Seaports mark the starkest of borders. Here, water. There, land. In each direction: distinctly different imaginings of the unknown region beyond.
Mombasa is one of those dream starter places for me. When I look east, toward the water, I see the ghost images of centuries of sailing ships coming and going from the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent, China and even Europe.
When I look west, there’s the bustling modern port, a historic gateway to the heart of East Africa but with the distinctive sounds and scents of the Arab world.
Past, present and future converge in my mind’s eye as I think about this complex city, the second largest in Kenya.
Mombasa is not at all like the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. There, members of all the various tribes of the country and descendants of former colonialists make their homes in a cosmopolitan city founded a couple of hundred miles inland, an arbitrary stopping point along the rail line planned in the 1890s by the British when they ruled this part of the continent.