Mombassa

9/8/05

the most famous thing to see in Mombassa is fort Jesus, a huge old fort built by the Portuguese on the coast. we hadn’t seen all that much of town yet, so we headed out to the fort by foot as to see all the random stuff along the way. we had been wanting to see a movie for a while now, so when we came across an old movie theater, we decided to step inside to see what was playing. to our surprise, we heard music coming form inside the theater and an excited lady motioned us to go on inside. inside the theater, we saw a large group of people all standing in front of their seats with a woman on stage singing. it turned out to be a church service held in a movie theater! everyone in the audience was super into it and waving their arms, swaying back and forth, clapping to the beat, and singing as loud as they could. this was totally not something we had been expecting to see, but we were really glad that we saw it. it was really cool to see just how much fun these people were having and how excited they were. after a bit of singing, it was time to pray, so we quickly made our exit.

by the time we got to fort Jesus, the three of us were sweating like crazy. it was a ridiculously hot day, and if this was the “cool season” here, I cant imagine what the hot season must be like. yikes! when we paid for the fort, we bought a pamphlet so we could learn a bit about the fort’s history, but the pamphlet turned out to be excruciatingly boring. it was so painful just to read this thing. we ended up giving up and just wandering around the fort. I still don’t know any of the history of the fort, but oh well. the fort ended up being pretty interesting to walk around though. we climbed the ramparts, descended random concrete staircases, and checked out old canons.

after the fort we tried to find something called the “Leven steps”. the guidebook didn’t really tell us anything about these steps other than that they were an interesting thing to see. we wandered about the old town for a while, walking through the random streets, and being watched by curious locals. we had a tough time finding the steps though. at one point we turned sown a small alley and were told by an old man that we “didn’t belong there” and that we should leave. at another alley, a man walked up to us and told us we should avoid that area because there might be shady characters there who do might want to rob tourists. another man walked up to us and told us that nearby there might be a lot of drug users and to be careful. all these thing got us to thinking that the old town might be just a bit shady. maybe we really shouldn’t be exploring it on our own w/out a map?

we were just about to give up, when we saw a little alley that seemed to lead to the ocean. we followed it and then walked down a few old crumbling steps. we stood there looking up and down the coast. where the hell were these “Leven steps”?? we stood around trying to figure out what to do. we kind of didn’t want to continue searching around the old town any longer. so we decided to give up. we walked back up a few steps, and then asked a random man sitting at the top… and it turned out that the steps we were on *were* the Leven steps. honestly, I have no idea why the book would have even mentioned them because there wasn’t anything even slightly interesting about them. they were just boring old concrete steps. not ornamental in the least.

later on that afternoon, I decided to call home. it had been ages since I had talked to my parents and I had been wanting to call them for a long time now. it was the perfect time since they should both me home right before work. we went to a place where you could make international phone calls, but it turned out that we had to go to a different place many blocks away. as the lady led us to the other building, a large group of 6 or 7 street kids ran up to us and started begging for money. these kids were young. probably only 5 or 6 years old. they were ran after us and wouldn’t take no for an answer. whenever one of the kids would drop back, another would take the lead and ask us for money. around Africa, we had seen many posters warning people not to give money to street kids.. it just encourages begging and sadly enough apparently a lot of the money is used for the kids to buy glue to sniff. we were determined not to give any money. the kids were determined to break us down. only after several blocks did they finally give up.

my phone call was only partially successful. my parents weren’t home. i luckily did get to talk to my brother though. unbelievably, the phone call cost 50 cents per minute… and turned out to be over the internet. so, basically they were having me call for *free* and yet charging 50 cents per minute. the connection sucked and it was almost impossible to have a normal conversation.

for dinner, we went to a restaurant called the pleasant view. it was said that it has the best tandoori chicken on the coast. the waiter came and took our order without writing it down. that seemed a bit surprising seeing as it was a long order, and I was pretty impressed that he could remember it all. well, I wasn’t impressed for long. he ended up having to come back several times to ask us what we had ordered, and he got every single thing in our order wrong. I don’t think a single thing was correct. after the waiter went back and forth a million times, we finally did get our correct food… and it was sooo damn good. the tandoori chicken was excellent, perfectly cooked, juicy, and spicy. the prawns were good, and even the salad we had was simple but delicious. all of us were really excited about our meal, and decided that we had to come back here to eat again.

we ate our meal at an outside table, and while we ate, all sorts of random people marched past us trying to get us to buy their wares. people holding large stacks of cds and dvds; people selling shorts, pants, and football jerseys; people holding handfuls of mismatched shoes and sandals; and bizarrely enough, a guy with 2 huge wooden model boats, and a guy with a 2 foot by 3 foot painting. what the hell is this guy doing walking around town trying to sell a huge framed painting?! we shook our heads no to each of these people but as each one left, a new one would just take his place. as someone at a neighboring table said “even if you don’t go to the market, the market comes to you!”

in between these vendors, dirty alleycats would crawl up to us and beg for food. the bigger cats would attack the smaller ones and then sneak up to us, hoping to be fed. the cats weren’t the only ones who wanted something from us though. the gang of kids that we had seen earlier were back. they would come up to the table, one or two at a time and ask for money. we shook our heads no. once in a while they would run off laughing with their friends, but then they’d come back. if one of the waiters came out, the kids would run like hell… I’m sure they would get a beating if they were caught. I keep thinking to myself, what kind of life do these kids have?! they are literally like 5 or 6 years old. how many years have they been on the streets already? do they even know how to talk? were they taught to speak by the other street kids? what did they do with their time when they weren’t begging? in a lot of ways, these kids live just like the alleycats: a hectic life on the dirty streets, sleeping in alleys, begging for scraps, and getting beaten by others. or maybe life was nice? no homework, no school, no chores. no parents telling you what to do. walk around and play w/ your friends all day. get free spending money from strangers. have fun sniffing glue…

regardless of what the kids thought of their life now, what would become of them as they grew older? with no education whatsoever, and no skills, the chances of them ever getting a job, especially here where unemployment is already high, is very slim. they probably go from being streetkids, to grownup beggars, or worse yet, getting into crime and other bad situations. with no medical care of any kind, I cant imagine these kids living very long lives. in fact… it seems like nobody here is living a very long life. there are few old people in Africa. life expectancy here is short, and 50 years old is considered a long life. aids is rampant and killing people left and right. not too mention malaria, other diseases, and crime. I’m currently reading a book about life here and the situation is definitely grim… and everything I see around me on the streets definitely is as mentioned in the book. I feel so sorry for these kids on the streets… only 5 years old and their life is already ruined.

after dinner, we dropped caryn off sat the hotel, and then Joey and I went out. we decided to try out a casino here. we walk inside the small building, and being used to las vegas, my first thought is that this place is really small and really empty. we go up to a roulette table, and buy some chips. minimum buy in: 13$. I feel awkward here. since the place is empty, I feel like every employee there is staring at us. what will the foreigners do? we start making bets. I lose pretty much all my money right away, and then get some more chips. Joey does a little better. still, within 20 minutes, our money is gone. I contemplate buying more chips, but I have very little money in my pocket, so I decide against it. so hard to fight the urge to “win it all back”.

after the casino, we walk to a club called Casablanca. we’re nervous, cause we have a feeling of what the place will have in store for us: hookers. and lots of them. when going to clubs in east Africa, the hookers are unavoidable. they are everywhere. and if you don’t have a girl with you, then you will definitely be approached and not left alone. as we walked up to the club, a girl ran up to us, started chitchatting, and then asked if we wanted “company”. we said no. she kept asking us why not etc etc, but finally left us alone. we knew our troubles were only beginning.

inside the club, we found an empty table and sat down. looking around, the whole club was only prostitutes. prostitutes dancing, prostitutes sitting lazily at tables, prostitutes talking to each other, and here and there prostitutes with customers. the place was practically empty as far as non-prostitutes, but there were probably almost a hundred girls there. competition must be fierce. we ordered beers, and before they even arrived, we had two girls sit down next to us. *sigh*. they start talking about this and that, when all of a sudden the girl from outside walks up to us. “oh!!! I thought you said you didn’t want company!!” we just shrug and try to look innocent. she’s pissed off. after bitching for a while at us and at the other two girls, she leaves. the other two girls stay, and I’m feeling uncomfortable.

after a while though, I think to myself, who cares? why the hell should I let them make me feel uncomfortable? I didn’t ask them to sit with us. they’re imposing on me, and there’s really no need for me to be nice to them or polite. instead of spending the rest of the night sitting in my chair, squirming and afraid, I figure I’ll just entertain myself by wasting their time. the girls start asking for beers. I say no. why not? I just say I don’t want to. I tell them I lost all my money at the casino. I tell them my girlfriend knows karate and she would beat me up if I did. they keep pestering, but I just keep saying any random excuse that comes to mind. she says she really wants a beer and I say that she’s probably already drunk and probably doesn’t need anymore.

she still wont stop asking for beer. I say no, why should I buy you beer? she says for the company. I say that I don’t need or want the company. she says that I *have to have it*. “if I leave this chair. the second I leave, there will be another girl here.. or maybe 5 other girls. you have no choice”. it was true. what could I do? there was no way out. even as we talked, I saw other girls staring, ready to come in for their chance as well. eventually, she figures she’s not gonna get any beer from me, so then she asks if I want a “massage”, even being as explicit as pointing to the areas that would be massaged. I say no. she tries to put her arm around me and I say I have a sunburn. this goes on for a while, and finally she stops asking and starts talking about other stuff. these prostitutes are hella annoying… but they’re people too, and eventually I start feeling pretty bad for this girl. she works down at the dock, but that’s not enough money to get by, so she has to come here every night and compete against the other hundred girls just to earn a living. due to competition, she usually only manages to give 2 “massages” a night, making her a total of 40 bucks. what kind of life is that? earlier on, when she had countered my “I have a girlfriend” with the usual, “well your girlfriend isn’t here”, I asked her how she would feel if her boyfriend went to a club and cheated on her w/ a hooker. she told me that she used to have a boyfriend in Nairobi for years. one day she showed up for a surprise visit. she walked in on him having sex with someone else. she hasn’t dated anyone since then because she is too afraid of men, despite her parents urging her to get married.

this person is just some poor screwed up girl struggling to earn enough money to live. her, the streetkids, the touts, the beggars, everyone… all these people are annoying as hell. they bother you when you don’t want to be bothered. they infringe on your vacation time, and don’t leave you alone. they are constantly hounding you. sometimes you just want to turn around and start screaming at everyone to just GET THE HELL AWAY… and yet you don’t. cause from the other side, you see that they are just desperate people doing what they have to do. ruining your vacation *is their job*. and if they don’t do it, they wont have money for rent or food or whatever else they need.

eventually, she gets up and walks away, but leaves her beer cup behind. seconds later, another girl is in her spot. sheez. and then yet another girl come up and sits down next to her. now I have two girls pestering me. but then… the first girl (who’s name is ironically Purity) comes back. she stares daggers at the other girls. she wants her seat back. it turns out that by leaving her beer cup, she hoped to have her place saved. furious, she points to the beer cup “that’s MY mug”. the other hooker glances at her with a wry smile, “then take it”. the girls start bitching at each other, but the new girl wont budge. Purity, then sits between the other girls and me by sitting on my armrest. the air at the table is tense as hell. the two new girls seemed arrogant and kept laughing to each other, and in a way, I kind of felt bad for “Purity”, who eventually finally gave up and stormed away. not that it really matters I guess… none of them was getting any money (or beers) from me anyway. eventually, we paid our bill and got the hell out of there. it had been an interesting night. funny in some ways, sad in others…

*v

6 thoughts on “Mombassa”

  1. How can you complain about me not coming out with you when you have an experience like that to share? Although uncomfortable and sad and painful, you saw a different side of life here. Great post, baby. 🙂

  2. These are by far my favorite kinds of posts – your *perspective* on your experiences, as opposed to the experiences themselves. Very intriguing. 🙂

  3. yeah, i think i’ll try to put more of this kind of stuff in my blog. i think about a lot of stuff, but then i just forget about it. really it’s all the big sights and events that you end up remembering later, adn the thoughts kind of fade away unless i write them down!

  4. When I was traveling by myself, I carried a notebook with me absolutely everywhere. Whenever I had a thought about something, I wrote it down – it definitely made posting to my journal a helluva lot easier, y’know?

    It’s so weird, my deepest reflections about my experiences, life, or whatever seem to just sort of happen randomly – like when I’m driving, taking a shower, cleaning, whatever. Maybe it’s because I’m usually by myself at those times, lost in my own thoughts – the weirdest things occur to me during those moments. Does that happen to you?

    Remember when I did that internship in Aptos a few summers ago? If I wasn’t talking to you on the phone, I spent that long-ass commute thinking – and I remember saying to myself, “Damn, I wish I had a recorder, so I could think out loud, record my thoughts, and write them down later.” That’d be so cool. 🙂

  5. yeah, i carry a notebook with me here wherever i go. but, i´m *so* lazy, that often i just cant be bothered to pull it out of my pòcket, and i just say to myself “dont foget that thought.. write it down later”… and then i forget. but yeah, many times i´ve thought to myslef that i should carryna notebook w/ me at home as well. but i just have so much crap in my pockets already:cell phone, keys, wallet, camera.

    oh… actually. i just thought of something. you do have a recorder where you can record yourself… your phone. you can leave voucemails for yourself!

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