OF STEAMY SECRET LOVE AND A SEASON OF CRIMSON BLOSSOMS.

Senegalese author Mariama Ba in her much acclaimed novel So Long a
Letter shines light on the stifled lives of  women she perceived
growing up in Senegal.

In the book, Ba highlights the helplessness, sorrow and resignation of
the protagonist, Ramatoulaye. We are taken into the intricacies of
Ramatoulaye’s life when, after the death of her husband, she writes to
her best friend, reminiscing about the past and also speaking about
her present  state as a widow in a very  conservative  and patriarchal
Muslim society. Through this book,   Ba discloses for the first time,how culture can stifle.

I have just finished reading a book I dare term the sequel to Ba’s. It
is the debut novel of  Nigeria writer Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. Seasons
of Crimson Blossoms  tells the story of Hajiya Binta Zubairu, a  55
year old widow in conservative  northern Nigeria who decides to,
against conventional wisdom, fall in love with a younger man in his
20’s. Abubakar rebirths Ramatoulaye. He also modernizes her and
boldens her by making her more in charge of her own life choices.

It was Leo Tolstoy who, at the beginning of his controversial classic
Anna Karenina, declared that every unhappy family is unhappy its own
way. As Season of Crimson Blossoms begins, the widow Hajiya Binta
Zubairu’s family is unhappy in its own way. Having lost her husband to
a mob of religious zealots in Jos and her first son Yaro at the hands
of police, Binta is deeply unhappy. She lives with her sister’s child
Fa’iza who is also haunted by a violent death she witnessed.

Binta , whose story is set against the backdrop of the  volatile
north, leads the ordinary, quiet life of a faithful Muslim housewife;
performing her ablutions, saying her Subhi prayers, reading the
Qur’an, attending Madrasa  and sewing. Besides this, the only other
thing she seems to do is steep herself in regret and nostalgia,
thinking about how she could have  better loved her deceased first son
whom tradition forbade from showing affection.

All this changes one afternoon when Binta returns from Madrasa to find
a youthful burglar named Hassan Reza Babale in her house.  He cames to
steal her property but leaves instead with her heart. She warms up to
his touch, the first male touch since her husband died a decade
earlier. A pious person, she is of course appalled when the masculine
touch arouses deeply buried sexual feelings and is quick to blame
Shaytan for sowing impious thoughts in her mind. Reza manages to
successfully awaken her long abandoned womanhood.
We sense that this encounter, grimy as it is, is the turning point of
Binta’s life. The author writes:
‘He took her things and left, having sown in her the seed of her
awakening that would eventually sprout into a corpse flower, the
stench of which would  resonate far beyond her imagining …’

Abubakar masterfully curves out the tale from this point, putting into
it just the right amount of suspense to whet our appetite for more and
then breaking our hearts with the harsh, judgmental, self-righteous
reaction of, not only her closest family and friends but also the
larger society, a people that know not how to forgive and forget.

That he chose to set his novel in Northern Nigeria, a region largely
ignored by many Nigerian writers is plausible. It shows that Abubakar
is unafraid of loving his homeland, to which he dedicates the book.
And he writes with a true patriotsm, a love for his country that’s not
blind. He dares to steep the prose in Nigeria’s recent political
history, thus affirming Achebe’s long standing argument that a writer
must engage in the politics of his day.

Abubakar writes splendidly, drawing pictures with unforgettable
phrases like this:
‘She dreamt in sepia. Like rust-tainted water running over the
snapshots of her memory, submerging her dreams in a stream of reddish
brown’
The choreography of his language is brilliant and the metaphors are
breathtaking. The prose begets poetry and the phrases are so perfect
he must have bled over. His sentences have poignancy and passion.

I liked  too how he handled the female protagonist in the book. In the
liberal spirit of the 21st century, he lets Binta choose her lover
without caring that he is younger than most of her children. As a
girl, she was forced to marry a stranger thrust upon her by a
dictatorial father. As a grown woman, Binta lets sexual attraction be
the guiding light of her new relationship; a bond in which she gets as
much as she gives, a liaison in which her body is no longer a source
of shame but of pleasure to herself and the man she chooses to give
herself to.

Abubakar doesn’t paint his story with broad strokes, he pays attention
to detail. His characters are sensitive and their domestic incidences
plausible. The conversations too are delightfully realistic which
shows that the writer is an attentive observer of his surroundings. I
found my emotions enmeshed into those of the characters once  it
occurred to me that beyond the boubous, hijabs and perfect makeup, lay
mothers and sisters who yearn for  love and understanding even as
they morph from victims to creators of their own circumstances.

Abubakar has gone a step further. He has redeemed the modern writer.
Through the seriousness and thoughtfulness he accords his prose, he
has proven that the modern writer, despite endless chatter on social
media platforms, is still capable of emerging as a deep, scholarly
thinker. Abubakar has undoubtedly, like Achebe said of Adichie, also
come to us almost fully made.

FIFTH DRAFT…A REVIEW

Fiction books published with NGO funds usually contain stories that push the agenda of the NGOs.

It is therefore a relief to find that Lesleigh Kenya’s newest anthology Fifth Draft, cannot be said to be pushing an NGO agenda. The collection was launched at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi on December 10.

Fifth Draft, a poetry and prose collection, was birthed at a workshop funded by the Italian NGO CEFA. Diverse in theme and content, the book contains vivid tales and poems. From uptown wives, night runners, lustful priests, slum dwellers and religious extremists, the collection tackles diverse aspects of life.

The stories and poems speak to all, despite the invisible social, religious and economic differences that are bound to divide.

If indeed it is true that the faculty we employ upon poetry at the first reading is sensual, then the poet Mwangi Gituro opens our minds’ eyes sensually with his poem Bless Me Father for I Have Seen. It is an innocent observation by a child of a lustful priest. The persona, a young Catholic faithful, confesses that he has seen the way the priest stares longingly at other little boys going naively about the Lord’s work.

The first two stanzas, reproduced below, aptly sum up the hypocrisy of some men of the cloth who forget that their flock are watching their actions more than listening to their words.

Bless me Father for I have seen/I have seen the way you look at John/ as he paces up and down the altar in the service of the Lord/The way you cup your hands around Charles  as he hands you the chalice/The way the sides of your mouth lasciviously twitch as you place the host on Peters’ luscious lips

The strength of this poem lies in its combination of childish innocence and religious deceit.

Mainouna Jallow’s short story The Bake Club of Tailorflower Lane is fresh and exciting. It unlocks the lives of the expatriates whose privileges give them time to fuss over extramarital affairs, personal trainers and failing marriages.

Jallow boldly lets us into the lives of this class of Kenyans who are very present but tend to be pushed to literary peripheries because of our fetish for “poverty porn.” The story follows the daily lives of three high society women and also shines a light on the lives of Nairobi’s rich.

Mwende Ngao’s Toilet Paper Thief is a coming-of-age tale that tells of the hurdles of city life for the young. Anxious to move away from home and be “independent,” Koki, grapples with delayed pay, joblessness and lack of money. Then, unable to cope with the numerous demands of the concrete labyrinth, the good girl turns bad, throws caution to the wind and gives into a friends-with-benefits relationship with a man in a blue Subaru.

And yet, this is not all the book offers. There are other stories. Some quite impressive, like Mtheto Kadoko Hara’s A Sentiment for Leyla, which beautifully tells of love, sacrifice and religious extremism from Malawi to Nairobi’s Westgate mall.

Others quite chilling, like Powell Omolo’s The Chosen, which talks about the life of a young man who has inherited night running powers from his Legio-Maria grandmother and is trying to come to terms with his newfound powers.

Less impressive stories dot the Fifth Draft as well. Stories which one feels require much more work. Stories which perhaps if the authors had kept revising, would have become better in their fifth drafts. These stories include the Fifth Draft by Eutycus Mola, which is simply a collection of beautiful phrases that the writer seems clueless what to do with. Stories like How To Snatch a Monkey by Atandi Anyona, which is meant to be humorous but fails and ends up putting off the reader.

Yet there is a lot to like in this book. Starting with its publisher, Lesleigh Kenya, which is a new outfit in the country. The firm proves that meticulous editing and good quality print are something we can hope for and should demand from our local publishers.

This article was first published in the East African.

 

THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE…A REVIEW

In her novella Kalasanda and its sequel Kalasanda Revisited, Ugandan writer Barbara Kimenye recounts humorous tales of country folks in a fictional Buganda village called Kalasanda. The tales focus on characters so eccentric they remain imprinted in the reader’s memory for ages.

Nigerian writer E.C. Osondu in his debut novel This House is Not for Sale, takes us to a place similar to Kalasanda. However, in Osondu’s case, the setting is a coastal town in West Africa. His characters are nonetheless as colourful and as eccentric as Kimenye’s Nantondos.

This House is Not for Sale tells the stories of the inhabitants of a huge mansion called the family house, which was passed down through generations. The owner, an elderly man, is the young narrator’s grandfather. He is a shrewd and enterprising patriarch, who is generous enough to play new LP records on his Sanyo stereo at full blast so that passers-by — and neighbours without stereos — can listen as well.

The family house swarms with activity and events there draw mixed feelings from those who live inside it and the neighbours around it. To its inhabitants, it is a blessing; a place of refuge from sins, poverty and despair.

“He knew that there was only one place on this earth where no arm, no matter how long, could reach him, and that was the family house,” we are told of a murderer who seeks refuge in the family house.

Much as neighbours dislike it for the patriarch’s exploitative nature and the misfits it harbours, they still show up whenever a chance to benefit from the house presents itself.

The stories, told through the eyes of a young narrator, are cleverly interwoven with humorous asides from anonymous voices. This enables the writer to slip in bits of information that would have otherwise been left out because of first person narration. Osondu, a seasoned storyteller, draws heavily from the African traditional oral storytelling — introducing other voices to fill in gaps left by the naïve narrator.

Some reviewers have argued that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. This feels true as one reads it because each of the stories can stand alone and even sell separately. Osondu obviously draws from his strength as a short-story writer. (He won the Caine prize for African writing in 2009 for his short story, Waiting).

Each brisk chapter shines light on one of the many eccentric characters in the house. There is Ibe, the narrator’s cousin, who is a know-it all child. Ibe has a wild imagination and is stopped by nothing, not even death. Then there is Tata, a childless woman branded a “soul snatcher” before an encounter with the river goddess changes her life forever.

How does Osondu, himself a foreigner, remote from us in geographical distance, in culture and in local expressions, manage to talk about things that are important to us? The answer must lie, I suppose, in the fact that the writer is not merely a thinking brain; he is a feeling body, a sensitive heart, thus as we read This House is Not For Sale, we feel it draw upon the whole being, not merely a select part.

Some terms are Lagosian, the food too. There is jollof rice and fried akara and suya. Yet I do not think that the book is exclusively Nigerian. For in, say, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Kigali and Kampala, we witness reality and superstitions sit side by side.

The dusty streets of our childhood are laced with daredevil little cousins like Ibe, and faithful believers who sell their earthly belongings because they believe the end of the world is nigh. Our cities house jobless PhD holders, the mentally ill and abandoned husbands like Abule.

We, too, have witnessed city buildings marked with X because they lie on road reserves and we later witness their demolition as the owners throw curses at the authorities.

This House is Not for Sale tackles serious themes like alternative sexuality, patriarchy and corruption. Yet it does so beautifully, turning clichés on their heads. And the book is funny, very funny. It teems with yarns so ridiculously out of this world, humour so dark yet so real it lodges itself indelibly in the readers’ memory.

Nothing is more refreshing, nothing serves more to sting and revive a reader than the spray of fresh words, little colloquialisms and tart green words that spring from the pages of this book.

This article was first published in The East African.

NAIROBI CARTOON EXHIBITION TAKES ON OBAMA AND OBAMAPHILES

obama-political-cartoons-africa-03

Matt Groening once said that people go into cartooning because they
are shy and they are angry yet this cannot even begin to describe the
vibe of the six Kenyan cartoonists whose works are currently on
exhibition at the Alliance Francaise de Nairobi. Using the tool they
understand best, the pencil, these artists colorfully trace president
Obama’s life from his father’s homeland in Kogelo to his visit to
Kenya in 2006 and his long awaited visit as president of the United
States.

That  the different artists’ themes intersect with underlying common
themes and bitingly funny captions  is what  keeps art lovers glued to
the walls on the first floor art gallery at Alliance;  giving it
popularity at a time when other  people complain of experiencing too
much Obama talk, a condition social media enthusiasts  have since
termed #overobama.
A number of themes are explored and the artists manage to show us,
albeit tongue in cheek, the ridiculousness of some of the traditional
stereotypes we hold as a nation. They do so flawlessly, fluidly
transcend touchy topics like tribalism and political myopia and
brilliantly spreading rays of humor and wit over current world affairs
and right into Obama’s Kenyan heritage.

The issues highlighted range from African leaders’ obsession with
clinging to power, tribalism, America-Kenya-China relationships, the
toa kitu kidogo mentality, the strange travel habits of overloading
and carrying all belongings home and even the hypocrisy of hiding our
dirty side and showing guests our best side
The showcased works belong to six of Kenya’s best cartoonists among
them Celeste, Gado, Gammz, Gathara, Maddo and Victor Ndula. It was
curated by Patrick Gathara and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

One theme explored, African leaders habit of clinging to power issue
is best illustrated in Victor Ndula’s Africa Advises President Obama
where an anonymous African president informs Obama that ‘African’
Presidents always get re-elected, a tongue-in cheek proclamation
given how in  many of this continents’ countries, the so called
‘re-election’ presidents force themselves back to power  by altering
constitutions and rigging votes.
Another widespread theme explores the relationship between Kenya and
America with Ndula suggesting a softening of the relationship after
years of not seeing eye to eye. The cartoon captioned ‘Thawing
Relations’ shows the ice cubes that hold presidents Uhuru and Obama
thawing and thus giving way to warmer, friendlier relations.

The cartoonists too speak a similar language on the
China-America-Kenya relationship turning it into a delightfully funny
tale of rivalry and jealousy. The first is Gado’s cartoon Obama to
Visit Africa which shows Obama getting off Air Force One and being
received by Chinese officials. He then loudly wonders if he is in
Africa or China and is promptly informed that he has to do more if he
is to curb Chinese influence here. Celeste however, carries the day on
this particular matter with her drawing which shows an unfaithful
Africa arm in arm with a bouquet carrying America but secretly holding
China’s hand behind America’s back. This, maybe a loud statement of
how distrustful African nations have become of the West.

It is hard for one to resist bursting into laughter at the biting
satire engrained in the artworks dealing with Obama’s Kenyan-ness and
our right to receive goodies from ‘our’ son. The artists vividly take
on expectations of a country that claims the man as one of its sons.
Gammzs’ Obama Presidency sets off this theme perfectly with Kenyans
expecting ridiculous goodies from Obama ranging from forgiveness of
Kenya’s debts to payment of fees in American Universities to green
cards for his relatives from Kogelo and even  kitu kidogo for the
parents whose  child is named after him. His other cartoon, Nyumbani
Tunasija shows the typically Kenyan habits of carrying all our earthly
belongings from mattresses to seats and overloading when going to
shagz for a visit.

In the end, even as economic analysts argue that Obama’s visit was
meant to change America’s relationship with Africa from the its
traditional elements of humanitarian aid towards a new focus with
Africa as a potential trade  partner, I like more the cartoonists
version of Obama as jealous and angry at China for overtaking the
United States as Africa’s biggest trade partner; and of him as the
good ‘native’ son, arriving home bearing gifts and goodies for those
of us fortunate enough to share our homeland with this son of a Kenyan
father working abroad. The exhibition is on till 23rd August at
Alliance Francaise first floor gallery.

This article was first published in the Saturday Nation.

RHYME AND GLAMOUR AT THE 57TH EDITION OF POETRY SLAM AFRICA

SLAMMM
On Sunday August 16th, amid the sweltering Nairobi heat, the Alliance Francaise de Nairobi hosted the 57th edition of Slam Africa competition. A stiffly contested and vibrant affair, the event started off with recitation of well crafted pieces by nine poets  and ended with one of them, Sanaa Arman taking home the trophy and the  Slam King title.
 
 The event, under the Nandi flame tree that towers over the Alliance gardens, attracted hundreds of slam poetry lovers from all spheres of life, from activists like Boniface Mwangi to academics such as Dr. Wandia Njoya and communication specialists like Dennis Itumbi.
 
The competitors thrilled the audience with creatively crafted poems that contained memorable lines and saw slam lovers snap their fingers in glee. They tackled a number of issues affecting youth in contemporary Kenya. The issues ranged from yellow fever (the youth obsession with light skin which leads to bleaching) to single parenthood, relationships and politicians’ greed.  Sanaa may have taken home the trophy but the first runner up, Willie Oeba won over the hearts of the audience with a very intimate and moving  piece dedicated to his Mother
 
The festival also featured guest performances by former slam kings and poets. El Poet performed his well loved piece The School bell Rings alongside a more recent one, I am who I am which spoke of the stereotyping of Somali Kenyans by suspecting them of being terrorists. Another poet, Ngartia performed a moving piece ’Mpeketoni on My mind’ a poem fused with guitar music from Ciano. Former Slam king Teadrops, ended the guest performances with a powerful piece Hii Street, a sheng tribute to the ghetto streets which, in spite of  thuggery and toughness still raise successful  youth.
So what exactly is a poetry slam and when did it start in Kenya?
 
A poetry slam is a competitive poetry reading in which poets perform their own writings  for scores. There is elimination at each stage with only those who score high marks moving on to the next round. It originated in a Chicago barroom   in the 80’s when a man named Marc Smith let the audience judge by boos and cheers, poems performed on stage.
 
In Kenya, slam poetry was first staged in 2006 with the help of poetess Shailja Patel on behalf of Kwani Trust. It has since acquired a life of its own, drawing poetry lovers and improving in quality.
 ‘Poetry contestants are finally getting into mature spaces with the quality of their poems. For a long time slammers would always go for things that make crowds shout and scream, however, that was done at the expense of real, quality poetry. So Sunday’s slam poetry stage looked quite grown up, which is a good thing’ said  slam lover, poet and Love FM radio presenter Kyansimire.
 
Slam poetry has a number of tight rules governing it; the piece being performed must be a writers’ own. Maximum time given is three minutes thirty seconds and performers are penalized if they take more time. There is also no use of costumes, props or musical instruments.
 
This type of poetry is however, not the sort of thing you’d expect to find in schools and university lecture halls thanks to its  language, flamboyancy and color. Instead of the somber mood of the school poems whose writers are almost always dead poets with strange names like T.S Eliot or D. H Lawrence, this particular pieces are recited by their authors. They  also give keen interest on their performativity and aim at reaching the audience’s soul  with deep feelings. Slam poetry is thus a timely gift-a trojan horse- to sheng poets who can seldom find space for their art in the rigid academic sphere our society is.
So, do academics consider this ‘real’ poetry since it wasn’t devised after deep intellectual reflections but was instead born in a bar?
Dr Wandia Njoya is positive and enthusiastic about slam poetry as a modern form of engaging with creative works. ‘I’m happy that poetry has moved from the corridors of the university to the streets where it belongs. I don’t agree with that notion passed on in literary discourses that poetry is dead, it just needs innovation. If you package it nicely then it becomes engaging, entertaining and full of soul’ added the Daystar university lecturer who invites slam poets to her classes whenever she is teaching poetry.
 
University of Nairobi don Dr. Tom Odhiambo  shares Dr. Wandia’s views ‘This argument that ‘real’ poetry is dead in Kenya is just a lazy argument perpetrated by a bunch of people who are nostalgic about the past and who associate poetry with particular big names. Just last month, Amka and Goethe Institut launched an anthology of poetry, yesterday I was editing my students’ collection of poetry so as far as I am concerned, poetry is indeed alive and vibrant in Kenya,’ he said.
 
Though still somewhat a literary novelty and oddity, slam poetry has experienced exponential growth in Kenya. Yet only time will tell whether it will be around for a long time to come or whether, as claimed by writer Dana Gioia, it is just a populist revival of verse inspired by the oral culture of radio, TV, film and the internet and which will pass soon.
 
‘Slam is definitely here to stay. A lot of people think it’s this new phenomenon but it’s been around for years. Even when media wasn’t covering it, it was alive and thriving. So definitely it’s not going anywhere. Says Kyansimire.
 
When all is said and done, it is of essence to note that slam poetry has succeeded in achieving something  old school  poetry didn’t; creating a  successful marriage of diverse personalities; self-taught and  trained academics recite side by side, old school and new age poets compete on a similar platform in sheng and English. It also creates a very intimate authentic connection between poets and their audiences, giving poets the pleasure of seeing how their pieces resonate with audiences.
 Its growing influence is evidenced by the sponsors who came on board to support the competition that was judged by veteran poets Nana Poet, Richie Maccs, Kevin Oreto, Mufasa and Wanjiku Mwaura.
This article was first published in the East African Newspaper.

LAKE BARINGO: Mythical Waters of Seven Islands

BARINGOOOO

An hour’s drive from the sweltering Marigat town will set you safely on the shores of one of the two Rift Valley fresh water lakes; Lake Baringo. Unlike its sister lake Bogoria which is salty and thus contains no fish, Lake Baringo is animate with aquatic life, from five types of fish to friendly crocodiles and  huge hippo’s. The numerous local tribes that live around the lake make it a colorful place to visit for you cannot fail to bump upon Tugens, Njemps, Maasai Fishermen and Pokots coexisting peacefully.

There are numerous myths and anecdotes that you will hear from the fishermen and the fishmongers about the 130km lake but the first thing you will notice is that the water levels have increased and thus moved towards land and submerged trees and hotels which were once on dry land.
 
And if you are a fish lover, you may as well whet your appetite as you head to the lake, for there is a small market by the lake where fresh fish is fried and hawked for only 50 shillings a piece. And what’s more, you could simply take your pick from the many varieties like tilapia, catfish, barbers  or lung fish fished using nets or hook and line.
 
This lake that lies to the left of the breathtaking Tugen hills is also home to hundreds of species of  fauna. Because of the fish, there are over 400 species of birds that hover around the lake, diving to get some fresh food for themselves. Bird watching is thus an excellent recreation here too especially around Kampi ya Samaki area.
 
A boat ride on the lake is inevitable if you wish to see the friendly crocodiles therein. If you care to ask, you will be informed of how to tell their ages; slaughter the crocodile(you are not told how), then count the stones you get in the stomach. Each stone represents a year! Alternatively, you could simply check its back, if grass grows on it, then it is an old crocodile.
 
 Lake Baringo also has hippopotamus which are said to be territorial and live in groups of fifteen, fourteen females and one male. Of course it is heartwarming to know that the money you pay for the boat ride will go a long way in supporting the locals, for the boats are owned communally and the income belongs to the whole community.
 
Yet the most intriguing tale of the lake lies hidden behind the seven islands that are visible from the shore but which are only a boat ride away.
 Parmolok Island, the island of love, is the most popular and is said to be owned by one man, famously known as Baringo’s Akuku danger because of his five wives and 27 children. He also has numerous cattle which are said to swim across the lake to the marketplace on market days.
 
Ol Kokwe island, the biggest island on the lake is populated by the Il Chamus and also contains hot springs where one can boil fish.
 
The Devil’s Island is deserted and named so because the locals believe the devil lives on it. Apparently, they hear ghosts mooing like cows and bleating like goats during the day. At night, flames of fire are seen.
 
There is Samatian island, the green island with lodges and campsites. The other three islands are seasonal and thus submerged during high water seasons.
 
When all is said and done, a visitor to this lake cannot forget two things; coming face to face with the only Maasais  in Kenya who are fishermen and meeting Pokots and Tugens who actually sit togather peacefully to share a meal of fried  fish.
This article was first published in the Daily Nation

MOMBASA OLD TOWN…BEAUTIFUL KENYA

mombasa12
If Mombasa old town was to be a person, then, he’d without a doubt be that old Swahili pirate with lots and lots of delightful ancient travel tales and relics and a single eye as evidence of his numerous adventures.
 
A ten minutes ride on a tuk-tuk from downtown Mombasa town, past tall whistling coconut palms, will deliver you, safe and sound at the entrance of Mombasa old town. The ancient town will then, as in a time travel tale, stretch out its arms and enfold you into its rich history, taking you years and years back.
 
 Yet it is not Mombasa Old town’s history that will take your breath away at first but its 18th century artful architecture; carved and curved beautiful old buildings, elegant balconies and coral walls whose designs were influenced by Portuguese and Islamic Arab traders of old.
 
A stroll around the old city through its narrow streets and boulevards is as pleasant a tour as you can possibly make though it is highly unlikely that you will cover the whole 180 acres of land which make Old Town Mombasa.
A rich cultural melting point, Old town Mombasa is home to a blend of people among them Arabs, Asians, local Swahili’s and who knows, you might even  bump upon the occasional Portuguese who decided to stay behind after completing the construction of Fort Jesus.
Historically, the architecture of the old town was influenced by Mombasa’s trade culture. Trade came about as a result of  the town housing old port, the first harbor in Kenya. The old port, it is said, still brings in spices from Zanzibar.
 
The people of old town are as delightful and mysterious as the town itself. The women and girls, clad in buibuis and kangas and the men in long white kanzus will sure send a warm smile your direction. And if you happen to have a minute, nay, an hour to spare, then these good natured people, famed for their rich oral history, might tell you winding tales of invisible Djinnis that live on the ancient walls in the town.
 
If, like me, you have a fetish for keepsakes, then Mombasa Old Town will charm you some more, for the many old buildings are but, alas! Antique and curio shops full of treasures like Arabian vases and Aladdin lamps, Portuguese art, Asian rags and Swahili artifacts.
 
And if this treasure hunt leads you to Ali’s Curio shop, then know right there, that you are standing on a history house. For Ali’s, with its coral walls, was built by Brits in 1898 and it housed the first police station in Mombasa.
A keen listener might hear in the distance, the sound of swash and backwash waves slapping the sandy shore. For the town is located on Tudor creek and thus behind the town buildings is the vast Indian ocean. And if you listen some more, then, you might just hear the rustling palm trees whispering dark secrets of 15th century ivory trade.  
This article was first published in the Daily Nation