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Mtwapa - A Confluence of International Cultures

‘Mtu wa hapa,’ is believed to be the original name of Mtwapa.Accoding to oral traditions, these words were used by local Swahili people to differentiate themselves and visitors from Middle East, Europe, China other parts of Africa. The early Swahili had a common culture, but modern Mtwapa has  added international lifestyle into it.

Last week, I became a, ‘mtu wa hapa’ for three hours. I took a van (Matatu) at Mombasa Island’s Marikiti bus stop at six forty, in the evening. The car, which was fully packed, smelled of stale beer, sweat and female perfume. It was fully packed with thirteen passengers and the conductor. I sat at the front seat, sandwiched between two middle-aged women who wore tight black jeans and tee shirts. In the front seat, next to the driver an elderly white man rested his hands on the shoulders of a young African woman.

“I’m Bon-ven-tura.” He kept on saying, in heavy Italian accent, amid blaring reggae music from the van’s speakers.

I was the first to alight after the vehicle crossed Mtwapa Bridge. It must have been quarter to eight because I could hear the voice of muezzin calling Muslims for the last communal prayer of the day. I crossed the road and followed the loud African drums and bass, which came from Casuarina Club. Six girls were in the arena, dancing Chakacha-a dance that involves rotating of waist as if the dancer was in bed with her lover. Women were clapping and men shouted seductive words. The air was humid with sweat. I stomped out for fear of fainting.

I walked towards the direction which had been taken by the Matatu.Traffic was heavy and couples strolled in the streets, holding hands. Matatu conductors shouted for customers because very few people were going to the city center.

I resisted Reggae music from Kawawa hotel and fond myself in Kandara bar. Women were everywhere in the entrance, around the counter, in staircase and on bonnets of hooting taxis. I resisted their seducing gestures, walked out, bypassed Club Garden, Thika and Peluma guesthouses, and Kamanjira Bar and Kenchic inn. Tall Maasai men in traditional dress and holding clubs guarded all these areas.

People sat in the corridors, playing cards as they chewed miraa (intoxicating leaves). I entered Lambada Hotel to run away from the street noise. I was welcomed by pop music. Every seat in the ground floor was occupied. I went to upstairs; it was fully packed with soccer fans that were watching a match between Liverpool and Chelsea. It seemed as if they in a stadium, going by the gusto in which, they were jumping and calling on players’ names.

I sat on the staircase of the swimming pool and ordered for white coffee. I sipped it as I watched dancers splashing each other with water.  Later, I discovered that the game is known as splash disco. I left the hotel after an old white woman missed her young Rastafarian mate and splashed my face. It was twenty-five minutes past nine. I wanted an African dish, so I moved deeper in search for boiled maize and beans, mixed with potatoes and cabbages. In this section, housed were made of dry palm leaves and mud. People, in corridors were listening to Taarab music. After taking supper in a lantern-lit kiosk, I went back through the pervious route. I bumped on The Kenda Hotel

“Any available space?” I asked a uniformed guard at the entrance.

“Today, we’ve the best acrobats in town performing. Doyou expect empty spaces?” He lit a cigarette.

“I’ve just returned a group of pensioners and their African girlfriends.” He said.

I headed towards the bus stop thinking about the last two words of the guard. The words took my mind back to an article I had read in a local newspaper. The feature had claimed that Mtwapa one of the leading pornography producers in Kenya.

It was ten minutes to midnight. Time to go back home.