'The road was good as far as Nairobi. From there to Mombasa we were driving on sand'

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'The road was good as far as Nairobi. From there to Mombasa we were driving on sand'


Frank remembers a holiday with friends in Kenya.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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Frank Gaynor

Is Part Of

Adolescence and Early Adulthood


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

Kenya, Africa

Temporal Coverage


Life Story Item Type Metadata


Two friends from Eldoret, Tom and Ray, asked me to join them for a holiday in Mombasa in December 1964. We agreed that I would provide the transport and they would help with my hotel bills. The road was good as far as Nairobi. From there to Mombasa we were driving on sand. The road ahead appeared to be level at all times but every 10 minutes or so the VW would bang into a drift. For hours we went through this frustrating sequence of driving slowly for a while, gradually increasing speed, and then banging into the next drift. There seemed to be no way of predicting when the next drift was coming up. Some distance from Mombasa the VW parted company with its silencer. As we were now down to sea level the engine was backfiring frequently. It was around midnight when we made our noisy entry, across the wooden bridge linking the mainland to the island, and along the streets of Mombasa. A short ferry journey took us from the island towards the south beach and on to Shelly Beach Hotel where we had a booking. When I came for breakfast the following morning and was greeted by glorious sunshine, smiling uniformed waiters, a wonderful display of fruits and juices, and many happy holidaymakers, I really thought that I had arrived in heaven. I had never experienced anything like it before. That night we went to a waterside night club. The feature item of the floor show was a fairly plump lady gradually shedding her few small bits of clothing as she sang her way through 'Never on a Sunday'. Before walking off stage she stroked an imitation sword between her thighs. I was unimpressed. The erotic bit had passed me by. The music and dancing that followed was much better. We missed the last ferry that night and slept on the beach. Mornings and evenings were glorious but the daytime heat was severe. Despite consuming soft drinks at a fast rate I was constantly thirsty. Tom suggested that it might help if I drank a couple of beers. It was there and then that I removed my pioneer pin, sat back and enjoyed my first beer. There was much to do and see around the island. One day we went deep sea fishing. Ray got very excited as his line reported a catch. Unfortunately when he had his catch a short distance from the boat his line broke. The heat that day was such that I got burned under my chin. I presume it came from the reflection of the sun on the water. On Saturday evening the Asian community went in droves to the south side of the island where they put on a colourful kite display. On the golf course we found ourselves hitting a tee shot across a busy road. As our skill level was low the danger level for the motorists was correspondingly high. One memorable afternoon was when, at low tide, we made our way out to the coral reef. With basic snorkelling equipment we got caught up in exploring the coral and watching the colourful and fascinating species of life there. We did not notice the tide turning. By the time we were heading back to the shore we were just a little out of our depth. Ray had one arm in plaster, following a run - in with an intruder the previous week, and needed some assistance. Tom was just able to look after himself and I was relying on my dog - paddle to get me home. We really struggled. At times I was near despair and was so relieved when we finally reached the shore. For the first couple of days Mombasa was quiet and relaxing. One night in the Star Bar, with only a few customers present, I mentioned to the barman that I had a headache. A customer who was standing beside me offered to help and proceeded to instruct the barman in the preparation of a concoction for me to drink. I was a bit apprehensive but decided to take a chance. The headache gradually melted away and we proceeded to have a light - hearted conversation. My good friend was Njoroge Mungai, a well - known Minister in Jomo Kenyatta's government. I later learned that he was also a US - trained physician. Most senior government personnel, including President Kenyatta, were in town to celebrate Kenya becoming a Republic on 12th December 1964. The following day I got very close to Kenyatta as he was driven slowly through the streets of Mombassa, standing on the back of an open Landrover. A few months earlier I had seen the colourful Vice - President, Oginga Odinga, in Eldoret. I was excited at coming close to these well - known public figures. At that time I had yet to meet with any senior politician in Ireland. Night life in Mombasa changed greatly a few days later when the British navy vessel, HMS Eagle, arrived with 2,200 young male sailors on board. There to greet them were hundreds of girls, many of whom had come long distances. For the following few days and nights the bars and nightclubs were crowded and noisy. The girls seemed to enjoy themselves as they hunted around for sailors. They presumed that we were sailors and we got plenty of attention. It was impossible to order a drink without getting a pinch on the backside or at least a peck on the cheek. I did not see any rows or unpleasant scenes. There were no signs of pimps or any organised prostitution. The girls seemed to be operating individually and having fun. It somehow didn't seem right to label them as prostitutes. Any girls that I chatted with enjoyed trying to teach me a few Swahili phrases. It seemed such a shame that the driving force behind these lovely girls was poverty. I can only presume that as soon as HMS Eagle pulled out of the harbour many of these girls returned to their home villages and schools. One afternoon we visited Mombassa Old Town which was very interesting. Parts of it looked much more Arab than African and the way of life seemed ancient. We drove when we could. Some of the streets were very narrow. I misjudged the width at one stage and the VW got stuck between stone walls. In this Old Town, locals, Arabs, Asians, Portugese and British have coexisted for hundreds of years. Fort Jesus, which was built by the Portugese in the 16th century, is near the Old Town. It was here that slaves were kept in captivity before being traded.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

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Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

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Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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