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Mombasa: Kingdom of Rain oozes with warmth and good vibes

Bling taxis, torrential rain and plenty to ponder in Paradise for Edwin Naidu during a week-long visit in Kenya.

“Tell me what you're thinking baby
Your heart's beating faster than mine
And I know something's going on in your life
In your life... in your life”

Kingdom of Rain (The The/Sinead O’ Connor)

Mombasa, on the south coast of Kenya, was beautiful in magical bits. This was no holiday in the humid kingdom of rain. But if the conditions conspire to make it happen work can sometimes feel like a break. My luck, it wasn’t.

Nevertheless, I was blessed to have spent five days beached in a refreshingly chilled airconditioned conference room on the balmy coast annexed and ruled once by the Portuguese. One of the travel songs listening to on Sunday as I arrived on Sunday in blazing humidity was ‘Kingdom of Rain‘ by Matt Johnson of The The, and the recently departed Irish gem Sinead O’ Connor.

Mombasa, the first capital of Kenya before Nairobi usurped it, was unbearably hot as my songtrack of life. It seemed like Jozi. I would need a rapper’s delight for my Johannesburg, though. The taxis in Mombasa, however, were more bling. Those tuk-tuk scooters, were everywhere.

Monkey Business: Best view in Paradise – and it’s free!.

The roads in Mombasa had huge holes or untarred roads for many a kilometre. It looks like unconvincing work in progress. Some of the potholes in Gauteng seem minor compared to this bumpy poor excuse for a road. In some ways, it was like being home but worse. A driving experience is stomach-churning. When it rains, Johannesburg is water-logged. Imagine when a place without built up roads, flooding? The situation looks dire.

Pride Inn Paradise – and its sister hotel Pride Inn Flamingo both sport a tropical vibe. Everyone is friendly – and the internet slow. I flitted between Paradise, the conference venue, and residence for the week, Flamingo. The hotel itself was pleasant. The staff were always smiling and helpful. But sometimes they seem hard of hearing. I complained about the phone in my room not working on Sunday and every day since.

By the time I left on monsoonish Friday, the line was deadly silent. Not that anybody was going to call, of course. But it’s welcome to hear a human voice now and then when calling room service or checking if the shuttle was going to turn up without walking up and down in the heat.
When in the room cut off from the reception, you do as one does in one’s room. Just work. Especially when the television channels are anorexic. DSTV is fast losing its winning genes on the continent too. It is the new skinny gene television. I flicked between the excellent CGTN and Al Jazeera, both channels providing incisive on the ground coverage of the awful ongoing attacks on the people of Palestine. The rain was a small challenge compared to the suffering of people, women, and children, having heavy artillery pour on them in Gaza.

South Africa meets Senegal: with academic Noohoo Diaby.

My well-airconditioned room 601 overlooked the palm-adorned swimming pool recreational area with views of the ocean. It oozes holiday vibes. Children and adults happily splashed in the pool. Music provided a carnival atmosphere. When the rains arrived on Tuesday nobody knew it would last all week. Dipping one’s toe in the ocean was not going to happen on this trip. Of course, one must return for that sea-sand in the toes on one’s own.
Still, in between the sessions on how the African Science Granting Councils Initiative seeks to strengthen science funding agencies in sub-Saharan Africa to support research and evidence that can be used to inform policies that will contribute to economic and social development. Less than 100 metres away from the beach, they discussed this task with vigour a costume or swimming trunks would not distract. Nobody was going to rain on the science councils’ impactful parade.

Being grateful for the opportunity to travel, I absorbed the information on over-load to enable one to champion stories of change in science throughout Africa. Yep, a blessed task.
But hotel living is a charmed life. Each morning mathematician Dr Japhet and I religiously began with the most important meal of the day. Breakfast was a mix of Wimpy meats Chowz – with more soul than the former but minus the zing you would get from the latter in Pineslopes, Lonehill. I wondered why they could not keep the wing pieces on the Cornish curry so one could fly go more often to Chowz. Hope you reading, Rodney, please put in a word with Mrs Naidoo, the chef. Their chicken is always cooked to perfection and the potatoes soft as soft should be. At Paradise Flamingo they seemed allergic to chilli. But one morning they had the best deep-fried potato and bhaja which had as much kick as the misfiring Manchester United striker Antony Martial.

feeling like Mr Potato Head after these yummy fries during tea-break at Paradise Inn.

In Mombasa I indulged in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They love their fried chips. Wedges. Roasted. Potato curry. Dhall was also daily diet. I pictured myself returning home like Mr Potato Head from Toy Story. Remember, his favourite line: “What are you looking at, ya hockey puck?” The lamb skewers on a braai during one of the welcome dinners was so tasty I had more than gluttonous few helpings. All the weight lost during road tripping with my friends in July returned with a vengeance in Mombasa. I maintain it’s important to take care of the 16-pack which is why I don’t exert energy but gently swipe my card when visiting the only Virgin in Waterfall. Peanut butter berry smoothie is not good for the blood sugar levels though.

The only working out in Mombasa seemed to be eating out. The persistent rains failed to dampen the spirits. Bearing in mind the name of the conference venue, I was in Paradise every day rubbing shoulders with wonderful men and women from beautiful Africa. My growing collection of brothers, sisters, friends, and colleagues throughout the continent leaves me restless in Johannesburg. Hungry for Africa!
Sandwiched in the packed programme was a visit to Fort Jesus, built 1 500 years ago by the Portuguese. It took an hour and a half because of the weather, awful traffic, and roads if one can call it roads. Given the tropical holiday vibes, perhaps, it is more to do with the fact that the roads flood when it rains, punctuality is an empty word.

Hustlers United: Taxi drivers in Mombasa reminds one of Jozi. 
Roti by any other name is roti: Special treat for breakfast at The Palm in Flamingo.

Having left later than planned for the fort, visited recently by King Charles, who also experienced heavy rains, we arrived in time for a lightning show to historical narration, and dinner accompanied by a storm. The tikka was divine. Samoosa too. The drive home reflected some of the pain and suffering Africans experience daily. As our bus headed from the fort to Shanzu Beach at around 11pm Thursday, people stood on unmarked roads waiting for transport. They looked at the bus and must feel left behind as Kenya talks the talk on economic development and sings above its weight on politics.

The image in the rain, a man, and his wife, holding a little girl, this late, made one feel that Africa is a harsh continent. But one can easily say that after a hearty meal and one’s stomach is being turned from Tintown to Timbuktu in the bus as it tried to break the one too many potholes to us gently.

Jesus Saves: Fort Jesus was built to secure the safety of Portuguese living on the East Coast of Africa between 1593-1596 and stands as a military landmark in Mombasa. 

Fort Jesus was a disappointment. All that effort for dinner and a history lesson. One would have preferred to have explored the dungeon at the fort more to feel the pain of those who walked 400 years before. Or just interacted with ordinary Kenyans in a suburb somewhere. By the way on the night the storms arrived with gusto, Japhet and I had dinner at the restaurant at the Flamingo. We both ordered the grilled fish. It was crispy. It took me back to Uganda where Charles Wendo and I had the best fish I’ve eaten. Here they had octopus on the menu and despite the recommendation, unadventurous me was not ready to eat something with eight appendages alone. Some of us can only manage one task at a time.

On the way as I buckled up for Johannesburg. Benvenuto, read the monitor on the Kenya Airlines flight. This was once a favourite destination too. The aircraft was not full on both trips. One could sit comfortably without feeling squashed. Their service was excellent. The return ticket was around R8000 which is a bargain. Fly Airlink (don’t) spat out a quote of around R12 000. The direct flight to Nairobi was under five hours. Impressive too was the signing up to the loyalty rewards programme while awaiting the connecting flight to Mombasa. Emma Mwakesho was amazing. She hooked me up, checked in on me, and ensured my points allocation was sorted. Service with a smile.

Mombasa was heartwarming and brief. The showers of blessings bountiful. Travel takes the body to beautiful places. The mind ramps it to destinations it can’t visit. Until this trip digests, remotely, yours. After Simple Minds Theme for Great Cities, Mombasa seems a fleeting fit for the Kingdom of Rain. Oh Sinead! The world still mourns you. In my mind, those generous Mombasa clouds never stopped its outpouring of love.

“You were the girl I wanted to cry with
You were the girl I wanted to die with

And you were the boy who turned into the man
Broke my heart and let go off my hand

Our bed is empty, the fire is out
And all the love we've got to give has all spurted out
There's no more blood and no more pain
In our kingdom of rain.”

“The The - Kingdom of Rain" (Sinead O’ Connor)

Edwin Naidu
Edwin Naidu
Jack-of-all-trades journalist Edwin Naidu talks about cars on Capricorn FM during the urban lunch adventure with King Bash on Friday.
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