Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mellow in Mombasa

On my 3rd day in East Africa, I witnessed one of the odder race demarkations I would see in the course of my stay.  I arrived at the Nairobi railway station, surprised to see a line of people standing to one side of the entrance, animatedly screaming at the passing commuters.  A closer glance revealed they were selling train tickets!  No counter, no computerization, just a bunch of people waving ticket stubs and yelling.  Concerned, I turned to the cab driver and asked him if I had to go get my ticket from them.  He smiled and said "No, the white people go to the office inside on the right".  I did as he said and entered the office that was officially designated for long distance travel.  Sure enough, there was an unmistakeable consistency in skin tonality.  We were all lily white and were all there to board the Jambo Kenya Deluxe overnight train to Mombasa.

After receiving our cabin assignments, we were sent to a roped off part of the platform that had about 50 white plastic chairs.  There was still plenty of time before the train departed so I wandered off in search of a drink but turned back to see concerned glances from the guy in charge of the white chair zone.  Apparently, his role is that of a muzungo wrangler.  It is his job to keep the white people out of trouble.  One British couple told me he had approached them when they opted to sit on a bench with the locals and said "No.  You sit there." while pointing to his fiefdom.