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The Happiest Man in Mombasa

Luke In Kenya Part 3: The Happiest Man in Mombasa

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Traveler

Luke in Kenya: Part 3

“Luke in Kenya” is a travel series from Managing Editor Luke Armstrong as he travels to Kenya to visit the homeland of his adopted brother.

He’s always going, but never arrives.

They call him “The Traveler.” He’s a familiar face along the sunny streets of Old Mombasa. His unique blend of exotic joy fits in the postcard-environment of the city. In his right hand he carries an old leather briefcase filled with books — bursting at the seams and intact only due to twine tied around its frame. Dangling from his left shoulder is an ancient green backpack. His dress is a tunic made from recycled canvas. A faded return address can just be made on out from a time when the fabric protected (presumably) a crate being shipped from a far-off destination.

I passed him without noticing when my group of haphazardly assembled travelers left Fort Jesus to find a restaurant. Michelle, a woman from South Sudan, pointed him out and told me the handful of details she’d gleaned during her two-week stay in Mombasa.

“They call him The Traveler,” she told me — one of my trigger words.

“I’ll catch up with you later,” I said to the group, finding nothing more appealing at that moment then finding myself in a conversation with him.

The Traveler's Brief Case

When I reached the intersection where he had disappeared, I asked a woman selling soft drinks which way The Traveler had gone.

“That way,” she pointed, knowing whom I meant.

When I approached him, he shook my hand and pointed to my camera and them himself. I asked if I could record him. “Sure, sure, yes,” he said, nodding.

Much of what he said didn’t make sense. “And the waters cold in the villages . . . I can’t, I can’t, I can’t do that. You can go while it is, it’s okay, it’s alright . . . bring me what is, you can read the lesson.” But his voice had a certain melody to it as it switched from one language to gibberish to another. Like a good song heard for the first time, when it stopped I wanted to hear it again and again. The vendors around said the same thing about him, “He’s a happy, happy man.”

I’ll vouch for that. He’s maybe one of the happiest.

“He has no home,” another vendor told me.

“He’s a very educated man,” said a third, “but one day he just went . . . ” the man circumscribed the circumference of his ear, pantomiming the universal sign for loony.

A police officer on the beat told me he never had any trouble with The Traveler, who he called “Bob.” He also said that Bob was always happy.

The vender who told me he was well educated told me to go to a café named Yahazi’s and ask him to tell me a story about him. I didn’t end up making it there and will have to save it for the if and when I return to Mombasa. One never knows which road will lead you back to where you started.

I realize this isn’t much, and this may all I never know about The Traveler: one tiny glimpse. But I’m glad he’s out there, a traveler caught in a loop, never leaving but always going, and blissfully content with that. There are metaphors in that, but I’ll leave you the reader to fill in your own.

Traveler Letter

This story does not end completely here. I have no idea how long ago that return address was written on what is now The Traveler’s tunic. Maybe that P. O. Box in Kuwait City is still in existence — maybe not. Maybe it’s being used by the same person — maybe another. Whatever the case, I’ve addressed an envelope to it. Inside I’ve printed one of my favorite travel poems, “Ithaka” by Constantine Cavafly. Though The Traveler may never end up making it to the airport, he’s still at least inspired this letter to be sent to the Kuwait address. I’ll send it via airmail.

By Luke Maguire Armstrong

Read the entire “Luke in Kenya” series here.


About the Author

LukeArmstrongAfter setting out to hitchhike from Chile to Alaska, Luke Maguire Armstrong stopped in Guatemala where he spent four years directing the social service programs of the charity Nuestros Ahijados. He is the author of, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on which is especially enjoyed by people “who don’t read poetry.” (Follow Luke on Twitter: @lukespartacus). His new book, How We Are Human, was recently released.

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