Unrest in Mombasa (Part II)
Since my last update, events have become considerably more interesting here in Kenya’s second city. After the riots quieted down on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday seemed to be a much more peaceful day. As the day went on, no new events were reported and all seemed at ease, even so, we had about 150 kids absent from school between the upper and lower schools; their parents had held them home over concerns for their safety. Their concerns were unwarranted though and the day continued on peacefully, though you can’t blame them for taking the route of caution. As the day progressed no news emerged and we had dorm meetings as we do on Wednesday nights. We ran through security and safety protocols just in case things took a turn for the worse. In all honesty, AKAM is one of the safest places the students and I could be right now. We are located on the extreme southern coast of the island and within 5 km of us are three police stations, an army barracks and the President’s Coast Provice State House. But precautions are still necessary. As we wrapped up the meeting, the kids turned on the TV and, lo and behold, perfectly timed after our wonderful talk meant to ease the fears of these boys, the news showed coverage of yet another grenade attack. Four police officers were killed when a young man threw an explosive into their van right in the center of town.
The conflict itself is a complex mix of religious, political and economic motivations. The town of Mombasa is predominantly Muslim, but there is also a strong Evangelical Christian component too. The original attack on the Cleric, Rogo, has still yet to be attributed to anyone. So, some of the younger, more radical and perhaps Al-Shabbab influenced segments of the Muslim population (this group being but a fraction of the total population) has been rioting and have since destroyed four churches. Certain loud voices of the minority have attempted to turn the situation into a religious conflict. Reassuringly, important and influential Christian and Muslim leaders in town have come together and made very clear their mutual concern over the portrayal of the situation as such and have called for unity amongst people of both faiths.
The other aspect has to do with the economy. Many people in Mombasa feel that the government in Nairobi has not done enough to support and encourage growth in Mombasa. Many people are out of work and gravely impoverished. A teacher I was talking made the observation that when you place someone in a position where they are unemployed, broke, hungry and now have a reason and an immediate target for their frustration, they are going to unleash all they have of the new target. Apparently this has been simmering for some time (Check out the Post-election violence from the last round of presidential elections here in Kenya).
Even with all of this activity going on in Mombasa, the President, Kibaki, arrived in town today to unveil his new 5 billion Kenyan Shilling warship, presumably bought to help intimidate Somali Pirates. With him came considerable security forces, we can only hope he stays through tomorrow, and here is why.
Friday prayers are some of the more highly attended prayers at the mosques. That is just a fact here. What that means is that a large number of the people who have been protesting are going to be all in one place on Friday afternoon and that is when the concern starts. There have been rumors flying that on Friday afternoon after prayers let out at 1 pm, the city is going to descent into further rioting on a large scale. School has been called off at the Academy, for the safety of the day students so they don’t have to commute through what could be a volatile city.
But again, these are rumors, but rumors not to be taken lightly. So this weekend I have a long weekend, but it’s the first long weekend I have been wholly unexcited for in my life.
Not to decrease the seriousness of the above section, but I do want to lighten the mood a bit so here is a brief foray into the world of the wildlife (kind of) of Mombasa.
Imagine your most peaceful sleep. Pure oblivion, dreams have come and gone and you are ensconced in pure blackness. Got it? Hold that thought for a while. Isn’t it nice? Now imagine that beautiful silence being shattered by the harsh CAW of a crow. No wait, thirty crows. No so nice anymore, huh?
Crows are an omnipresent beast here at AKAM. They squawk in the morning, afternoon and evening. They come in out of the blue uninvited, quite like Adele, through the open doors of the Commons during lunch and snatch unguarded food right off the plates of overly trusting students. They defecate on staff members. In short, they are evil, but why are they here? Because Mombasa is a port town, and with ports come rats. Once Mombasa had become the established port town of Kenya, they realized they had a rat problem. So what did they do? They created a crow problem. The crows were brought in from India to kill and eat the rats. Mission accomplished, but like so many invasive species, they found there were other things to kill and eat in Kenya, so they thrived, unfortunately.
Pigeons, equally ubiquitous, far less annoying
Millipedes are cooler. All over campus you see thick black carapaces that aren’t dissimilar to elongated tootsie rolls if they were darker. Upon closer inspection, you see the undulating red legs that moving in a hypnotic fashion to propel the little critter along. These guys are harmless. Apparently, they secrete some chemical that made them ideal for importation (I’m not sure where from) to limestone quarries in Kenya. They would break down the rock and make it easier to mine. Go figure. They too have thrived here and appear as often as the crows, but are far less of a nuisance.
Camels belong north of the Sahara and in the Middle East, right? Well, the last time I went to the beach and was playing a heated game of staff volleyball, up over the dunes came a camel that sat right down and watched us play. They roam the beaches, pulled along by profit seeking entrepreneurs who sell camel rides to beachgoers. I can only assume the Omani presence in the area from centuries ago allowed the importation of camels into the region, or they may have lived here before, I’m just guessing here.
Finally, Cats. I am a dog person through and through, which has made their absence here all the more noticeable. I think to date I have seen one dog, and that was on my trip with Lindsey up to Watamu. None since. But cats are everywhere: in the streets, in restaurants, at the Academy. You name it, they are there. There is one cat at a restaurant called Jahazi that is wonderful and friendly, but I can only assume the rest are petulant, moody and violent creatures. I miss dogs.
Pictures unrelated, just wanted to put some more up!
The entryway into my apartment, Oh the Places You'll Go indeed
Bedroom Door: The sign bears a mantra that is necessary here at AKAM
My well-stocked cupboard: Nutella, Pasta, Salt, Chips, Coffee, Tea, Red Wine and Jack Daniels
-Mzungu currently still safe, but surrounded by crows