’t know where from…all the windows are shut but there’s water pissing through and spraying the entire right side of the bus (my side).

As we drive a crack of blue can be seen in the distance.

[10-15 long minutes later]

We’re out of the storm and comforted by a warm sunset.

There haven’t been any hills for a while now…just expanse. And vast sky. The occasional palm tree now guarding Baobabs.

[About half an hour later I think …i’ve been asleep]

It’s Night. But not dark. Huge clouds in the sky are backlit by the moon in its full-edition-glory. You can see out just as far as before…just more silver-blue. Fires by the roadside…palm trees and humid heat completely take over now as Mombasa Island finally approaches. Mum’s Hometown.

Kenya: KARIBU SANA (070409)

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2009 at 4:19 pm

070409 KARIBU SANA

Taxi Driver [while shaking his head]:

Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve!!

[stopping to look at my mum and I with a look of sculpted shock]

Thirty Se-ven Years!

[Solemn pause, maintaining the look of shock and complete lack of understanding]

Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve!!!

[Beat]

Zamaani Mama Zamaani (An age madam…an age!) .

From passport officials to taxi drivers and waiters. A sweet shock, and warm, genuine welcome. Karibu Mama! Karibu Sana!! Welcome Madam…Welcome Very Much! Its quite the prodigal son treatment for my mum, the Kenyan daughter. And its lovely for me to see. To see all manner of people welcome my mother back so warmly and at the same time to see my mother beaming and embrassed simulatenously with all the joy she feels. Embarrassed that she ever doubted her welcome.

Mum’s family we’ve met in Nairobi have already been so loving and genuinely warm towards us both. They’re a great laugh and me ma’s on top form…she’s like a teenager! Giggling, joking and the life of the party! We were picked up at the airport by a cousin of hers she’d never known before. Or maybe the cousin was just too young a child when my mother left. She’s called Naseem. ‘Naseem Aunty’ and her husband collected us from the airport and we’ve been staying with them and their two lovely teenage sons. It’s strange to assume a relationship with strangers based upon family ties. But with this family it’s also very easy. They genuinely seem glad to meet and welcome us and for us all I suppose, it’s an opportunity to develop a new relationship. We’ve got on so well, we’ve invited them to accompany us in Mombasa. We’re leaving for Mombasa tomorrow.

It rained as we left Nairobi airport so we’re considered exceptionally lucky visitors. People have been praying for water here for a while now. There’s a real shortage and in the poor areas there simply isn’t any.

Nairobi’s amazing. Very beautiful. The flora and fauna are breathtaking. There’s a pomegranate tree at the back of my aunts flat. An avocado tree at the front and a mango tree as you enter from the gate. All manner of trees, plants and flowers I hadn’t seen before decorate even side of the roads. Plants and flowers like from the greenhouse of Kew Gardens.

But there really is so much to just take in now. Slowly does it. Rough, rocky road surfaces (some not all), traffic that seem to actually want to kill you, debilitating heat, pollution…having spent time in Indian/Pakistani cities, it feels a little familiar. There’s genuine fear about crime…having spent an afternoon in Liverpool once, I feel strangely familiar with this notion too.

There is a noticeable divide in social lines that’s based upon race here. There is a rising black African middle class, all state officials seem to be black Africans, but so do the servants that are employed by members of my mum’s family to come clean their homes every morning. I’m told it’s not just black people but some Asians do it too. Whoever’s poor enough to want to do the work.

There’s a lot for me to take in about Kenya.

What I’m especially loving is the food. There’s a unique cuisine here that’s a blend of African and Indian food. We’d have it as quite a special event as I was growing up….I’m loving having it all around me…Mogo (deep fried cassava chips…served with tamarind sauce, or chilli and lime), Keema Chapatti (like a keema and egg pastie), and my favourite, Hamri Baraazi (doughy deep fried sweet bread type thing, with beans cooked in coconut…divine!)…the food is better in Mombasa apparently…bring it on!!!