6 January 2019
I knew we were late for our beach trip as soon as I woke up because the light was already filtering through the curtains. A week earlier, we had left the house while it was still dark outside and got to the beach with enough time to watch the sun rising from the ocean. Since then we’d been trying to go again but none of us had managed to wake up early enough. But today was my last day in Mombasa, I was leaving for Nairobi in the afternoon, and I was determined to get one last day at the beach.
I went to the kids’ bedroom, to check if they were up. The kids—two nephews and a niece—were sprawled in different states of sleep in their bunk beds. I called my niece’s name a few times before she responded, and told her to wake up her brothers and her father, my cousin. About twenty minutes later, we left the house and drove to Nyali.
When we got to Nyali Beach Hotel, we turned into the narrow road that led to the public beach. The place was packed, and it was hard to find parking, but we finally got a spot.
Unlike the last time where there were barely ten people swimming and occasional joggers, there were dozens of men: some worked out in groups while others played football up and down the beach. I felt a bit self conscious as I was the only woman there, and many of the men stopped to stare as I walked past. I wished loudly we had come earlier, but the kids told me that even if we had come earlier it wouldn’t have made much of a difference because Sundays are always crowded.
My cousin and his oldest son joined a football game while my niece, her younger brother, and I got into the water. I had worn a dera on top of my swimsuit and the kids had their pajamas on, so we removed them. We puzzled for a moment about where to leave our stuff, and decided to leave it on the sand with our shoes, out of the way of the waves, but where we could watch it. We walked into the water and I made the kids pose for a few photos. Despite the later hour, the sun was covered in clouds, and the rays seeping through them reflected on the ocean giving a greyish silver light which made the beach look blurred.
I held my phone high as we waded into the water—I was trying to get more pictures of the view. A man approached our stuff, carrying a yellow jerrican of water. He rinsed sand and salty water off himself and gestured to ask if he could place the jerrican near our stuff. We nodded yes, and then he asked why I had my phone in the water. I decided I had enough pictures and since I didn’t want to drop my phone I asked one of the kids to go place it under our clothes.
I can’t swim and the kids were still in the early stages of their lessons, so we stuck close to the beach, practicing floating and paddling our legs, occasionally venturing deeper only to rush back giggling when one of the kids got spooked by something they stepped on. Occasionally we would look out for my cousin and his son, and find them deeply engaged in their football.
After about an hour, the footballers left their game and came to join us. We watched them swim for a while before it was time to leave. As we were getting out of the water, we saw a camel make its way slowly, and we all stopped to wonder what it was doing there so early. I quickly snapped a picture of it and we walked back to the car. My cousin and I cleaned the sand off the kids with the water we had in carried in big bottles in the boot of the car. After we cleaned up we left the beach, just as it started to drizzle.
We drove for about ten minutes and stopped outside a flat to buy breakfast. The rain had stopped and there was a woman seated outside the flat, surrounded by pans on top of charcoal jikos where she was cooking bhajia za kunde, viazi karai, and mahamri. Several people stood waiting while another woman took their orders and packed their food in old newspapers. We sent my oldest nephew to get our breakfast, including enough for everyone we left in the house. Ten minutes later we were on our way back home, sampling some of the snacks to soothe our hunger pangs as we waited to get home to enjoy them accompanied by Swahili tea.
Aisha Ali Haji