Falling in Love with Mombasa – Dad’s Visit

I really wanted to show my Dad how awesome Kenya is, especially Mombasa. This was my Dad’s 3rd trip to Kenya and, if I am being honest, he needed a redeeming trip. His first two trips were ok…but he needed a trip to be wow’d by Mombasa leaving him wanting more. After his two weeks here, I think we managed to convince him how wonderful this place is. I also found myself falling in love with Mombasa all over again.

The kids were in school every morning leaving us to find different ways to keep ourselves busy. On day 1, Dad said to me, “lets go have a great breastfast while the girls are at school.” This kicked off our Mombasa breakfast date escapades for the next two weeks. We went to some of the best places in town for the best coffee and breakfast foods. We did Java House, Cafesserie, Vipingo Ridge, Voi Wildlife Lodge, SGR, 10th Street, MNKafe, Cafe Arabika, and our favourite local joint, Jaka’s place.

Dad’s favourite, hands down, was 10th Street. Honestly, this place surprised me. It was delicious! Dad had a scrumptious Moroccan egg dish and he thought the cappuccino was the best in Mombasa. Kelvin likes most places and refuses to choose a favourite. Although, he’s a sucker for a good Swahili breakfast so he would choose Jaka’s place over and over again. I am a lover of Caffesserie. Everything is such.good.quality and you can taste it. However, I am a die heart Java House fan. Any place that has a play ground for my kid’s gets an automatic win from me.

Dad loves golf so he loved our breakfast date at Vipingo ridge. The food was simply delicious, a little pricey and small, but still wonderful.

Dad thoroughly enjoyed his breakfast at 10th street. The waitress in the background wasn’t the happiest of people that morning. The restaurant is open 24 hours so maybe she was coming off night shift.

MnKafe’s signature logo on the cappuccino

I am a lover of sweet things so I loved MNkafe’s menu. This was a strawberry cheesecake waffle…like C’mon..it doesn’t get much better

Dad braving the local joint for some Swahili delicacies. We are pretty loyal to our mahamri and mbaazi.

Besides our breakfast dates, we did lots of fun things, touring around the coast. We visited some of our favourite spots on the ocean like Yul’s and English Point.

One of the biggest highlights for me was bringing Dad to Word of Life in Ukunda where Kelvin and I met almost 9 years ago. One aspect of living overseas is that you tend to have almost two separate lives. We have a whole world here in Kenya filled with community, memories, life, and more that our friends and family in Canada don’t know about. That’s why it is SO special when our two worlds collide.

Dad loved getting to see where Kelvin and I lived and worked and met. We showed him the rooms we lived in and where we ate and the people we worked with. Then we toured up and down the beach a while before heading to Nomad’s for lunch.

This is where our story began….

We did a one-day train adventure to Voi. We got the morning train to Voi, got off for 3 hours and hopped back on the one heading back to Mombasa. It was quite the adventure. We went to Voi Wildlife Lodge while in Voi and we were amazed! They have a watering hole right there and we watched animals come and go as we ate breakfast. It was probably our worst and most over priced breakfast, but I would go back there in a heart beat and spend a night or two.

Waaaaaay to excited for getting up waaaay to early to catch the train.

Grandpa and his grand babies watching the animals.

 

I showed Dad a bit around Old Town. I have to admit that I don’t love being in Old town anymore. I don’t feel entirely safe or comfortable. It was a quick tour around fort Jesus and through some streets then we went for coffee, hehe.

Dad treated us to a day at our favourite resort, Pride Inn Paradise! This is the place to be if you have kids. I was disappointed they up’d their rates from last year. It will have to be a really special occasion for us to go again. But it is totally worth it! Best resort for kids in Mombasa, hands down.

Amina couldn’t handle all the fun and passed out on her chair. Sweet girl.

Mercy’s best friend from school happened to be sitting in the chairs next to us so they went down the slides together for about 4 hours. Too much fun for this 3 year old.

Warning, this handsomeness might blind you. So happy he belongs to me!

 

We also did a day at Haller Park feeding giraffes, chasing monkeys, watching crocodiles, and hearing hippos fart. You know, the usual.

However, with everything we did and saw and ate, the best part of the two weeks was simply having grandpa around all day. We swam in our pool, read bedtime stories, coloured, watched movies, snuggled, and played.

We love you Grandpa! We are waiting for you and Grandma to come back soon!

The Day Tourists Took Pictures Of My African Child

We were on our way back from the most glorious 3 day safari in Amboseli (highly recommend it!), and we had stopped at a small curio shop to use the bathrooms before continuing on our long journey back to Mombasa.

Just as we were about to leave, a tour van filled with middle eastern tourists arrived. They alighted the vehicle with their khaki pants, fanny packs, and cliché safari hats along with their large DLSR cameras strapped around their necks. All of the sudden they notice my Mercy. They all gravitated towards her with big smiles on their faces and talking in their interesting accents telling her how cute and beautiful she is. Not to boast, but my girls do tend to get a lot of attention for their looks probably because they are both beautiful and very different. I tend to let people state their praises and I respond with a gentle, “Thank you.” (Because seriously, what else are you supposed to say to people who admire your kids’ looks?)

Then they whip out their big, fancy cameras, probably full of shots of the elusive Big 5, and start snapping photos of my daughter. One by one, they go stand beside her and take pictures with her.

Everything inside of me cringed.

Mercy seemed OK with it. She wasn’t upset but she definitely wasn’t loving it. I will always make sure my kid feels safe and protected.

I walk over to Kelvin and our driver and say, “Is this ok? How do you guys feel about this?” They just laugh and say it’s all good.

The mommy in me started getting a little territorial about my kid’s face being all stored up in their big fancy cameras. Where was this picture going to go? On the internet? In a photo album? Or just stay on their memory disk and eventually deleted? I don’t know. But I didn’t like (and still don’t like) the thought of my child’s face out there for everyone/anyone/no one to see.

I eventually was over all the picture taking and gently asked Mercy to come to me so we can go.

There is a lot of criticism for foreigners taking photos of African children. I have always tried to be conscious of this but it wasn’t until this particular event that I got a whole new perspective. I was put in their shoes and I really didn’t like it.

It’s a hard balance to figure out which pictures to take and where or how they should be posted, if at all. Social media has made things complicated but at the same time wonderful and beautiful.

As someone who lives in Africa and has family and friends on the other side of the world, social media is so important to staying in touch with my loved ones back home. I have debated on many occasions giving it up but because so many of our dearest people live so far away, it’s often the only way we can keep up with each other.

But I do live in Africa and the majority of my friends are African. I can’t shy away from taking pictures with my friends. Often if I take a picture with an ‘African child’, it’s usually the child of a really good friend of mine. And quite often I am the only one who knows that fact so from the outside it might just look like a photo of another white girl with the African children.

Because we run a non-profit organization, we have to take photos. It is hard to gain donors if they don’t actually see where their money is going. It’s just not effective. We have been criticized in the past for taking photos, particularly of soccer kids, for our own gain. It stung a little bit. However, once these people, who were questioning us, saw how generously we give back to the community through our soccer tournaments, their mouths were silenced.

The other day I was at the field taking photos of our tournament and some guy walked in and made some off handed comment that of course the white girl is taking photos. That stung a bit too. I wanted to stop him and explain why I am taking photos and who will see them and how they will benefit the community but I knew that he would then just laugh at the while girl rambling at him about taking photos.

Because of all this, I have come up with a few personal guidelines when it comes to taking photos here in Kenya:

  • We make sure people are aware of why we are taking photos especially at our soccer tournaments. Kelvin made a whole speech of it actually at the end of our tournament. We also make sure that we follow through with what we say we will do with the photos and that the community will benefit. If we say this will help us get kids into to school, we make sure we pay kids’ school fees.
  • We tell people in the beginning that if they want to be a part of our programs, they need to expect to have their photos taken because these programs don’t run without donors and donors rarely give without seeing where their money is going.
  • In saying that, we also make sure that the photos represent ACCURATELY what is going on. I can take a photo of a young girl with a sad face and say that ‘women are oppressed in this community’ when in reality this girl might just be sitting watching a game unaware her photo is being taken so she doesn’t put on a smile.
  • We only post photos that we know the people featured in the photo would be proud to have it displayed. I don’t want anyone going, ‘Oh man why did they have to post THAT picture of me?’
  • We also try give photos to the people in them. If I take a flattering photo of you playing soccer, I will do my best to send it to you for your own use. I know I love when people do that to me!
  • I personally try not to post snarky photos. I do have a witty sense humour that not everyone gets. I try not to let it come out in photos especially if it might offend someone. Like for instance, the other day there was a white guy in a speedo sun tanning in our compound….I could have taken a picture and posted something witty about this guy getting burnt to a crisp in his tight panties…but I refrained and just giggled to myself. I don’t think I would want someone to do the same to me.
  • Then this might be the most important rule for me: always make sure I am posting and taking a picture of something that is true and meaningful and honouring to all the people in the photo.

Here are two photos of me and Kenyan girls. From first glance, they are both great photos. But knowing the story behind them changes how I use them.

The above photo is one of my all-time favourite photos of me because it very accurately represents my relationship with these girls. This photo captured one of the thousands of moments I have had over time with these girls. I know their names, their stories, their lives. They are dear friends to me that I still keep in contact with. I would be doing the same thing even if there was no camera taking my photo.

The second photo doesn’t have the same story. I had been running into this girl at the field so we started talking and hanging out a bit when we saw each other. However, just before I took this photo, she pleaded with me to help her pay school fees. I had to explain to her our organization’s policy in giving out money for school and, unfortunately, she didn’t qualify. I only took this photo to lighten the mood after our conversation. This is the ONLY photo of me from our recent tournament and I SO wanted to use it, but I didn’t quite feel comfortable considering our conversation. Hopefully, I can meet her again and start building a relationship that goes beyond school sponsorship.

I will admit that I don’t always get it right and I am sure I have offended people. For that, I’m sorry and I am purposing to do better.

Being able to take photos is a gift! I love all the treasured memories I have on my phone or computer or in hard copies. Let’s keep making sure we do it honourably, responsibly, and with meaning.

Figuring Out Where We Fit

2017 will go down as the year we spent figuring things out.

Profound, right? (You can now book me for my motivational speeches;))

There was a lot of things to figure out from school to church to cheese and curtains and so much more.

But one of the biggest things we had to figure out was where we ‘fit’ or ‘belong’ when it comes to community and friends.

This was supposed to be easy. Kelvin grew up in Mombasa and already has a built-in community not to mention his entire family lives here. I moved to Mombasa just over nine years ago so I have a solid set of friends that I call community. But after four years of living in Canada, things changed. Our good friends and family were definitely still here, but we all had moved on and grown. As Kelvin put it, we needed to almost ‘re-friend our friends’. This was actually a lot harder than we anticipated.

At some point, I said to God, “Can you please build my community? Can you bring people into my life that you want me to be around? People who you know are good for me and my family and that we can also be good for them. People who we can call family and do life with genuinely.”

Then I had to lay down all my expectations and let God work. This is an exciting and dangerous thing to do because knowing God the way I do, He will find something for us that is so different that what we imagine and yet exactly what we need.

I can tell you for sure one place that we fit that wasn’t even on my radar….

Uwanja wa Mbuzi (directly translated as ‘field of goats’)

I have imagined my kids getting older and being asked, “So tell me about your childhood? Where did you grow up?” and their answer will involve this soccer stadium in the middle of a vibrant, ghetto community on the coast of East Africa with a community of middle-aged men who adore the living pants off them.

Weird, right? Yet, it fits so well for us.

My kids walk into that stadium like they own the place. They know every nook and cranny of the field. They know where to find the bathrooms and where the sewage holes that Amina threw her shoes in a few weeks ago are. They know when they are allowed to run on the turf and how many stairs there are to the top. They know not to step on the tiles that move and not to climb on the fence.

They adore the people who hang out and work there. And I am pretty sure they are equally adored by the people. You need to understand that most of the people who hang out there on a regular basis are younger to middle aged men. Only a handful of kids play there. My girls have these men wrapped around their man-fingers. Mercy bounces into the stadium and makes an effort to go hug and say hi to all the men she knows. They call for her from the other side of the bleachers and she races to give them a high five. The referee brings them on to the field at half time and chases them up and down. They join into the team huddles at the end of the game and look up at all the exhausted, sweaty men making the guys giggle at their cuteness. They know the men who chew miraa (a local drug) who always have a pack of gum ready to give them.

They are two small, Kenyan-Canadian girls who belong at a stadium filled with middle-aged men in a ghetto on the coast of Africa.

On Sunday, I took the girls to the field to go pick up their Daddy after his game. Like usual, they left me alone and frolicked around greeting everyone. After a few minutes, they race back to me with gum in their mouths (from their miraa chewing buddies) and Mercy declared, “MOM! I just have SO many friends!”

This is so not the community I anticipated for my family. However, it’s completely the community that I believe God is so fond of. A community where total opposites love and are loved. A community where we are free to be who we were created to be and still be accepted. A community of misfits. A community where a tiny, half white, half black Christian girl, jumps on the back of a big, rough and tough, Muslim man and the two of them laugh in delight.