Sea story

It's been a mellow weekend with not much going on, so I thought I'd post a sea story of sorts from my Navy days.

I was over in the Middle East during the first Gulf War at the end of 1991. As part of that trip, we "Crossed the Line" (that is, the equator). The ceremony by with a Wog (one who has not Crossed the Line) becomes a Shellback (one who has) is a post in and of itself. Suffice it to say it involved many gross activities. The reason we crossed the line was a visit to Mombassa, Kenya. Yes, people, I've been to Africa.

It was probably the most interesting country I've ever visited. The first thing that really struck us was the poverty. When we pulled alongside the pier, there were literally hundreds of people waiting for us with things to try and sell us, mostly carvings of stone and ebony (one of my favorite woods). These people did not leave until we did about a week later. And they would literally fight for our business. If you talked to one vendor, didn't buy anything, and started bargaining with a different vendor for a similar item, they would start arguing with each other or worse. Trading was acceptable and we would trade our ripped up t-shirts and old hats, things we would normally throw away, for whatever they had. It's sad that what we consider garbage is actually valuable to them.

Speaking of garbage, we had to put an armed guard on our garbage barge because there were litereally people going through it. They'd smoke our cigarette butts, eat our old food, and wear our old clothes. I'd never experieced such poverty. And the demand for things we had was amazing. I had one vendor try and trade me several carved figures just for the neck strap for my sunglasses. One of my shipmates gave a pair of $45 Ray Bans aviators to a Kenyan naval officer and the man said it would cost him a month's salary to buy them and was so grateful he invited him to his home for dinner. The saddest example was another shipmate that had a $200 watch that a vendor really wanted. He offered every carved figure he had in his booth (probably about 40 or so) for it. When he refused since the watch had sentimental value, the vendor offered his daughter. It was unclear whether this was a temporary loan or permanent payment.

There were many very cool things to see as well. The Kenyans were a very proud people. Monkeys were running around the way you would see squirrels in the park. They were everywhere. Probably the funniest thing that happened to us was a cab ride we took. The driver had a human femur bone in the back. He verified that it was indeed a real leg bone, but would not tell us where he got it. When we asked if it belonged to a relative, he just smiled.

We also had a local convince my buddies and I (there were about 10 of us) to have him show us around Mombassa and see out of the way things for about $5. He showed us a Buddist temple and a Mosque that we would have never found on our own. He was also the person that hooked us up with the above cabbie. Towards the end of the tour, when we were going through some alleyways, we wondered about the wisdom of going off with a stranger as we had, but we figured we had numbers on our side.

The other thing I remember most was it was my buddy Buzz's birthday. That was actually the name I knew him by for 2 years before I heard his wife call him by his real name. Buzz was a rancher from Oklahoma and a real "man's man". But a lot of fun to hang out with. We somehow managed to find a place that sold tequila in Mombassa then headed out to the hotel Buzz was staying to celebrate. We found Buzz in the pool and he was most appreciative of the tequila. I also remember many drinks flowing but not much else. It was a great time.

Overall, it was a very interesting place and I would love to go back, though I doubt I will. If you ever have the opportunity to go, you should.


Popular Posts