Those are the memories I get from Old Town the moment our van’s engine dies in front of Fort Jesus. It reminds me those useless thoughts of the past should stay behind me – where they rightfully belong. That is why the moment we get to Old Town, I check to see what Fortune is wearing.
Old Town is Mombasa as it was at the beginning. They have changed nothing. Maybe a few things here and there for maintenance, but the structure has not changed. It stands next to the ocean and smells like wisdom. It tells you of its story as you walk down the narrow busy streets. Those streets were clearly not meant for cars bigger than Tuk Tuks. If you walked while paying attention to its story, if you care to listen to what Old Town is trying to say, you will hear it beckon you to touch those old Swahili doors. Those hard doors that have been standing ever since God put up that ‘CAUTION: Men at Work’ sign in the beginning.
You will see a fat man with sagging flesh, browning dreadlocks and specks of white on his beard- he sits on the pavement, constantly spitting into the drainage. He is not good in the head, clearly. He talks to anyone who will listen and even those who won’t. When you pass next to him he asks you some very pertinent questions like “What do you call the man who sleeps with your mother?” It sounds crude when he says in Swahili.
Next to him is a man on a sewing machine. He has a client. A girl in black. She carries herself like a ninja. She covers everything except a strip showing her eyes. You will see her and wonder how she enjoys the simple pleasures of life like taking a selfie with a goofy face.
You will look and see an old Indian lady sitting in front of her house, watching you, probably asking herself, “Who the hell are these people flashing cameras at my neighbour’s house?” She is antiquated with red hair that she no longer has the strength or will to touch up. At some point when the chaff of life has been winnowed by age, vanity takes a walk. And all that matters is living.
All around, you will see all manner of timeworn buildings. At first glance you will imagine that nobody still resides there. How wrong will you be! You will be surprised at how people here do not renovate their houses, and the lady who is hosting your crew will tell you that this is how they prefer it. That will not make sense to you. But if you are anything like me, you will order another cold mug of tamarind juice and mull over this strange new place.
Then your eyes will fall on Madam Producer, Fortune. You will see her take charge of a set and wonder how she can manage to command so much authority from other people, but she cannot do that for herself. You will see her during the day taking cups upon cups of tea, and that is the moment you will understand the sweet taste of sin.
Tea is her drug. She takes it everywhere. Her body has been trying to ask her to reduce, but have you met Fortune Ngoiri? Stubborn like the scent of a Somali perfume. Yesterday, I told you about how she locked herself in the room where we slept and the door could not open despite the El Nino brewing inside her, sindio?
Let me tell you, producers are the most innovative people in this business. They think on their feet. There she was marooned in a room and her bladder is full to the brim, spilling some of it’s contents moss moss. She looks around for options. Then she looks at the corner and sees something. An option. It’s the dustbin lined with a polythene bag.
You will look at her now, sitting in Jahazi café with another mug of tea and you will ask her to stop but Fortune being Fortune will not listen to you. So you leave her alone, but not without a warning;
“Haiya. Just drink more tea. But do not call me to help you when urine trouble.”
To which she will reply and say “Oh! Piss off!”
“Sure. I will. But in the loo. Not in a dustbin.”
At that point, if you know what is good for you, you will walk out of Jahazi Café. There you will feel the pulse of an ancient town.
I always say that beauty is not perfection. Neither is it elegance. Beauty is such a heavy word that people easily bandy about to everything and everyone they want to lay. I try to imagine if those people who are told “You are beautiful” feel the weight of its meaning. Does it wear them down or does it lift them up?
This year’s Capture Kenya was themed This Is My Kenya. We were sent out to find beauty and splendor wherever we go. Beauty. That word again rears its head. If you ask me to define it, I will tell you what it is not. If you ask me what it is, all I can say is that beauty is in a person’s story.
Old Town’s story is still being told. It is still being written. It started when Portuguese and Arabs first landed on our shores in nineteen pat opuk. That is why after all this time you will see the rustic corrugated iron sheets and walls that are tired of standing. Its voice is a little bit shaky, so you have to listen close. But its story grown more profound with the rising and setting of every amber sun.
The beauty of Old Town remains unscathed by the bony hands of time.
Images by Samsung NX300