On Thursday, D accompanied Ambo to Mombasa. Located on the coast, Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city and its major port, linking not just Kenya, but also all of East Africa to the Indian Ocean. Most of the goods destined for interior countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda are shipped through Mombasa because Kenya’s road infrastructure, though far from perfect, is vastly superior to the roads one finds in Tanzania, Kenya’s southern neighbor. Though most Kenyans consider themselves Christian, about 10% of the population practices Islam, and these individuals reside predominantly on the coast. With the holy month of Ramadan upon us, we planned a trip to Mombasa so that Ambo could host an iftar dinner for the city’s key movers and shakers.
Because it was Ambo’s first trip to the coastal province, we had to follow protocol and pay a courtesy call on local government leaders. Even though we flew in mid-day, courtesy calls are largely a formality and we were done by 2pm. The local leaders greet the Ambo, exchange a few pleasantries, make noncommittal statements about the political situation, and offer tea with samosas. An iftar, typically done as a community, occurs at sundown, when Muslims gather together to break their fast. With a ton of time until sunset, we decided to fill Ambo’s schedule with a radio appearance. Muslim outreach is a key priority for the US Embassy, all the more so because of Kenya’s proximity to Somalia, and what better way to engage with the coastal population than through a radio interview?
Planning Ambo’s travel is a major component of D’s job responsibilities. However, the iftar was organized by the Public Affairs Section, so once the day’s other activities wrapped up, D could relax and enjoy the event, chatting with local Muslim leaders and enjoying the delicious food. Among the more interesting guests were a Philadelphia imam and rabbi, who are touring various African countries together to teach religious tolerance and understanding to at risk youths. The highlight of the event, however, was when we broadcasted President Obama’s iftar speech. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 rapidly approaches, it was a speech that was so poignant and well delivered that it hushed the entire room. One could hear a pin drop as several hundred people riveted their attention to the projector screen.