Opinions

My fifteen years of Kenya

"Wish i could do something to go back in time"

03-11-2014 by Andrea Coppola

Africa... 1999.
This is not a futuristic reminiscence of the star type, but simply the year I first looked out over Kenya.
It seems so far away today that date.
And how many things have changed since that Malindi so far away from mobile phones, thousands of polluting cars, technology. 
Not to mention Watamu, the oasis of dreams of the few travellers who entered it enraptured.
It was a Kenya that was still natural, if I may say so, dented by the overbearing presence of the whites, but still very distant morally and mentally from western customs.
At the time, travelling was expensive and Kenya was a rather elite destination, not very popular and not very well known. There were not yet all those VIPs and big tycoons dictating the law (and angering the local authorities). The Watamu coastline was still wild and free of all the villas, clubs, bars and resorts that could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Those were the years when walking around the village was beautiful.
There was little 'bullying' by hungry locals.
It was nice to go into people's homes, talk to them and eat with them, without being stared at as 'bloody colonisers', as is the case today.
They barely tolerate us, one senses, and we barely tolerate them.
The '70s and '80s were long gone and the new millennium was just around the corner, but we still breathed the relaxed air of the reserved environments of the foreign communities, frequented by a few influential and well-dressed people, while outside the respectful tourists enjoyed what remained of Africa, with all its colours, scents and folklore.
Today this image (perfectly described in the film "Nel Continente Nero" with Diego Abatantuono) is completely exaggerated.
Thousands of wazungu wander the streets of the coastal towns, looking bored.
You see them sitting in the numerous bars and restaurants (mostly run by fellow countrymen) chatting (or gossiping?) for hours on end.
You meet at fixed times for coffee and at fixed times in the evening you go dancing in the numerous discos.
You see old goats accompanied by chocolate stangas; young rasta helpers arm in arm with very tanned ladies (I wanted to say skinny but that wouldn't be nice).
Is that really all there is to this place?
Not that all this wasn't here many years ago, but perhaps it was more sober, more discreet, less prominent in the general picture of the tourist-resident.
Who knows what this place will look like in 10 years, I often ask myself.
I imagine Watamu, Mayungu, Malindi and Mambrui as one wildly inhabited and built-up strip.
Big houses, resorts, bars and restaurants...
I shudder.
I am also part, in my small way, of this havoc.
I try not to be ashamed of it, keeping a low profile as a builder-coloniser. I regulate my intervention so as not to exaggerate and I realise that I am a drop in the ocean.
A white, perhaps greyish, fly dreaming of an Africa that no longer exists, at least here on the beautiful Keyiote coast.
I am annoyed by the heavy-handed response of the local authorities, who are trying to shake off twenty years of unfettered exaggeration.
I am frightened by the reaction and disturbed to know that it was also, and above all, our fault.
I would like to do something to turn back the clock and I realise that I am just babbling foolish thoughts.
Watamu has as many as three banks, gas stations, ice cream parlours, Italian restaurants, trendy bars and is dotted with thousands of buildings, some of them huge, even architecturally far from the original style.
If we were to stop for a moment, those of us who have frequented this place for so many years, to remember how it used to be, perhaps we could send out a different, positive and respectful signal to those who will come after us and who are probably already here.
I don't know about you... but this place doesn't give me the same feelings anymore.

TAGS: Andrea CoppolaAndrea Watamu

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