Dear Readers and Friends: August edition out , Aug 17 2018

Happy Reading!

Growing up in the coastal city of Mombasa

Mansukh Shah


We lived in the small seaside town of Lamu some 225 miles north of Mombasa. Today Lamu is or was until Al Shaba, a bustling tourist spot. We lived in a rented house above the shop my father operated on the ground floor. I was born in 1933 in the same year Ali Mazrui was born in Mombasa.

Mombasa was in those days (late forties and early fifties) a growing city. A port city, Mombasa was the entry point for Kenya, Uganda and beyond. It was a major commercial hub where people from Nairobi were coming to buy goods from wholesale distributors for their retail outlets all across Kenya and much of Uganda.

Mombasa was quickly becoming an educational center as well. There were a number of secondary schools and technical colleges like Allidina Visram High School, Agha Khan School, Star of the Sea College and many others. 

Because there were no secondary schools in tiny Lamu, I and my younger brother were packed off to Mombasa to attend the Allidina High School, which was built in 1926 with stones imported from Porbunder on the west coast of India. Wherever in the world they settled Indian loved to carry a bit of the old country with them.

Mombasa had some amazing amenities. As if it was already anticipating its status as a major world tourist center, that is until Al Shaba came along. Although there were many areas that were designated for the use of Whites only and were otherwise not accessible to Africans and Asians.  Similarly there were churches, sports clubs and hospitals that were barred to non Whites. Even sanitary facilities were segregated. Like all colonial societies, East Africa was by definition a racist society.

The old harbor was busy with dhow traffic whereas the new harbor was crowded with ocean going steamer traffic plying between Kenya, India, Pakistan, Middle East and Europe.

In 1945 residential properties in Mombasa were scarce. It remained so till new development took off in the early 1950s when business was thriving. I guess all this was because the war in Europe had ended.

Those days our school hours were the princely 7.30 am to 12.30 pm period when the weather in Mombasa was wonderful.  The rest of the afternoon was at our disposal to do as we wish. We could study, visit libraries, yes there were libraries in Mombasa. Or we could go out and play with our buddies and get up to some mischief.

There were times when for hours we went for long walks around the entire island. We had fun and I made many friends in those days. But many of them have moved on or passed on.

For pocket money my parents gave my brother and I 50 cents each. It was a lot of money in those days.  To give you some idea of the value of the money, let me say that for just 6 shillings you could buy a whole set of chinaware and good ones too. And for just 20 shillings a man could buy an entire suit of clothing, with shoes and ties included in the package. We saved every single cent. We learned to save early.

I left Kenya in early January 1961 for London and have been here since. Do I miss East Africa? Who does not miss his childhood days and especially if the spot it was played on was Mombasa?