Old town. More of Ghost town now…. I woke up today feeling like I wanted to take a stroll in the good old Old Town and take a look at the rich Swahili culture it always has to offer. It took a while before I got ready dressing up trying to blend in and look like one of the locals and not ‘wa bara‘.
After all, this had been my home for more than a decade before college took me away. Traffic into town is a thing of the past now. Pirates beach is no longer as public as it used to be. In fact, it has a bright blue fence covered in graffiti now. Hurray for art! There’s a lot of it in the city now. Most of the art seems to be celebrating Covid heroes, all the while sending messages of preventing the spread of the deadly virus. After all, art is supposed to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable, right?
Anyways, back to my story. Old Town is literally Ghost town now. As you alight from your Tuk tuk you’ll probably notice that Fort Jesus is no longer accessible to the general public. I look around desperately hoping to see my regular biriani lady. Today is not Friday, but normally I’d get tasty original pilau here midweek.
My palate curses this damned pandemic and my stomach follows suit! I peek longingly into the Portuguese style Fort gates and wonder if there’s a way to sneak into the Fort. I miss the aura of mystery and inevitable workout you get from walking inside the Fort. The many tour guides with impeccable Swahili who have mastered the history of the Fort like their lives depend on it.
We meet a few of the tour guides heading to Old Town, since there’s nowhere else to go anyway. The streets feel peaceful. A painful kind of peace. An empty kind of peace. The ever busy hotels and curio shops are all closed, with an exception of one here and there. The clothes and artefacts on display fading in the strong coastal sun. They say atafutaye hachoki, akichoka kesha pata.
A few meters in, just hear the famous Forodhani Restaurant, we meet Abdi and his friends who’s names I couldn’t get in between the heavy miraa chewing. They lament how business is no longer thriving. The closure of the beaches and reduced flow of tourists rendered them jobless. They are beach boys who double up as tour guides.
“Lakini Sasa twamwonyesha nani huku? Si basi kila mtu ni mwenyeji sasa?”
After a little chatter, they continue dividing their bunch of jaba among themselves. The only thing they have now.
After talking to a few more traders, I’m kind of overwhelmed by the many sad tales at the once glorious Old Town. Luckily, we come across a gate that leads to the ocean. I breathe in the salty yet delicious ocean air.
Now I had missed this! Coupled with the breathtaking view of the open sea and the English Marina, this is a literal piece of heaven. Now I understand why there are so many people diving and enjoying the view, oblivious or disregarding the existence of Covid altogether. After all, the ocean sanitizes us all. Or so I heard.
Whether that’s a myth or a fact, I’m just gonna have to wait for these lads swimming there to shed some more light on it, at a one meter distance though!