The baobab tree has always fascinated me from childhood.
Its strange appearance made my mind wander off and recall tales of it being put upside down in the ground.
In Swahili it is known as Mbuyu and it produces a fruit known as ‘monkey bread’. People make sweets, known as mabuyu, with this, and its business is a big source of livelihood for most Swahili housewives at the Coast.
The seeds are cooked in sugar, spices and food colouring.
It is said that the mabuyu seeds have several health benefits, for example, they help with joint pains and is very rich in vitamin C.
I haven’t come across many baobab trees in my life. I mostly see them on the journey from Nairobi to Mombasa when travelling by bus. As a child, I always wished I could get off and run around in those fields, join the children bathing naked in the little streams of water or ponds. Obviously it wasn’t possible so I never bothered asking.
During my childhood, I remember the bus companies didn’t have strict regulations for boarders and so preachers and Giriama musicians would get free rides to their destinations at the expense of our comfort.
I’d always been a little strange, talking to myself and my imaginary friends. Then I’d go quiet and let my overactive brain take me to distant places and adventures.
Or Mama would get my brother and I a pack of crayons and a colouring book each with the Nesquik bunny to colour in. Ah, good ol’ memories.
The stories I would hear about the Baobab tree would keep replaying in my mind, and they still do even in my adulthood. I’d hear them from my grandmother, school teachers and childhood friends in Mombasa.
They called me Fatma Mzungu back then, because of my big brown hair and pale complexion.
Baobab trees were houses for genies and devils with a variety of stories including shape shifting cats and beautiful women who seduce men and disappear into thin air, with the man awakening naked atop the tree and not being able to recall how he got there. I now think that they made up most of their stories just to scare their foreign neighbour.
For the longest time, I feared the tree and always avoided being around it as much as I could. Until recently, the brothers and I went ‘tomb-raiding’ in Fort Jesus (I watched all the Lara Croft movies).
We decided to take the unorthodox route (of course) and started at the beach climbing up the coral. And next thing I know, there’s a baobab tree smack in my face.
I got a little nervous and felt a bead of sweat go down my back (it may have just been the heat).
I kept avoiding the tree and we went into the museum’s compound, took some pictures and had to come back towards the coral. It was around 5.30 and the sun was casting such a beautiful light on Mombasa Hospital and the tree just stood there in the middle of nowhere, growing on the coral rocks. And I wasn’t scared anymore.
Such a quiet, massive tree with crows perched on its branches staring at us.
And so I just sat there for five minutes and stared at it too. My brothers left me behind as they went on exploring, and I snapped a few pictures. I intend to do a painting or sketch of that scene as it’s still fresh in my mind.
I’ll share a few of the pictures from our little Fort Jesus adventure now, and wish you all a prosperous new year 🙂
2015, bring it on!
Fatma x x
All photos taken on my Google Nexus 5 phone.