September 22, 2009
Today has been a slightly less busy day than others, but there’s still a lot to tell you about. This morning started with uji (my new favorite breakfast food) and then a walk with the rest of the bui bui and kanzu wearing group to the Kiswahilli Center in town where our hosts Ahkmed Shake and Amira, the woman who has been helping the girls in the group out with bui buis and head scarves and such help run a program to teach youth in Mombasa traditional Kiswahili skills like dressmaking, woodworking, etc.
Ahkmed Shake is a very renowned Swahili poet and he gave us a very interesting lecture on Swahili poetry. I loved how he didn’t use the term “writing” for poetry when he spoke of it in English, but rather “composing” which as it turns out is much more accurate as Amira, a very renowned Swahili poetry reader performed several of his poems, singing them more than saying them as she recited. It was an incredible experience. Kim, from the L+C group read one of the long epic poems aloud in an English translation and it was incredible to be able to understand the meaning behind the musicality.
After the poetry section, they showed us the woodworking room and the sewing room. In the woodworking area, I tried using the chisel and mallet, but failed at it pretty spectacularly. It was still fun though! The woodwork is absolutely incredible full of lots of different ornate designs that the boys learn one by one. Some of them may spend as many as 2 or 3 months working on the first pattern and perfecting it before they are permitted to move to the second.
Next we walked around Fort Jesus, a fort built by the Portugese. It is a very unique fort, because it is built with angled walls in such a way that each wall can be defended from another, so that no one can scale it. It is right at the mouth of the old harbor and again we enjoyed the lovely breeze coming off the ocean.
After that, Rachel and I wandered around the city for several hours. We stopped at a small hole in the wall café and she ordered one of the biggest plates of “chips” (French fries) that I have ever seen and we both ordered a bottle of mango juice, which is incredible. It tastes like someone grabbed a chilled glass bottle and just shoved a whole mango into it and shook it around. It is so thick and pulpy that it was almost like a smoothie.
Next we tracked down a Tusky’s so I could buy peanut butter and a few rolls. And then a fruit stand for bananas and mangos. I was so excited for my peanut butter and banana sandwhich for lunch and embarrassingly enough just had another for dinner! But I’ve had a few too many outrageously extravagant meals out lately that haven’t been so kind to my tummy, so I was glad to just eat something I know will agree with me and tastes really good too! I also had a mango too, so basically I just got to eat all of my favorite foods at once, haha.
Some of the group is going out for Chinese food I think, and then after that some people are going out to go clubbing or whatever in Mombasa. I’m thinking about going with them but am torn – I have so much to do – writing papers, repacking a small pack for our island home stays, laundry and am worried that I am getting sick (I feel 100% fine barring Swahili cooking induced indigestion, but have kind of a rasping man voice that keeps coming and going), so I’m not sure if I’ll go or not. Probably, if a small group goes straight from the hotel without first going out to dinner I’ll go out for a while too, but I’m really enjoying this whole day of having a settled stomach and am not about to risk Chinese food!
I wanted to go to the beach today, but never quite managed it between trying to get papers written and see some of the city before it got dark. Also, I knew that I if I went to the beach, I would want to swim and I’m not really sure what the etiquette on swimming/bathing suits is here in Mombasa.
And now, a few amusing things that I’ve forgotten to tell you:
1. Mama in Riruta on the bus to the Guest House demanded to know why white women have such “big legs”. I told her that mine were so big from muscle from riding and running. She said no, not just me, that all white ladies have big legs, especially “huge calves” but I wasn’t able to provide a satisfactory answer for her.
2. On my last day in Riruta, while coming home from my morning run, three different men told me they loved me. The first was an older guy with a gold front tooth on a bicycle, the second was a youngish guy walking and the third a middle aged man in a motokar. I am hoping this phase in my life is over and done with!
3. People in Mombasa sometimes ask if we are muslims when we are out in our bui buis. I feel really awkward about this. We were instructed to answer “Sijakuwa” when asked if we are, which means that not we are not, but also leaves it open ended as if we might at some ambiguous point in the future consider it.
4. I completely and utterly fail at wearing a head scarf, much the same way I fail at being acceptably girly at home when it comes to dressing up and wearing makeup and actually looking decent while doing so. I’ve had the damn thing for two whole days now and still haven’t figured out the proper way to tie it no matter how many people have shown me. I just do the best I can, adjust it a lot and am hoping that my family in Pemba is going to be really progressive and modern and understanding when I inadvertently flash them an ear or a bit of hair every now and then. The upside to this is that it will likely prevent any proposals of marriage in Tanzania.
5. I saw my first Obama kanga in a store today. It was literally a kanga with images of Obama’s head printed on it that read “Hongera Barack Obama”. It was also the most expensive kanga I’ve seen yet.
6. The L+C men ended up with their picture in the Mombasa newspaper. Of course, they were wearing their man dresses (kanzus) and little hats for this!
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