Train ride to Mombasa that shaped my destiny

Dr Peter Kimani teaches journalism at the Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi and is Visiting Writer-designate, Amherst College, in the US. His critically acclaimed historical novel, Dance of the Jakaranda (2017), a New York Times Editors’ Choice, re-imagines the complex race relations in colonial Kenya and soon after independence, revolving around the railway. PHOTO| YUSUF WACHIRA

What you need to know:

  • The return trip to Nairobi was no less dramatic. A lad we nicknamed Benja – light, tall, thin; and whose voice had already broken – threatened in his booming voice to jump out of the moving train to retrieve a knapsack he had forgotten at the train’s departure lounge.
  • Our class teacher, Mr Kibe, calmed him down. “You will be arrested if you jump out,” he cautioned, before offering helpfully: “This is Mombasa. Nobody will touch your bag. They will think it’s a djinni disguised as a bag…”
  • Nonetheless, Mr Kibe had the station master radioed and Benja’s bag was retrieved and forwarded to the next station on a cargo train. I recall Benja’s long face melting in delight at being reunited with his green bag.

I can still visualise the radiant smiles from hordes of boys and girls in checked blue-white uniforms, as the horn sounded to announce the train’s departure that breezy August evening in 1985.


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