The second part of my trip to Kenya took us to Mombasa. As with part one, this is a journal style recount of my trip; I'll be saving some of the deeper reflections for later posts. For the sake of privacy, I have largely left out individual names with the exception of public figures and organizations.
Fort Jesus at Night.
The flight to Mombasa was quick and uneventful. I wrote in my travel journal the entire time we were in the air. While we were free to do what we wanted for dinner that first night, most of us opted to follow our colleague Abdul to one of his favorite spots in Old Town. It was an easy decision for me. A good bit of travel advice that should go without saying; you can’t beat food recommendations from locals. Forodhani did not disappoint - the food was delicious.
Walking Through Old Town.
After dinner we had a brief walk through a small stretch of Old Town. I love the oldest parts of cities, especially ones that have been around as long as Mombasa. This night was also my first time seeing the Indian Ocean, but I didn’t get any good pictures until the next day.
Looking out at the Indian Ocean.
For the fifth day, our cohort broke into three different groups. My group spent the day with HAKI Africa and learning about the issues surrounding Countering Violent Extremism and Extrajudicial Killings. This was one of the heaviest days of the trip.
Photo taken from HAKI Africa's Facebook Page.
HAKI Africa has been a champion of embracing youth-led organizations as a means of countering violent extremism. For our first stop, we met with a several leaders from a plethora of different youth groups. All of the groups shared a similar objective of counter-acting gang violence as well as the violent responses by the police. Some of their efforts were centered on religion, others focused on sports and after-school programs. There was one focused on arts and theater as well. I know a few of us in my group were struck by some of the similarities between what we were hearing and struggles back in the US.
For the next stop we met with victims of forced disappearances. We heard the first hand accounts of several individuals whose sons, husbands, and brothers had simply disappeared after being arrested. The police action here is done in the name of counter-terrorism against recruitment efforts of al Shabaab. The families that are left behind are not given any answers. They are never told what their family member has been accused of and there is no trial. In every case we heard, they didn’t even know if their loved one was still alive.
The heaviness of the morning left me with a lot to unpack. I’m still unpacking it. We had lunch with a number of officers from the national and regional police forces. It was a bit surreal after the stories we had just heard that morning. Still, it was an opportunity to learn more about their justice system. For instance, I learned that all of the references we had been hearing to the police since earlier that morning were referring to the national police. There are regional authorities, but they do not carry guns. After lunch we met briefly with the Police Commissioner.
Photo with the Mombasa County Police Commissioner.
Before wrapping up for the day, we sat in on one of the Commissioner’s local Advisory Boards. One of the issues before the group was reintegration of individuals who had been recruited by al Shabaab but wanted to get out. In theory, this is a practice to be encouraged but the legality and accountability aspects of are messy. There was a wide range of community representation at the table, and they even asked us if we had some thoughts and insight on the issue. On a day that showed us a wide disparity of views and experiences, it was reassuring to see a group with the Commissioner's ear speaking so candidly about the challenges before them.
The Dhow in the sunset.
From there we headed back to the hotel. I had roughly twenty minutes to share my latest blog post across my social media accounts while it was still early morning back in New York. It was a special post I had been working on for months in honor of my late partner’s birthday. I spent a lot of this trip running from one place to another, absorbing the sensory overload, journaling, and saving the processing for later. I thought of Blair’s belief in the importance of travelling, of seeing the world and experiencing new perspectives. It felt like no coincidence that on his birthday, I was the farthest from home I had ever been.
Boarding the Dhow.
We had some group reflections with the whole cohort before heading to dinner on board a traditional dhow. We set sail right at sunset. The views were stunning and the food was delicious. I ate out of a seashell. It was strange starting the day in such a heavy place and ending it with a touristy dinner on the sea, but I was starting to get accustomed to that sort of whiplash. Privilege is archaic and determined by traits that are largely beyond any one individuals control, and yet it shows up everywhere.
Dinner on the Dhow.
After we got back I was invited to go out drinking in Old Town, but I could barely keep my eyes open. There was another point in my life where I never would have missed out on such an opportunity, but I’m confident I made the right decision. Sometimes getting a good night’s sleep is all that really matters.
Some cool architecture in the heart of the city.
I got up early, packed my suitcase, and rushed to get some breakfast after checking out. Our first stop was back to Fort Jesus to take a group photo of the whole cohort. We then met with Mombasa’s Deputy Governor and staff. The gave a presentation and talked about how the process of devolution had played out in Mombasa. For those of you hoping I might now provide a detailed account of that devolution discussion, I am sorry to disappoint.
Cohort Group Photo in front of Fort Jesus.
While we had a little bit of down time, some of us bought coconuts from one of the street vendors. I’m a big fan of the bottled stuff back in the states, so it was nice to drink directly from the source. We then had lunch with a group of local fishing community, where we asked them questions about their trade. After that we walked to one of the launching docks near the fish market and took (yet another) group photo, this time with the fishermen. We took a lot of group photos on this trip.
Out on the docks.
Then it was off to the airport for our charter flight to Kisumu. I will admit that I was a little anxious about flying on a small plane, but it ended up being really smooth.
Boarding our charter plane.
If I had realized we would get a picturesque view from the plane, I would have chosen a better seat. This Mount Kilimanjaro (to the right of the plane's wing) peaking above the clouds while the sun was setting.
And with that, we landed in Kisumu and started the final leg of our trip.
Next Stop: Kisumu.
Keep an eye out for Part III next week.