Do not do this in Mombasa

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For a long time, Mombasa has been associated with beauty- beautiful weather, beaches, sky, palm trees, hotels and women. I grew up on tales about Coastal women, how their captivating smiles would make a man forget even the way back home. If, say a chap called Odhiambo from Gem visited Mombasa for a holiday and ended up not going back to his village, people would say that he probably met a beautiful woman from the coast and for whatever reason he found it not befitting his stature to walk away from such beauty.

His people would beseech their ancestors to intervene and make Odhiambo see the light and go back to Gem- to Akinyi his wife and six children. Unbeknownst to them, Odhiambo would have found the light in Mombasa in form of a light-skinned princess from Digo land; after seeing the light there is pretty much nothing more left for Odhis to see!

Even after slaughtering all their livestock to appease the ancestors, love would prevail and Odhiambo would stay in Mombasa. He would even change his accent and you can only tell he is from Gem from the sporadic vocabulary and facts he throws into a conversation. Damn, the chap would even beget a new name; he would be known as Hamisi Abdallah Odhiambo with the honourable title of Doctor if his fav subject was Biology!

His mother would keep calling and begging him to go back home (he has missed three family burials so far)and maybe bring his new bride with him. If not, his mother says, i wil send a delegation of elders to drag you back!

Ultimately he will agree and take Rehema along with him, and his people would be awestruck by her beauty, her brown skin, tiny waist, round eyes, soft voice(as if she dips the voice in honey to marinate overnight) and the way she sways those hips while walking. The trees and hyacinth in Lake Victoria would sway along with her. The birds, not used to such blinding beauty would chirp away joyfully every time she passed. It would be like a real life rehearsal of Snow White!

Rumour has it that the reason upcountry men disappear in Mombasa never to return to their villages is because of our women (we appreciate the compliment, thank you). They say our women know how to treat a man, how to keep him happy and smiling and proud of being a husband. The way to a man’s heart being his stomach, Mombasa women are naturally inclined to smooth this way with the most delicious foods; delicacies that upcountry women (no pun intended) know nothing about.

While our women lovingly squeeze out the coconut milk to make mouth watering food, upcountry lasses scoop out the coconut into huge chunks and serve them in mabati plates for their husbands to eat with strong tea!

For Coastal women, cooking is an art that they cherish and perform with a lot of love. They take their time to make the food, paying attention to every detail. With them every day is a new day to discover a better way of making another recipe. They invest time and energy to ensure the food prepared is world class so the family can have a “Kempinsky” treat every day in the house.

That is one of the many good things that Coastal women can do ninety percent of the time. The remaining ten percent is far from sweet; it borders on their other angrier and violent side padded with insults.

Yes, insults! When they are super pissed off they will bury you in a truck load of these. It will startle you because naturally they are very jovial and sweet birds at the best of times but once they go all ballistic you will pray that the earth swallows you in whole- you won’t even wait to be buried in the insults, utajizika mwenyewe!

A couple of months back i was at Tuskys Digo road doing some shopping; nothing fancy, just a tube of Colgate. There was a middle aged lady clad in a buibui and a young girl, barely eighteen whom i presumed to be her daughter.

Right behind them was a gentleman; looked around twenty eight. Judging from his shoes and time piece he probably had a good job. He had a pack of noodles and ketchup in his shopping basket which gave him away as a bachelor- it’s mostly bachelors who purchase noodles, easier and faster to cook.

For some reason, maybe just coz he is a man, the gentleman made a pass at the girl (let’s call her Babes), checked out her ass and his eyebrows moved up and down (voluntary or otherwise) like the the NSE share index during an election year. The girl NKTeed in capital letters which made her mum look to see what was up. Unfortunately, Mamake Babes found Mr. Fancy shoes’ hungry eyes rested on her Brown, petite daughter- that’s when all hell broke loose. It was like a thousand zombies released at the same time with only his (Mr. Fancy shoes) brain to feed on!

Mamake Babes, who up to then looked like a very composed woman who could vie successfully for a women rep position started releasing canon after canon of heavy PG rated insults. The kind of insults my late Granny used to call ‘stuff you will be feeding on your entire life like a college degree’.

We were all stunned. Mr. Fancy shoes just stood there utterly speechless like someone had just undressed him in public and he had tattered underwear. Other shoppers stopped whatever they were doing to watch the drama. Every time the guy tried opening his mouth perhaps to apologize, Mamake Babes would shut him up with another devastating canon, it’s like she had the entire arsenal of the US Marines with her.

Babes also threw in some really nasty insults, stuff she shouldn’t be having in her vocabulary at her age.

They did leave the poor guy alone, eventually and he just stood there like a buoy in the ocean, rocking to the wave of the just concluded one sided warfare. Later on as he was paying for his noodles and ketchup i gave him a reassuring look, like to console him ‘take heart bro, it happens to the best of us’. He sighed deeply like a man who was dead tired after walking from South Africa to Kenya.

That is Mombasa for you. If you don’t check where your gaze is resting, some irate mother might just set you right.

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Abu Amirah

Abu-Amirah is a Mombasa-based writer whose story “The swahilification of Mutembei” was shortlisted for the Writivism 2016 short story prize. He is currently working on getting his first short-story anthology published.