There’s a scent that tells you that you are in Mombasa. A mixture between salt, sand, cool breeze, mandazi and other foods that occasionally make you question your mother’s cooking skills and a tinge of dog poop. [pullquote]That was Mombasa to me growing up. A city of scents.[/pullquote] Isn’t that why they say Mombasa comes alive at night? When the scents are at their strongest and the breeze is in full force?
You can tell apart which part of Mombasa you are in based on the scents. Take a tuk tuk ride and pay to go around the city. It’s not that big. With some effort you can do a tour of the whole city in a day or two. You can tell apart Tudor from its Indian scents, Likoni from the strong saltiness in the air and Nyali from the flowers. Nyali highly influenced my definition of a leafy suburb. I had never been to Karen or Runda. To me Nyali was the ultimate sign of wealth as a kid and as far as I was concerned, rich people smelled like flowers. I presume that’s the case till this day. I meet white people or bourgeoisie people and half expect a flower to drop out of their armpits.
But the scent that I knew best was in the Kisauni, Bamburi area. To be specific, Mtopanga estate. It’s where the air was full of dog shit and what’s worse was that my childhood bullies owned dogs. [pullquote]Back then, if you were the man, like the real shit, you needed to have a dog. [/pullquote]And I do not mean these hairy sorry excuses for dogs that sound like a child’s sneeze whenever they bark. No, I mean the real stuff. Big dogs with big teeth and an even bigger bark. Dogs so tough they had muscles like a body builder. It added bonus points if your dog was black. I never knew why necessarily it had to be black. But as a kid, black was the color of toughness to me. The cool kids had black bikes(mine was a glossy red with glittery stuff), the bouncers at the neighborhood pub wore black and the only neighbor with a big car (Mitsubishi Pajero) had it in matte black long before it was cool to paint it on a Vitz.
Growing up, my dad considered me a wimp. I can’t blame him for thinking so. Every neighborhood has its designated wimps. We were three. I was the easiest since I lived right next to the basketball court. Heck even the bullies dogs knew I was a wimp and would also target me. Explains why I was quite sensitive to the smell of dog poop because where there is dog poop, there is a dog and a bully and I was fresh meat.
As I was saying, my dad considered me a wimp. Imagine his shame, he, the famous bully of Mwanganthia village had a wimp for a son. How could the apple fall so far from the tree!? To sort this out, my dad had an idea; why not buy the kid a dog, right? He will be in amongst the cool kids, right? And he will be tough so that he can have a tough dog, right? Rather straightforward. Get the kid a tough dog and he fits in. Period. End of story.
Wrong. You see, it was as if many factors conspired to keep me in this wimpy state. Most importantly, my tribe. While I may not subscribe to tribal stereotypes, I believe my father is the true Meru stereotype minus a thing or two. [pullquote]It is well documented how stingy Meru men can be and my dad was no exception.[/pullquote]
So one morning I wake up to knocks on my bedroom door, “Tony”
So I drag my half -eyed self out and what do I see? A dog. True to instinct, I of course ran back into the house. A dog this early in the morning? Surely something must be wrong. Maybe the bullies noticed that I had evaded them for two weeks and begged my dad to have one final go at me.
Long story short, the dog was mine. But two issues, it was a bitch. The ONLY bitch in the neighborhood. Nobody took bitches and said they had a dog!! That’s not manly. So now, not only was I the bullies’ bitch but my bitch was their dogs’ bitch. House of bitches. The final nail in the coffin of eternal wimpiness was the dog’s color. Pardon my color naivety but it was brownish orange, white. It was a true mongrel that my dad had picked from the mwandoni whose breed could not be clearly identified.
Imagine the conversations that we would have had while walking our dogs if I had actually succeeded in fitting in,
[pullquote]“Braza huyu German shepherd ni mkali. Yuala nyama iko na damu pekee yake. Mbwa wangu oriji.”[/pullquote]
“Huyu pit-bull wangu kama wako kidogo lakini lazima awekewe kwenye kijisahani chake. Je huyu wako tony?”
“Huyu? Ah, umm huyu wangu ni kama wenyu combined. Ni German shepherd, pit-bull na Dalmatian pamoja.”
“Ako na zote”
And I would swallow in heavily hoping they’d take the lie and let it be. Suffice to say what actually happened was this: the boys mocked me even more and especially for the fact that my dog was called Sinbad (remember it? That show that always came on Sundays after church on KBC?). Secondly, that dog made my sister more of a man than I was. It listened to my sister and my dad only. For some reason I never got along well with the dog, maybe since it learnt from the other dogs that I was the joke of the town and was ashamed of its owner.
Years later the dog died when I went to boarding school. Boarding school was dad’s final attempt at making a man out of me. Did it work? A story for another day. Till then watch out for the scent of dog poop next time you are in Mombasa.