Nicky and Maike, respectively a former lawyer and journalist from the Friendly City now living in London, braved the dug-out tree trunk – called dhows by the locals – to witness our attempts at hand-line fishing off the African east coast. We only had six days to explore this part of the coast and by 9am we were already way beyond the reef barrier that lies about two kilometres off shore. But unfortunately for those short of sea legs, the coral reef itself is the only reason why Diani Beach south of Mombasa is deprived of heavy swell and waves.
Once beyond it, our four-metre leaking tree trunk was bobbing and weaving like Mohammed Ali during the Rumble in the Jungle. I’m sure our two brave young ladies would not have signed up for the adventure had they known this. They were beyond sea sick, Nicky having jumped overboard twice, first to see if it would remedy her conditions and the second time to pray for a great white to come and take her out of her misery.
Juma Number Two held the tiller as we tacked twice to sail for shore with surprising ease taking into account the ancient design of our craft. From their glimpses and smiles I could see the two Jumas – they are family, but our enquiries couldn’t establish the exact relation – found the seasickness discreetly amusing. Just as we approached the beach Juma Number One pointed to shore: “The clinic!” he shouted with a laugh in his voice. “Once you feel the doctor under your feet, you’ll be healed.”
The girls swam for land and we turned the dhow to head back to sea. “Now the boys do some fishing,” Juma Number Two resolved after we cleared the reef. Not long after the landlines were tossed out, some bottles of Tusker beer were passed around. Then the questions started: Our way of life? I explained about the big capital where the Queen lives, the sophistication, the infrastructure, the millions of people, the long hours at work and the mad rush under-ground in fast trains to get to and from work.
Despite my best dramatic efforts the Jumas were not impressed. “We show you polepole.” And so started our week-long education with the Jumas. The next day we sailed out slowly so we could go diving on the reef, the day after that they organised some camels to sway us gently to Fourty Thieves Bar where we could sit with our feet in the sand drinking Caipirinha dawas mixed with double cane rum, brown sugar, honey, lime and crushed ice. Two days later we took with them a day trip to the former slave outpost on the island of Wasini, complete with a long breakfast, a slow guided walk through the Wasini village and the historical coral garden landscape. We waited silently for dolphins to show themselves in the mouth of the Wasini Channel as we floated over even more coral reefs and then took a long lazy lunch with crab and white snapper before snoozing in the sun.
By Friday afternoon we were preparing for the inevitable like innocents on death row, reluctantly packing our bags for the flights back to the Big Smoke. The Jumas came to greet us Saturday morning as the bus arrived to take us to Mombasa’s Moi International airport. They wanted to know if we now understood polepole? We nodded, and in the spirit if it, we slowly, gently, calmly, silently, softly and without a concern in the whole wide world headed back to the rat race.
Piet van Niekerk