A Day at the Beach at Mombasa, Kenya.
After an endless journey I am finally in Mombasa where I have rejoined Dee and Mike Belliere (MEAK’s founders), who are here overseeing a pediatric open-heart mission at the Mombasa Hospital. Looking over the Indian Ocean the hotel, a long time fixture in Nyali Beach, has seen much better days but its location is unbeatable. Located north of the city its green lawns shaded by Royal palm trees spill onto the white sandy beach. While still an attractive resort, it is not a secluded haven à la Four Seasons. The beach is public and as we lie on the lounge chairs we have front row seats to a pretty active local scene by the edge of the water.
Out in the distance, a large tanker is slowly heading for the deep sea. Mombasa, an ancient port with a history going back as far as the 12th Century, is the second largest city in Kenya, and the single biggest port of East Africa with centuries-old trading links with India, the Persian Gulf, the Arabic Peninsula, China and the rest of Africa so tankers can be seen at times coming and going on the horizon beyond the barrier reef.
The early morning is a perfect time for a brisk walk. The tide is very low, the beach is empty and morning exercise seems to be the right answer to a stubborn jet lag. I do hesitate though a bit; I have this nagging thought that perhaps I should be a bit careful. After all there has been kidnappings up the coast and there are many Somalis in the neighborhood. Indeed, some of the Somalis who are benefiting from the pirates’ kidnapping money are buying prime property in Mombasa and in Nairobi. Nyali Beach is one of those places and huge mansions are being built one block away from the shore front.
At this hour the beach is surprisingly pristine clean. How could that be? After all, this is a well-trodden public beach and the Indian Ocean can deliver quite a hefty load of discarded stuff! But things seem to be different here. Ahead of me, a man who seemed to be on a morning leisurely stroll, is in fact picking up unidentifiable things and putting them into a large plastic bag. His pace is so slow and his path so meandering that I decide to make him the subject of my photographs. I then run into a member of the beach management team! To all of you this must seem so trivial but here in Mombasa and in many places in Africa, garbage is a huge issue and particularly discarded plastic. I am therefore pleasantly surprised though I am later reminded by a more cynical acquaintance not to get my hopes too high. That picked up garbage could very easily get dumped later on the side of the road!
By mid-afternoon the beach comes alive. I witness Mombasa’s heterogeneous population at leisure. Youths playing soccer take over the beach; people stroll up and down, some in their swimsuits, some in their bui bui and hijaab. Camels wander by followed closely by their Somali owners, romance blossoms, lively conversations take place. My art history background kicks in and I think of Georges Seurat’s painting of a “Sunday on La Grande Jatte”, Massimo Vitali’s beach scenes or just a Sunday afternoon in New York Central Park. I am told this is in fact a pretty quiet day. On a busy Sunday afternoon you can barely see the sand there are so many people!