It's seems the only time I stop is when I am either waiting for a flight or on one I am like a shark that has to keep moving to stay alive. The last four days have been packed and hectic and I seemed to have hardly paused. If I look back I see a film being played in fast forward...
Flying to Mombasa and emerging to a warmer greener world than Nairobi.
A white stuccoed hotel built in the early 1900s English colonial style. open corridored airy with a terrace facing onto the main street that runs up from the old port. Driving out to meet the SAFE theatre bus along the costal strip north of the city, glimpses of an absurdly blue Indian ocean winking at me between hotels and houses. Turning away from the ocean onto earth tracks than lead through settlements of mud brick huts scatterred amongst the palm and mango trees.
Following a band of drummers and trumpet players as they call people from their houses. They come running kids and adults all following the music back to a clearing where the bus is. Warm sunshine illuminating verdunt green foliage. Bright eyed faces gazing at the performance, beguiled by the spectacle.
The thud of a mango falling at my feet from a tree and the scramble of children and adults to claim it after staring at me wondering why I didn't pick it up.
A big slow full moon pulling the trees down from its face so it could also see. A flash of my own skin in the dark as I run naked into the Indian ocean snatching an opportunity. A moment, too much to savour, enough just to be part of, as the moon, the sea and me commune like we so often do giving thanks for our friendship and luck in the world.
Leaving a band playing on the teracce outside the hotel I walk away with Nick from SAFE to walk around the old town of Mombasa. We turn a corner on the main street where a security guard is curled up asleep in a shop front and ...lets press play, real time for this bit because I crossed a portal at this point into a time eternal. This area is mainly inhabited by Muslims, it is Ramadan and post Iftah everyone is out on the streets eating chatting and relaxing. It is a holiday atmosphere little children are clutching ice creams as big as their faces , women lifting their veils to eat afford a provocative glimpse of an open mouth closing on firm fleshed fruits. Men sat around smoking by makeshift stalls selling grilled meat or fresh juices. Everyone is dressed up, many of the women in black full length clothing with their daughters by their sides dressed identically.I am relieved that I have at least changed into my jeans though they are far from clean i feel a little respectable we move like a pair of ghosts through the crowded narrow streets seemingly unnoticed and certainly irrelevant . This is where Nick first moved when he came to kenya. Turning his back on a successful career in hollywood he decided to bring his acting skills here and has made a new life for himself whilst helping improve the lives of many others. He points out his favourite buildings and points of perspective introduces his friends and shows me his favourite places to eat. It's a treat to wander round immersed in his memories. Nick born by Hamersmith flyover- flew over and stayed.
The architecture is mesmerizing Yemeni with Portuguese next to Indian and of course English.Wood with stone, carved next to engraved, but everything is antique only the neon is from my era. Large ornate wooden balconies hang over the streets i can imagine the precious breeze they catch in mid summer here. Verandas garlended with bougainvilla sit on top of the buildings the view from them must be astounding out across the indian ocean. Some of these houses have been in the same family for generations there is history both in these walls and behind them, families are the trees that line these streets.
There is a holiday atmosphere a bit like christmas mixed with august bank holiday it is both secular and comercial and everywhere people are eating and celebrating I wonder if the old people complain that Ramadan is not what it used to be it's become so commercialised it's lost it's meaning. These young people just binge eating.
We wander down to the old Fort Jesus. A simple but inpenetrable structure that has been held by many nations but shows an allegiance to none in its style .Most of the seaward wall is a rock face that has been plastered it is smooth and contoured like a female form. Nick tells me that the strip of rocky beach that lays below and beyond the fort is feared by all as it is heavily haunted by the spirits of the many thousands of slave bodies that were thrown out of a chute in the wall there. It is rarely talked about the Arabic slave trade that was the scourge of east Africa as far inland as Lake Malawi and continued until as late as the 1870s maybe later.
There is a cafe at the foot of Fort Jesus where dozens of men sit and drink coffee and juice on the pavement A group of children play football nearby relishing the opportunity to stay up so late unhindered. One kicks the ball wildly and we follow it as rolls off down a slipway through a hole in the sea wall and down onto the beach.A slow tick tock of the earth's eternal clock and we stop for a moment to pee as we look to sea.
Again as I so often do in old ports I think of my father in this place. He used to dock here and probably walk these streets. Was he as excited as I am ? Who could he talk to about all he saw and did? From another era without mobiles emails texts or fax he must have carried so much with him, I think he must have put his messages in a bottle, the same one that killed him.
We dreamweave our way back through the streets passing a juice seller at a crossroads who beckons us to try his Ramadan fruit salad special with avocado and rose syrup topping. I am tempted, his display of fruits is enticing but I fear any stomach upsets I cannot afford to be ill. We walk on and I quiz Nick about the likelyhood of getting Ill from the juice? He wasn't sure but since the juice seller was doing big business on a busy crossroads it must be fairly safe. So in a u turn that for me defines the secret of evolution we turned back and enjoyed the best fruit salad of our lives served in a half pint beer glass - with a handle. For a short while we become a part of our surroundings and the world passes through us, borrowed time in an abiding life. We head back towards our hotel passing the sleeping security guard and step back into black Africa and my memories are fast forward once more.
Back in the Coastal village area with a follow up day with STARS where they further enforce their messages. Watching the face of a young girl as she hears the result of her blood test. I seem to be more relieved than she is that it is negative , the councilling they receive is obviously effective but it is shocking to see one so young being tested and worse to wonder why. Wondering despite there being no need, what is the polite amount of time to leave before wiping the drop of spit that has landed by your mouth from an HIV positive person.
The endless resoursefulness of children to play, I watch a child push her hands in the dust across the clearing and relish in the track it makes following it back with a stick. Improvised footballs out of tightly wrapped and tied rags and bags are kicked around by young boys, while others make toy cars out of scrap wood with wheels from carton tops complete with axils and pushing rod. The ubiquitous hoop and stick which is seen all over the world except Europe. How long can you play with a piece of string ?
Packing up with military precision the workshop tents and the stage. The moon distracting me as it is full and constantly commands my attention. The PA is last to be packed as it is providing our soundtrack. The fun and unity that the SAFE team have, they care for each other and never stop playing, there seems to be no clash of egos.
A nightclub called Lambada advertises dine dance party and swim. Inside the smart and trendy of mombassa dance to a cocktail of music whilst bikini clad girls lapdance to an enthusiastic crowd. A floor show with pairs of dancers simulating sex in and out the pool with a bit of syncopated arm waving to go with it. What made this exceptional is that the tracks they used were "greased lighting" and "summer nights"
Getting back to my hotel at 5 am to be up at 10.39. Revisiting the old town. Being seen off at airport by two of the actors. Hassling to get on a flight because I have been told there is a six hour delay and standing back in awe as an American shouted demanded and threatened his way on even ringing his embassy.
Trying out a more passive approach and getting a result.
Sitting with the Mozambique ambassador for Kenya and talking politics. Bring offered his card without asking. Him saying that the Reading the last government would not let the new government take power last year was because the new president was not circumcised and they would not be ruled by a child.
Being met by Kumai and taken for a late night fish and beer in a club in eastlands. The club, like a giant barn was just made out of coorugated iron, was giant and had an amazing band I couldn't see. Packed it was all I wanted in a club.
Next morning visisting Nicks house in Karen in Nairobi a beautiful cottage style building in 5 acres of land and exotic trees and birds a true oasis.
Nairobi airport again...
But this film is a serial and not yet finished I have to leave for Ethiopia and I have inle been away 6 days. Condensed experience that cannot be diluted nor do I want it to be. The Kenyan film club open all day every day.
Sent on the move