This town is a fantastic maze of narrow streets, tall buildings, donkeys, graffiti, pink blossomed trees, open drains, people, smells, children, cats, mud, ruins, palm trees, ornate carvings, ancient tombs, women cooking in doorways, men chewing miraai, thatched rooves, rubbish in the streets, craftsmen, restaurants, guest houses, power cables, water pipes, tourists, fishermen, boat makers, dirt, humidity, cybercafes, tailors, men discussing politics in courtyards, islamic chants, prayer calls, mosques, black cloaked women, lush courtyards, fish, smoke, streetside grills, corrugated iron rooves and a million and one other things all happening at the same time.
The first impression I have of the town is it is dirty, smelly and chaotic. The buildings have paint peeling or look like they’re made of breeze blocks without any exterior decoration. It’s difficult to get an overview of the whole place as the streets are only just wide enough for two people, and the buildings tower above, cutting out the sun and holding in an oppressively hot atmosphere, full of all sorts of smells – mainly the smell of donkey poo though.
A guide who calls himself ‘the chief’ gives me a tour of the town. He’s particularly proud of the carved door frames which he keeps pointing out to me. There are twenty-seven mosques in the town, but only a couple of them are anything to look at – most of them look pretty much the same as any other house, except for the pile of sandals outside at prayer time. The excess of mosques unfortunately means that I get woken at five every morning by a cacophony of prayer calls.
We keep walking along the narrow streets, abruptly turning off down another side street which looks just like the last one. I’m soon completely lost, but fortunately my guide knows exactly where he is, as I will too before the end of my holiday, after I’ve spent days wandering the same streets with my camera.
I look inside the buildings as I pass them. Some have an empty dilapidated courtyard inside. Sometimes there’s a flight of stairs disappearing up directly inside the doorway. Some houses look like they have collapsed in on themselves, and there’s just a pile of rubble. Quite a few houses have lots of plants growing in the courtyard, which looks like an oasis in this hot dirty town. Most houses are better decorated on the inside than the outside.
Towards the back of the town, away from the sea, the streets get a little wider and sandier and less smelly. A mosque with glistening green minarets stands by a large sandy square where a couple of donkeys are lazily wandering.
We disappear down another narrow street and eventually we come to the chief’s house. I am invited inside, where I sit on a round bamboo leaf mat. A cat slinks across the room; I ask the chief if it has a name, and he tells me it’s not their cat – they just wander in and out all day. A woman brings several bowls of food over and places them on the mat between us. One bowl contains fish, another rice, and the last bowl contains a mix of cooked vegetables. She then brings a bowl containing slices of mango. Although I know how to eat ugali with my fingers I have difficulty eating rice without dropping it all over the place, so the woman brings me a spoon. Several small children occasionally peep around the corner, watching the the mzungu (white man) who doesn’t even know how to eat properly.
After dinner I’m taken back to the seafront where I’m finally left to my own devices. I realise I’ve already taken a whole film of photos – hopefully one or two of them might be good ones. I sit by myself at the front of the Hapa-hapa restaurant and look out over the low wall and watch the world go by. A warm sea breeze blows through the restaurant, and I start to write about the day while I drink freshly squeezed mango juice – something I will do many times over the next week and a bit.