|A Writer Writes
IN THE MKONGE, a refurnished colonial hotel with grounds overlooking an old tropical harbor, rain falls in torrents each night. Mombasa, a hundred kilometers to the north, is almost under water, and Kaloleni town is completely cut off by flooding rivers. The roar of night rain is broken each morning in a humid still, and I walk out of my room as poisonous vapors waft out of swamped gardens. Clouds of winged termites rise from the ground like snowflakes. The breakfast patio overlooks dhows on their way to sea; vervets watch us from perches on perimeter fence posts, and pied crows sit in the baobabs near the water. Water drips everywhere.
GASPAR AND I DRIVE across town each morning to the Vocational Education Training Authority (VETA) to teach a solar installation course. Through the neatly laid out town of 200,000, we pass the port, gardens, roundabouts and tree-lined streets on the way. There are old factories and warehouses erected by Indian and Arab traders in the ’30s, nationalized by Nyerere in the ’60s, and privatized again in the ’90s now working steadily. Billboards sell cell phones, toothpaste and hair gel. The railway passes the VETA and the cement factory on its way out of town.
THE MKONGE HOTEL, named after the Swahili word for sisal, is out of town, towards the ocean. I take my run in the evening along the coast road leading out of the Pangani harbour, curving along the steaming mangroves. I pass the Lions Club bathing site, the yacht club, Indian drinking spots. Puddles from recent rain stand in potholes on the broken asphalt. The road turns south along the coast and passes sprawling walled compounds. Inland, baobabs loom out of the coastal forest witchdoctors standing in the ocre sandy soils. Huge banks of cumulus ride in from the ocean. To the west, the setting sun shoots ripples of light against a bloodshot gelatin sky. I turn and run back the way I came. A stray cat crosses the road, turned to dirt on the outskirts. Near the signal lighthouse peninsula at the entrance to the harbor, a sunset wedding is being celebrated complete with blue-clad bride’s maids, brass band and taarab percussionists.
Mark Hankins, aka Markus Kamau, was a Peace Corps Volunteer science teacher near Mt. Kenya. His “secondary project”, training solar technicians to install and sell small solar electric systems, spawned the development of Kenya’s thriving solar energy industry. Hankins turned the secondary project into a career, and has since been working all over Africa to promote the use of solar energy. He has published three books on solar energy in Africa, and now consults for the World Bank, the United Nations and solar companies from his base in Nairobi. In his alternate career as a singer-songwriter, he has recorded three albums with African musicians.