Where Have The Days Gone Mombasa!

I’m seated in a room full of heads and bodies just brave enough to be here. Armed with pen and paper, they’re young, scrappy and hungry for whatever the speaker has prepared. A cure or poison. I screw my head in, left and right and except for the elderly man seated next to me, none of these faces are new. Fellow serial seminar attendees. I call us salt because you’ll find us in everything. But that doesn’t dilute this of being an act of braveness. This attempt to break away from generational curses. To want to change our points of reference. It’s one thing to hear how someone from abroad “made it” but a whole new meaning takes shape when it’s one of our own. We laugh through and through, at some point get emotional, we nod in agreement and a standing ovation when the speech is done. That’s when I turn to the elderly man and we begin talking about Mombasa. He speaks of U.N meetings and how things here need to change. I jump right in with “but things are changing. Just look at all these faces.” To which he sits back and chuckles, “My son… most of these people are just here to clap.”

We’re in the age of celebration. Not a day goes by without seeing at least one status/ story saying we celebrate you so and so. Don’t get me wrong, that’s beautiful. Strides, considering where we are from. Just a few years back like someone pointed out, our motto in Mombasa was Asimamaye mtege “He who stands must be tackled.” We’d actually unite to see that no one prospers further than where we all are and that earned us a reputation out there, making being called “mcoasty” or “mswahili” as abusive as it gets.

Now, this new generation seems to lean towards a different narrative. They’re building support systems, uniting, sharing opportunities and if they are to compete, they’re competing to see who can do the most for their community. They’re networking, believers of the rule of 5. And where else is one to meet the 5 he becomes the average of than seminars; in crowds as willing as he to invest in themselves.

But then again it seems, the old man had crept into my cranium. Why are we really here?

If it’s information we seek, to act upon, haven’t we gathered enough already? I look around in search of answers to validate this moment lest I render it as vain or a disillusionment. Maybe we’re here for what everyone else is after; the sense of belonging. To feel we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. A part of this new wave. And just maybe, this is our curse; to forever be dwarfed on the shoulders of giants.

I was advertising an upcoming youth seminar. It’s on something deeply rooted in my beliefs; overcoming digital addiction, more so, rescuing yourself from pornography, among other topics. So, I had the poster for that on my WhatsApp status and immediately, an acquaintance texted to inquire about it. I explained the whole thing and she proceeded to ask if unemployment would be one of the topics and I said, I guess, ’cause it’s the main issue facing us as youth, yeah? Then she proceeds to ask: “Are they going to give us money?” And then breaks out into a rant on how there are no jobs and these seminars seem to serve to just keep us busy and not necessarily provide solutions, or jobs for that matter. In fact, she’d attended so many that she realized they play a huge role in her being broke. I laugh it off with her but then again, those are the conversations that get you thinking.

I think a lot about Mombasa that it’s a passion. And I believe we could benefit a lot more from looking back through history before moving forward. On one of the oldest cities in Kenya. To the golden age of architecture, literature in its highest form and culture in all its richness uncontaminated. A time when everyone in the interior was basically a savage, fractured into factions while we through diplomacy established ties with the world, through a trade that flourished. If we look back to that and see how far we’ve fallen, I think we’d hold ourselves by standards much higher and realize a lot more needs to be done in just this one lifetime, than seminars.

What then? I honestly have no idea, but I picture something with longer-lasting effects.

I guess we could all start by individually, making things happen. Instead of just putting a set of people on pedestals and use them as references to what can be achieved by “people of Mombasa”, let’s all aim to be that point of reference, by discovering our gifts, working on them and sharing them with the world. Have the generations after being spoilt for choice on who to look up to.

And if we are to attend seminars, let it be for a purpose and not just because. We’re creating a market for organizations not necessarily interested in helping us but to feed into the high we’re chasing, being told what we already know by people we deem “on another level.” Which pumps us up for a day and in the next we forget.

I like mentorship schemes though, despite not believing in charging someone so you can help them. So maybe, more of those and more accountability. I remember a meme explaining the difference in mindsets. Out there, people think, “If he can do it, then I can do it. If no one can do it, then I definitely must do it.” Then there’s us, “If he can do it, let him do it. If no one can do it, Habibi, who am I to even try.” I imagine that to be scene in seminars, we go in search of people making things happen and be satisfied with just knowing them, playing no part on our side.

Belonging, change, Mombasa, Seminars, Youth


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.

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