Mombasa’s matatus, ‘bad forex bureaus’ and Chris Brown

When I heard that American singer Chris Brown was coming to East Africa, I knew that I had to attend the show. What I didn’t know was how. You see, the show was in Mombasa, Kenya and if you glance at the map, it doesn’t necessarily seem like a stone-throw away.
Chris Brown had a beautiful performance during his first visit in the region. / Julius Bizimungu
Chris Brown had a beautiful performance during his first visit in the region. / Julius Bizimungu

When I heard that American singer Chris Brown was coming to East Africa, I knew that I had to attend the show. What I didn’t know was how. You see, the show was in Mombasa, Kenya and if you glance at the map, it doesn’t necessarily seem like a stone-throw away.

Mombasa, for those who have got a chance to visit it or even heard about it, is a centre of the coastal tourism industry in Kenya. The city is the second largest in Kenya following Nairobi with a population of nearly 1.2 million people. It also lies next to the Indian Ocean which makes it strategically a trading area.

 
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Chris Brown's show lived up to the expectations. / Julius Bizimungu

Considering that I last had my recent trip in Uganda almost five months ago, and being my first time to take a trip to Mombasa, it was only sensible to take time searching for decent hotels, drinking spots, latest booming night clubs, and other entertainment centres. Of course I paid for my accommodation that’s why I’m talking about hotels. Equally, I’m neither a frequent “drinker” nor a “party animal” but the one experience often matters when you want to tell a good story back at home.

 
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The author at Chris Brown’s show which took place at Mombasa Golf Club on the banks of Indian Ocean. / Julius Bizimungu

Interestingly, all pictures of the hotels being advertised online look beautifully attractive and this can get you to believe that everything is as indicated on internet. Better be cautious. Some places are actually overrated. When I took my flight in the evening of Thursday, only two days to the main concert, I was both excited and curious.

 

At 11pm, my friend and I landed at Moi International Airport (MBA), the city’s main airport. I was surprised by how small and close to empty it was. Could it be the late hour? Maybe.

Anyway, unlike our local airport- the Kigali International Airport, MBA is way different in terms of how the security is preserved. Among the things that surprised me when we landed at the airport, is that one is barely able to figure out who is in charge or security and who is not. Everyone seems to be so relaxed which surprised me since Kenya has been a target of terror attacks.

Our driver; who only identified himself as Maurice, picked us from the airport and politely offered to help us find a hotel, but because we had been brainwashed by what we saw on internet, we didn’t believe anything. Bad mistake.

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Matatus are the most commonly used transport means in Mombasa, Kenya. / Julius Bizimungu

There was a range of more than five hotels we knew from our internet searches, but most of those we visited were so dirty, had no wireless internet which was a necessity given the nature of our work and there were no security lights, which kind of worried us.

After about one hour, we eventually found Sentrim Castle Royal Hotel, a 3-star rated facility located in the heart of the city, equipped with at least the things a traveller would need; large wall mirrors, Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV, tea kettle, a safe and a working desk. We showered and immediately jumped into bed at 2am.

Frustrating Forex bureaus

The next day, we hit the streets but we were not ready to what hit us. You see, you can change any currency in almost anywhere in East Africa. Being part of the East African Community (EAC) has made everything really easy. Not in Mombasa. We had Rwandan Francs and for more than an hour, we rotated Mombasa streets looking for a Forex bureaus and banks in Mombasa but no one could exchange the money.

Excuses ranged from the lack of Rwandans visiting Mombasa thus no need for the currency to the low value of the franc. Frustrating as it was, we at least learnt a lesson from it.

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Outside Fort Jesus site, one views English Point Marina Hotel. / Julius Bizimungu

That day, we were saved by my friend’s Visa card which helped him access some little money. Again, we went back to bed.

Morning came so fast. The breakfast setting was most definitely like any other classic hotel. Having not had dinner last night, I had a full appetite to facilitate me through the task before me. I went for chips, scrambled eggs and beans with fresh tomatoes and a glass of mango juice and had my fill knowing that lunch would be hard to come given the struggle of not having exchanged the money.

We negotiated with tuk-tuk to take us around for the next two hours and he didn’t hesitate to charge us more than what others usually pay. Our first destination was hitting banks again, but still we failed. Eventually, we called friends in Kigali who sent us dollars to be able to facilitate the trip.

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Riding with Tuk-Tuk, a three wheel bike commonly used in Kenya. / Julius Bizimungu

We set off for Mombasa Island. I at least managed to cross the Nyali Bridge going to Tamarind Hotel to pick my badge for the show, and passed Makupa land bridge while coming from the airport.

We then visited Fort Jesus, Kenya’s biggest museum and one of the world’s leading heritage site and the most outstanding and well-preserved examples of 16th-century Portuguese military fortifications, according to UNESCO. From here, we hired a tour guide who toured us all parts of the site.

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Inside Fort Jesus museum. / Julius Bizimungu

We learnt that it is the first Portuguese architecture to be built outside Europe and the military base. From inside one could see several military parts including the navigation pillars, blind spots, smashers, 8watch towers, and the captains’ balconies. These are the different parts of the site that were used by Portuguese army to fight against Oman Arabs before the British colonialists took over the fort, which later was turned into a museum by the Kenyan government.

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The author (R) with a friend at Indian Ocean before the main event. / Julius Bizimungu

Outside the fort lies the sea and it gives you the ability to view the luxurious facilities across the sea including English point Marina Hotel, one of the expensive hotels in Mombasa. It is where Chris Brown was living during his stay in the city.

Seeing Chris Brown for the first time

The day was upon us and Chris Brown, who had made me pack my bags and sit on a plane, was finally performing. I was really excited. Born Christopher Maurice, Chris Brown was in Mombasa, Kenya to perform at the annual ‘Mombasa Rocks Music Festival’. The highly anticipated show took place at Mombasa Golf Club, a place that lies on the Indian Ocean.

But first, Navio from Uganda warmed the stage, Tanzania’s Mdee joined in, and at some point Kenya’s AliKibba and when it was time for Nigeria’s Wizkid, the mood was electrifying. Wizkid stole the show and in some fans’ opinion, outdid Brown, who was the star attraction. The Nigerian star performed with a live band during the giant concert.

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Wizkid was also part of the much-waited performers. / Julius Bizimungu

“Man, Wizkid’s performance was bigger than Chris Brown’s. If you followed how he performed with his band, you could definitely tell that this African boy has a unique way of doing things,” Bien-Aimé Baraza of Sauti Sol told me while we were at backstage.

If I had never understood the term ‘Superstar’, I was about to get a dose. From the moment he stepped on the stage until he finished his performance, it seemed like every one of the thousands that had turned up was under a spell. Fans, especially females, who were mostly in bikinis and other skimpy beach outfits screamed, cried, danced and cheered in equal measure. 

Drinks flowed and positive energy seemed to be the theme of the night as backed by his two dancers, Brown delighted the fans in an energetic performances that consisted of songs like ‘Grass Ain’t Greener’, ‘New Flame’, ‘Five More Hours’, ‘Little More’, ‘Ayo’, ‘Loyal’, ‘Don’t Judge Me’, ‘Zero’, ‘Love More’, to name but a few.

90 minutes after he set his foot on the stage, Chris Brown, was gone. The performance for which he had been paid Kes90m (equivalent to Rfw714m) was over. The fireworks went off and the fans, who were mostly still giddy from meeting their music idol were ululating way after Brown, had left Kenya on his private jet, five minutes after he was done.

It was a great night, and one bottle of Ciroc later, I was on my bed, fully clothed, tired but happier than I had been in a long, long time. At the end of it all, I realised one thing. I need to do this more often.

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