6 September 2001
Mombasa: Hello again from east Africa,
This is a record of my brief two night stay in Mombasa Kenya. The only thing of any real significance was Fort Jesus where the guide tried to convince me I shouldn't walk the old city without someone to protect me. Ha! He didn't know he was talking to an expert on "dangerous" streets. I wandered the area for an hour without incident, of course.
During one of my walks around the city center not far from the $24 per night mediocre Hotel Sapphire I'd chosen, I stumbled on a large display of colorful rope. Both factory made and handmade rope of every description had been laid out on the sidewalk for sale. You'll find a picture of the interesting array in the photo album this time.
In one block along the main drag plumbers congregate to offer their services. A dozen guys each sitting next to his box displaying tools, various replacement fixtures and plumbing supplies vie for jobs with passersby.
After you've seen the "famous" landmark, a giant simulated crossed elephant tusk gate, you have seen most of what makes Mombasa noteworthy, at least in my book. So, I soon boarded a comfortable bus headed back to Nairobi, the departure point for my flight for Nigeria. Little did I suspect what was about to happen in Washington and New York in a few days.
Nairobi Kenya: this is the Jamia Mosque
located in the center of the city.
11 September 2001
Hello from Nairobi, second time this year.
The deluxe Akamba bus from Mombasa to Nairobi takes five hours and is quite comfortable. I didn't really need to buy two seats, but at a mere $7.50 each the added wiggle room seemed a bargain. Back in a familiar city I headed directly to the centrally located Sixeighty Hotel. At a bargain $40 per night I enjoyed first world comfort, CNN television, a 24 hour guard at the elevator of our floor and incomparable views of the downtown cityscape for four nights. During the daytime I visited some of the sights I'd missed the first time around, foraged for food, took naps and watched TV. I spent the one full day wandering the market areas and taking more pictures of mosques and cyber cafes. In the evenings I worked at a cybercafe ($1.50/hr), watched TV, foraged for food, and spied on the homeless street kids now less numerous than on my last visit a few months earlier.
Arrangements made for a rescheduled flight to Legos Nigeria had me leaving on 12 September 2001. Departure time for Kenya Airways Flight #432 would be 07:30 which meant I needed to leave the hotel at 05:30 under ordinary conditions. But as every American knows, something happened on 11 September 2001 that effected airline passengers everywhere in the world including Nairobi, American or otherwise.
Dozing with CNN in the afternoon of 11 September in my Nairobi hotel room at about 14:00, the weather commentator interrupted his presentation for a "breaking news" announcement. Jerking myself up from the pillows where I'd been listening I studied the images of the two World Trade Center towers, one clearly on fire about two thirds of the way up. "What a horrible accident" I thought. As I watched in disbelief, suddenly the announcer blared: "something is happening!" and I saw what looked like a "special effects explosion" in the other tower. Slowly the reality of the situation sank in and I like everyone else in the world watched in disbelief as the most horrific act of terrorism against the United States played it's ugly self out. I knew instantly thousands were dying as first one and then both towers collapsed in on themselves. The scope of the massacre disoriented me. As soon as the second plane hit its target I knew these were intentional acts of violence. All too soon the Pentagon crash underscored the obvious.
I could not help thinking about the "enemy warriors" who had volunteered for this suicide mission and what had been so important that they would knowingly go to their deaths to accomplish their objective. President Bush called the perpetrators cowards, and while I deplore the carnage and feel deep compassion for the victims of this atrocity, I must conclude that we are facing a formidable enemy who's soldiers are anything but cowardly! And, they are not stupid; judging from the extraordinary planning required to pull off such a brazen attack. But, they have made one serious mistake. No one seems to know precisely what point they have tried to make; what social ill they want redressed; what inequity they want re-balanced. In the past, terrorist acts have always been designed to focus attention on some perceived ill the existing power structure has been unwilling to correct.
Osama bin Laden is on everyone's short list of prime suspects, just as he was a few years earlier when the U.S. Embassy building here in Nairobi crumbled into rubble after the explosion of a truck bomb detonated by terrorists.
After hours at the television set I finally went down to the hotel lobby for something to eat. Every television set in the hotel's public areas showed the same CNN coverage. Africans conversed quietly in small groups wherever I looked. A well dressed black businessman spoke to me: "Did you see what happened in New York? It is terrible." After a quick meal I dashed back up to my room to watch the still unfolding drama; a fourth plane hijacked and crashed... assumed to be part of a larger conspiracy.
Though I usually think of myself first as a citizen of the world and second as a member of the specific nation in which I happened to be born, today I felt like an American... and felt saddened that an extremist religious fringe group had demonstrated how much they hate those ideals we Americans cherish. Though I had an early flight booked for Lagos the next morning, I remained propped in front of the TV for most of the night.
Christian religious right extremists also have committed acts of terror... the abortion clinic bombings and doctor murders come to mind. In earlier times holy wars raged between Christian crusaders and Muslim zealots. In modern times though, it is only Islam that teaches believers to kill non-believers - infidels... as well as any unhappy believer who decides to abandon his Islamic faith for any one of the thousand other religions practiced around the world.
My own reading of the Koran leaves no doubt that such actions are not only sanctioned, but encouraged by the Muslim's "holy book," a fact often played down by apologists and other well meaning leaders who want to encourage religious tolerance. Not all Muslims are radical conservatives, of course. I've met scores of devout Muslims in Turkey for example, who believe a literal interpretation of the Koran to be an anachronism; words written 14 centuries ago for desert tribes struggling with one another in their march toward civilization. The well-educated Turks with whom I've spoken consider their more liberal interpretation of the Koran to be the "right one" and the narrower interpretations attacking other religions to be a perversion of the true spirit of Islam. But those Muslims predisposed to bigotry have no trouble finding support in their holy book any more than do ultra conservative Bible thumping Christians inclined toward a literal interpretation of their holy book. Rather than a war on terrorism, it seems to me the world would better use its resources in a war on bigotry and religious intolerance, especially that inclined toward violence.
As my Kenya Airways flight was scheduled to leave the next morning I called the American Embassy to see what information and advice they might have. It was after the normal service hours and no one answered the phone! It just kept ringing. The airline offices all were closed, too. Ambiguous reports on local television channels hinted that airline schedules out of Nairobi were being "adjusted," though no flights had been cancelled.
The next morning I went on out to the airport and discovered all flights were being delayed. Mine left four hours late. Preflight check-in security appeared normal as far as I could tell... no unusual body searches, no discussion of the American hijackings the day before.
On board, the stewardess explained our flight had been overbooked and seat assignments had been scrambled adding to the delayed departure time. Another passenger sat in my seat and after a good deal of acrimonious discussion the Head Purser arrived and escorted me courteously toward the front of the aircraft and into a First Class seat. Days later it dawned on me that my nationality might have played a role in determining who would get the upgrade on this day of widespread sympathy for the American people. (cont.)