Deadbeat Turtles

I have been living in Mombasa for close to 9 years now. (It sounds like a century when I say it aloud.) The night before we left Nairobi, I had vivid dreams of the house I’d be living in. It was expansive, with windows the size of Brexit and light rainbow curtains that blew in the wind to the roof. It had large glass sliding doors and windows, an open plan kitchen, and a fridge wider than river Ewaso Nyiro. Oh, it was also all white.

Fun costs money. Although many Kenyans love to have fun, the plans die like a mushroom at midday when we realise how much it will cost. However, the problem isn’t money; we don’t know where to have fun for little money. And I’m bringing you the cheat sheet.

Instead, I landed in a tiny apartment with a toilet so tiny I couldn’t shower and think at the same time. It had only one window, and it was neither glass nor sliding – it was by a wire mesh to keep away mosquitoes. That wire must have been manufactured at the same time as the Nyayo car. The house was white all right, but with Indomie advert all over on the outside walls.

I don’t need to tell you I wasn’t balling in that house. It was so hot that we had to leave and stay outside when we cooked. We didn’t live there for long, but it took a few years (and a few houses) to get a house that I remotely loved living in.

The best part of that life was, we went to the beach DAILY. It was new and fun and cheap – we just needed fare. After a while, the beach gets old. You need something new, and new things mean having money. You most definitely have established by now that we didn’t have much of that by then. What I didn’t know is you can have lots of fun for little money in Mombasa.

On Sunday, we decided we were going for a picnic. We wanted a picnic at the beach, but with some shade and green. We didn’t know where we’d get that, but one of us suggested we go to Jumba ruins in Mtwapa.

I’m not a fan of history. I dropped it in form two after learning about Agrarian Revolution and donkeys in Mesopotamia. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea for me. But I was excited to go out. So we agreed to make it a potluck and have a good time out.

I made popcorn and packed water. After the church service, we bought bananas from a hawker and waited for chips to be ready. We waited for so long; it left like we were helping Mandela finish his prison sentence. That is one thing that I’m yet to get used to as an ex-Nairobian. My people in Mombasa don’t count their chicks before they hatch. Even in the hotels, they start cooking when they see the mouths that will be eating. I grew white hair and developed arthritis while waiting for those potatoes.

And then we took the drive to Jumba la Mtwana. It’s a bit past Mtwapa town if you’re coming from Mombasa town. After the bridge, take a right turn and keep driving down until you see the signage. You’ll know you have arrived when you see Akothee’s white house. That house was the house in my dreams! I didn’t think it existed until I saw it! Heee, madam boss, I have seen my dreams with my own two eyes. If you’re reading this and need someone to manage it for you, say the word. My people will be in contact with your people.

We had hoped to bypass the ruins because we didn’t think we’d afford to pay the fees needed. We just wanted to access the beach. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that it only costs Ksh. 100 for adults and Ksh 50 for kids. We were two families with two children each. That was just Ksh. 600.

We parked and started our walk around. I may have hated history, but Jumba ruins aren’t history – it’s nostalgia. It’s stepping back into time and seeing a life far different from what you’re living that happened at the very place you’re stepping. I wasn’t prepared to be so moved by coral and cement from the 14th century.

The ruins are strategically set up on a raised part of the beach as a security strategy. The inhabitants needed to see the enemy ships approaching. Who else feels like we need something like this today? An app that identifies the pretenders and narcissists in your life and sounds a siren when you meet them?  

I was ready to die of boredom, but I was so pleasantly surprised. The grounds are green and perfect for a picnic. We spread our Maasai shawls on the ground and unpacked our lunch. One of the men on the trip had made samosas that were so good; I wanted to ask if manna was part of the ingredients. The view of the beach was perfect for melting problems, real and imagined.

The kids had a fantastic time in the waters. The best part of the trip was when we witnessed baby turtles being released into the water. Mommy turtles come to shore to lay their eggs, and when the eggs hatch, the tiny turtles scuttle away to the waters at night.

But the crabs know this, so they lay in wait. As the little turtles run to begin their lives, each crab grabs one. The turtles are now endangered. Because of this, the Kenya Wildlife Service and other conservation enthusiasts carefully remove the turtles, put them in a bucket, and release them into the water. The turtles need to walk to the water by themselves because the females have to find their way back to the beach they were hatched to lay their eggs when they are of age —talk of finding their true North. The males never come back on land. (deadbeat turtles!)

I couldn’t imagine we had had fun in Mombasa for so little. Clearly, all you need to have a great time in Mombasa is a means of transport and heavenly samosas. Watching the little turtles struggle to take their first walk home is a different type of Nirvana.