I took off from Nairobi ensconced in the apparent comfort of a very expensive bus company. After paying 1,700 shillings the previous day, I had been anticipating an ultra-comfortable bus. After all, this amount was almost fifty percent more than the usual bus fare from Nairobi to Mombasa. But there I was, seated in a bus whose leg room was ample but hip room not so ample. The rather narrow chairs were a far cry from the often wide chairs of other cheaper buses that I had previously travelled with.
My seatmate wasn’t slender, which left me pushed into an even narrower space. So I did what I often do when am travelling and leaned against the window before sinking into a near instant deep sleep that was only interrupted when a bus hostess offered me a glass of apple juice one hour later. I must have finished it in two gulps because my seatmate shot me a look of barely disguised bewilderment.
Thankfully, our arrival in Mombasa seven hours later wasn’t met with the usual blanket of humidity. The coldish breeze slapped my face and I grinned in return. This is the grin that my sister Charity saw when she matched into the waiting room within minutes of our arrival. After the cheery ‘what’s up siz, hey bro,’ we walked to the Crown bus stage to pick up our sister Gish who had also arrived in Mombasa for a week-long holiday.
We burst into laughter as soon as she emerged from the bus with a huge rucksack dangling from her back and a puffy sack drooping from her right hand. She never cares that people will wonder what the cute lady is doing with an ugly sack. I admire the fact that Gish simply lives her life, unconcerned with public opinion. Back at St Georges High School during visiting days, she would happily devour the traditional vegetables that we took to her even as her classmates chomped on pizzas and hamburgers.
Breakfast at Charity’s small but cozy house was a delicious affair. Resting on her black wooden coffee table, waiting to be devoured by three hungry siblings, was a large plastic plate of viazi karai (potato fries), coconut-flavored mbaazi (pigeon peas), ginger tea and sizzling chapatis. Oh happy day. There are few things in life that make me as happy as hot delicious meals and if this breakfast was an indicator, then I was in for a delicious coastal treat.
I was scheduled to be in Mombasa Island for only one day, so I had crammed as much activity and rest as possible into the day. This included swimming at the public Kenyatta beach; snacks of mshakiki (roast beef pieces dangling on darkened wires) in Mombasa’s ever present open air restaurants and thirsty sips of madafu (coconut water) directly from young coconuts as we watched ships crawling by at Mama Ngina street.
‘Can we board those ships?’ Charity wanted to know.
‘By the way!’ Gish added gleefully before I could answer, ‘let’s go and board one of those ships!’
She had infectious enthusiasm and for a fleeting moment, I actually imagined that it was possible to hail one of those ships and get on board. But of course it wasn’t. It set me thinking – why couldn’t commoners like us board a ship from Mombasa to Malindi, Lamu or anywhere on the Kenyan coast? How come God had gifted us with such a beautiful ocean that we never used for public transportation along Kenya’s coast? I remembered how I had immensely enjoyed a dinner cruise along River Nile right at the heart of Cairo just two years earlier.
I had also enjoyed a similar cruise along the Elbe River in Germany’s northern City of Hamburg. But here in Mombasa, I couldn’t really go for such cruises. It should be possible for Kenyans and visitors to the coast to take affordable cruises to different destinations along our coast.
Just one year later, I would stand with my new girlfriend in the same street and watch different ships crawl by in similar fashion. But for now, I was content to watch harbor and marine delights together with my two younger sisters. Like all my siblings, they are hilarious and we kept laughing making a passerby stare at one of the ships, wondering what was so funny about it. What the stocky passer-by didn’t understand was that we were not really laughing at the ship but at life. If you stare long enough at life, you will never miss a reason to laugh. Ever.
In the morning, it was time to depart from Mombasa for Lamu Island, my new second home. If only there was a ship from Mombasa to this beautiful Island… I thought as I pushed my eighty-five kilos into another narrow window seat.