Thursday, and the balmy mid-morning December heat finds a bunch of us in Kilifi, seated under the soothing shade of a massive Mkilifi tree. The place with its quiet and calming disposition is something a friend and I concur we could get used to. The residence— as Kevin, the moderator would point out later, was built in 1905— is surrounded by trees and greenery, a welcome ambience from our flurry metropolis Mombasa with more concrete than green and more tuktuks than other modes of transport. But then again, would it even be fair to compare the tone of a small island with that of an expansive boondocks with lots of room where serene pockets can be created away from the city and its cacophonic rise to cosmopolitanism?
Most of us have never met physically. The irony of socialising media is its shameless audacity to make you feel really close to those you connect with through available handles, as if you know every bit about them with shared emojis and sentiments. It also accords one the option of introversion with a global camaraderie just a click away. Yet, even in this shamelessness and behind emojis that conceal our true emotions, socialising media acts as a sort of ice breaker that makes the first physical interaction bearable.
But, in all honesty, nothing beats human interaction where verbal and nonverbal communication makes the interaction wholesome and enriching. Either that, or this is just me and my uncanny old ways of seeking pleasure.
Mutisya, our host alongside the moderator explained that the purpose of the invite was to make friends and enjoy good Coastal food. The meeting while bearing the simplicity of a networking brunch would soon escalate into one of the most stimulating informal learning gatherings I’ve attended in a while.
As we settled, it was obvious something good was cooking. Our host explained that we’d be eating from his kitchen and delightful culinary exploration of Swahili delicacies. The idea, he said, was to take Swahili cuisine the world over in a way that both culture and language travelled with the food. We were in Kilifi to commit sin, seven sins to be precise, and he passed on printed papers with the day’s seven course meal—seven informed by his Catholic faith— at the end of which each of us was to write something about it.
That was not to be the case, and you’ll understand why the discourse over the course and act of committing seven sins left us perhaps too dumbfounded or too inebriated with information to write anything about the food.
What was supposed to be a simple introduction around the group, each person stating what they were doing or planning to do, quickly turned into a nondescript cultural education class. Right from the very first introduction from Prof Mtanalewa to the last but not least Kaa La Moto, an organic pattern emerged of similarities in purpose, place and people. The rich discussion had a common denominator— that the entire bunch was involved in one way or another with documenting indigenous knowledges through writing, film-making, music, food, scholarship and linguistic activism. Whether deliberate or otherwise, we were all gathered under that tree as cultural activists. What coincidence, then, that we were gathered under this tree in the same way our elders in the past used to, discussing matters affecting our community.
History, just like the linguistic devices that carry it through space and time, is a living thing and has a way of repeating itself. In one way, this repetition could serve as a reminder of several things: In one way as a set of questions—Wewe ni nani? Watoka wapi? Waenda wapi? And in another way, it could also be history’s way of reprimanding us for not telling it properly, for letting it thrive in the unbefitting realm of a single-sided story, It is history’s way of coming back either as reprehension or redemption, for even in the forgetfulness of not relaying it properly, there will always be a people in every generation that fight to retell authentic history, redeeming their own selves and communities in the process.
The meeting was ideally supposed to run from mid-morning to two in the afternoon, but we were still under the Mkilifi tree a few hours to sunset, committing the seven sins and enjoying a profoundly stimulating conversation on the need to archive coastal history. What was supposed to be a menu with a space left for remarks turned into notebooks as everyone wrote down something. Kathleen, a keen observer and a good student based on the clarification queries she had after the meeting, issued us with Mozilla notebooks which came in handy as the informal lessons demanded us to take more notes.
At the end of the day, our tummies full and our minds brimming with knowledge, we made a pact. That this shouldn’t be the first and last time we had that conversations. That we would work together in each of our future endeavours archiving coastal history. Mutisya, elated that we had enjoyed the food and perhaps vexed that our remarks were communicated verbally, hurriedly, and not in writing— the latter which would have been a proper way of documenting that singular moment where food was such a powerful catalyst to move that discussion— made us carry the back-breaking seats, curved from the Mkilifi and heavier than grief, back into the house!
The bokoboko dish was a flat-out favourite for me, without doubt, and the raspberry cake was simply out of this world.