The history of intermarriages between locals and foreign traders has allowed a coastal family to consist of parents and children who look like typical Afrikans with dark skin, flared nostrils and tightly coiled hair while in the same family will be others with complexions close to that of a Caucasian with jet black Indian looking hair. Another sibling might seem bi-racial with a combination of features that would have one believe he or she was the product of a Caucasian and Afrikan union.
Such an interesting looking family is more confounding when one sees the parents; one parent might look like a light skinned Arab and the other may look like an Indian directly from India. The matriarch of my host family in Takaungu, Bibi, looked like an Arab but regarded herself as nothing more than Kenyan. Her extended family had looks that run the gamut.
Bibi was born in the village of Takaungu in Mombasa. Her grandfather was a Syrian trader who married a local from Takaungu. Bibi’s late husband was a local Kenyan from mixed blood, and belonged to the Bajuni ethnic group. The Bajuni originates from the Kenyan coast, which consists of varied ethnicities including Mombasa’s past foreign traders. One of Bibi’s late husband’s cousins looked like a West Afrikan while another looked a very light skinned Ethiopian.
Kenya has over seventy different ethnic groups that all have their own language, which are as different as English is to Chinese. And Takaungu was not an exception to the varied ethnicities. In Takaungu are the Waswahili, along with the Giriama, Chonyi, Wakaumwa, Bajuni and of course the Swahili, who all peacefully cohabit and intermarry. They can all talk about their indigenous Afrikan lineages and European ones alike.
Takaungu certainly provided the peace and quiet I needed to write. In fact, the relaxed atmosphere was so alluring that I often had difficulty sitting to write. To sit was never the problem since it was what I did almost all day. The problem was with motivating myself to do the “arduous” task of putting thoughts unto my laptop. My mornings normally began with a struggle to wake up to write.
Although I long ago accepted the fact that I wrote best in the early hours before dawn, this fact seemed to have gone the way side in the Takaungu. My common 3 a.m. internal alarm that too often went off in Toronto, or anywhere else, was nonexistent in the village. Eight o’clock was suddenly the wake up time my internal alarm preferred regardless of how early I went to sleep. And after waking at 8 a.m., I easily convinced myself it was too late in the morning to write anything constructive. Instead, I tried to find less “stressful” ways to start my day.
On the mornings following a day of gluttony I dragged myself out of bed at my new wake up hour for the twenty minute walk that took me to Kitangani beach. There I reluctantly jogged for thirty minutes (that was on a particularly good day) and spent at least an hour and a half sitting in a pool of water along with small fishes where I watched the tide go out.
On a lazy day I walked up and down the small hill along the beach for fifteen minutes and sat in the pool for about two hours. On the way back home I normally stopped by the house of one of Bibi’s sons for much needed water and the usual offer of icicles that his wife gave me to cool off after my “hard” morning of jogging at the beach. Sucking the sugar-laden icicles completely defeated the purpose of the jog but in Takaungu a good guest never refused food.
Other mornings when writing was even more of a distant thought I again convinced myself that my body was in dire need of exercise and opted for the less strenuous fifteen minute walk to my host’s shamba—farm, in search of tangerines and oranges. There, again, I was not allowed to leave until the overseer’s wife cooked one of my favourite meals, mboga ya muhogo and ugali (stewed cassava leaf accompanied with a maize dough); and as I’ve explained food should never be refused in Takaungu. Again, this was another fruitless attempt at exercise. But after a previous day of exceptional gluttony and a morning that I truly wanted to avoid all thoughts of writing I was particularly ambitious; I walked to Kilifi for my favourite fruit, mangoes.
Kilifi is the closest town to Takaungu. It’s six kilometres away and over an hour walking distance. But I loved mangoes and although I saw plenty of mango trees in the village the fruit was not yet in season there; they were imported from neighbouring Tanzania into Mombasa city, where vendors brought them to towns such as Kilifi. I would have walked any distance for the fruits that I was sure are the gods favourite. Not even the short terrifying canoe ride over the creek that separated Takaungu from the main road to Kilifi was a deterrent (terror brought on by the fact that I do not know how to swim and life jackets were nowhere in sight).
I could have taken a Border-Border or one of the mini buses into Kilifi but having once suffered the uncomfortable experience of both modes of transportation from Takaungu to Mombasa, in search of mangoes, the long walk to and fro was much more appealing than traversing the pot filled roads over wheels that did not seat under a comfortable SUV.
“Takaungu certainly provided the peace and quiet I needed to write. In fact, the relaxed atmosphere was so alluring that I often had difficulty sitting to write.” Border-border are bicycles with an improvised back seat for taking passengers to and from the border of one village to the border of another village, which is not frequented by mini buses. My bottom, regardless of the abundance of natural padding, greatly appreciated me loading my bags of groceries unto the border-border to have them safely delivered at home while I instead walked the treacherous road back home. And this was no doubt a serious effort at exercise; it was also a sure fired way to “exert” myself and have the perfect excuse for being too tired to write when I returned home. Of course, there were the many days that I did absolutely nothing in Takaungu.
On such days of total idleness I often sat at the back of my host’s compound and watched her varied fowls—guinea, ducks, geese, turkeys and chickens along with the frequent “guest” birds—make a feast of cockroaches from upturned stones. When roaches were not the choice of meal I observed the fowls’ pecking order when food was strewn for them. For further “entertainment” I watched the male fowls command the attention of their female counterpart for sex by pecking at the top of their heads; the unsuspecting female would be forced to remain still while her mate held the top of her head in his beak as he had his way with her.
When sex was not on the minds of the fowls they fought for territory of the back yard with four stray cats that had decided to also make the compound their home. Such passing of hours was only interrupted for the call of food, teatime or a short walk outside the compound to break off a branch of a neem tree to brush my teeth only to resume my seat of idleness. When I had my fill with the habits of fowls, cats and birds I occupied some of my time with trying to find physical differences between the maid’s identical twin babies, with no luck, or watch the daily stream of impromptu guests that visited my host throughout the day.
On rare occasions when I thought family and friends in Toronto and St. Lucia would appreciate hearing from me I forced myself to find a seating position in the back yard of the compound that allowed my cell phone to make network connection; from there I made hasty phone calls. Communication with “back home” was often via text messages; voice conversions required too much energy. It was wonderful to discover how constructively one could pass a day doing nothing. Ironically, after years of not wearing a watch in Canada—where it was imperative to be on time and a practice I never cultivated, I wore a watch on a daily basis in Takaungu only to stress over of how quickly my idling time slipped away.
Too quickly “Speedy” had arrived on his mother’s doorsteps to take me and my Mombasa hosts back to the city. I had a flight to catch in Nairobi to Ghana within two days of leaving Takaungu. My Mombasa friends had decided leaving the village earlier for Mombasa’s various stresses was unwarranted; if any unpredicted traveling issues arose, such as our vehicle breaking down, one day was sufficient time o rectify the problem with ample time left for me to catch my flight.
Takaungu’s “R&R” is easily accessible via a direct flight from either Europe or the United States into Nairobi from where a domestic flight can be taken to Mombasa. The rest of the trip to Takaungu can be made by vehicle. If one is interested in sightseeing, public transportation can be taken directly from Nairobi to one of Takaungu’s neighbouring villages or rent a private vehicle directly into the village. It’s approximately a ten hour drive.
A villager will have no problem hosting an unexpected guest or take one to someone with more space to do so at about $40 per month. This includes maid service of cooking and laundry. On the other hand Kilifi’s two 3-star hotels provide the use of their facilities, including deep sea fishing equipment, yachting and pool, starting at the economical price of $10 a day. But who needs a pool when the beach can be had steps away from both hotels? No need to worry about stressing the pocket; $1 is approximately Ksh60 (60 Kenyan shillings) and a descent meal costs about Ksh250. A car can be rented at $40 (Ksh2500) for the day and an ATV for Ksh1500) with insurance and plates.
Unfortunately, after over a month of vacationing in Kenya I did not see any Masai. Perhaps on the next trip to Kenya I will muster the energy for sightseeing; that is if I am able to pull myself away from Takaungu’s tranquility. It’s still a wonder to me that I was able to finish my writing in Takaungu’s “no problem” laid back atmosphere. Also, Takaungu’s modernity did little in offering me the typical Afrikan village lifestyle I had hoped would prepare me for my new home in the Kpeve Tornu, Ghana, which has no running water or electricity—and no luxury of ceiling fans.
Afua Asantewaa is a native St. Lucian who permanently relocated from Toronto, Canada in 2006 to a small fishing village in Ghana