Lamu

On my first visit to Lamu;

I was picked at Manda Airport and tossed over the ocean in a boat. My first ever; I wore both excitement and fear, which I strapped tightly with an orange life jacket.

That evening I absentmindedly stared at couples seated between glowing restaurant lanterns listening to the soft ocean breeze, and I thought about the woman I loved.

I remember spending my last day – a Saturday – riveted to the allure of the oldest National Museum in Kenya which soaks in history dating as far back as the 12th century. Try as I might, I couldn’t absorb half of it by midday, and had to reluctantly leave.

My second,
third,
fourth visits, I can’t remember much. But I certainly can’t forget my most recent.

July 15th. I hurriedly shot off for an emergency mission as Mpeketoni Attacks tapered off. Tense, cold. Streets bare, and business at a zero. Religious fangs were out and an uneasy silence stooped over Lamu island.

I must have held my breath till I left. But not before visiting the mainland where pain had found a home. I wrote some accounts here.

On my last day, I took a walk in the island. Lots of construction using stone blocks, instead of coral was going on (stone blocks restricted after Lamu was declared a UNESCO heritage site). On my last day, I walked by a crowd surrounding a man lying prostrate – unconscious after a drug overload. Common scene.

As I hovered over the island, I stared out my airplane window thinking about a text message I’d received from my mainland volunteer translator two nights back: ‘there is a shoot-out happening outside. . . what do I do?’ 
I stared outside feeling like a spurned lover, nostalgic about good old days; wishing I could call them back. And lovingly gaze outside that window. With my woman.

It’s a year down since Mpeketoni Attacks.

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Worlds Apart: A date with Lamu [II]

Worlds Apart: A date with Lamu [II]

Lamu Island: Colorful and scenic, quite the family’s trophy; Lamu East: Dejected middle child, scarred, hiding lots of potential.

It is poorly developed and under-populated; sometimes a battleground for control by armed groups due to its remote vastness. But it fascinates me. The people are warm, lead simple quiet lives, almost completely oblivious to the ways of the rest of the world.

Like this is home to one of the most marginalized communities in Kenya, the Boni Aweer, who survive on gathering wild fruits when times are difficult, as hunting is prohibited.

Water salinity, probably due to proximity with the sea, sees residents in the far flung East dig up shallow wells which last about a week before caving back in. Some keep vigil to protect theirs from wild animals at night.

Shallow well

Shallow well

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Organizations like World Concern assist to construct djabias to trap and store rain water, which residents can use for drinking.

Kiunga is the border town sitting next to Somalia. Since the 1992 civil war that ousted Somalia’s Siad Barre, Kiunga bore the brunt and has never quite recovered. The vibrancy of the town is strewn in pieces all over – telephone poles, wires, a rusty post office. . .All, except security. This is the one town I’ve been to, in which guests register with the police, upon entry.

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Now here is also where our worlds divert, why Lamu is worlds apart from yours or mine . .

Ishakani village, also on the edge has the bluest of waters I’ve seen. Here the only thing to do is marvel at the serene virgin ocean, the splendor of God. A photo of it makes you wish that the divinity of it could spill into your soul . . .

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It is also here that some monumental grave sites. They have been basking under the sun since the 12th century. I didn’t know this, neither did the residents I spoke to. All they know is that the ‘ruins’ have been there since the days of their forefathers. I learnt that they were graves, from the Lamu Museum.

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But transport, or rather lack of it is a big issue. It is reason why I can’t find fish at my favorite den near the border, yet the ocean is only a few kilometres away. Occasionally, I’ve had to carry my fish raw, to have the hotelier prepare it for me. I know. . . sigh.

You do anything for that elusive lift, even the unthinkable in a speeding vehicle.

In a speeding vehicle, these passengers did the unthinkable. They had just prepared a meal when an opportunity to get a ride came. They knew the next available ride could be a day later, if lucky.

 

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How can they be so symmetrical yet so asymmetrical?

Could anthills have hollowed out this tree all the way up, and yet left it standing? How?   

Could anthills have hollowed out this tree all the way up, and yet left it standing? How?

Considering these matters, I find it difficult to believe that Lamu scores among the wealthiest counties in Kenya. Either Kenya on the overall is extremely poor; or the Lamu Island is too wealthy that it tips the East on average; or that data experts never quite travel to the East – it’s a journey that the urbane visitor would be hesitant to take. The latter. I think.

Worlds Apart: A date with Lamu [1]

Muhamadi Kijuma: brilliant poet, sculptor, composer, musician, scribe, carpenter, mystic and more . . .  A genius, born way ahead of his time.

Kijuma

Kijuma. Photo | Chonjo magazine

I met him at the Lamu Museum. I mean, work by him. He must have had ten different artsy skills,
and any one of them tipped the scales of excellence. A force in Swahili history, he charmed me and it hurts that I cannot read about him anywhere else.

This museum is my most favorite spot. It carries history before the 12th century, one mammoth den. It would take weeks to walk from one end to the other. Trust me, I camp for hours trying to imbibe even a little of it. Blows my mind each time.

Welcome to Lamu! A delightful piece of artwork, this town. Everywhere you turn, the architecture. the sculpting . .  is breathtaking. The sea relaxes you, the breeze comforts you . . . the fusion of it all softly massages your innermost hues. You forget your trouble for a while.

Really, it’s the place to take a woman you love.

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??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????The atmosphere is generally saline which gives little room for metal so the tiniest of details are handmade with wood. My oh my, sculptors this town has born.

?????????????????????????????????????????Also, the coral used to construct calcifies with stone with time and forges a seamless building that last centuries. It is no wonder why Lamu was classified a UNESCO world heritage site. Again, the mangroves used for ceiling and poles become harder as years roll on.DSCN7247

Now here is also where our worlds divert, why Lamu is worlds apart from yours or mine . .

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The sky and the sea fuse, a view from the sky

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Everything is ferried by the sea. This one was enroute to another island though, as these are foreign to Lamu island. In its narrow streets, a donkey will do just fine

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Petrol station: where the boats go to fuel

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Floating restaurant. You hire then dine as it gently floats to the rythme of the vastness of the sea

The police

And yes, no one uses your rough stuff. We prefer it soft here :)

And yes, it comes softer here 🙂

This is the main Island, the tourist Lamu. Tomorrow I take you through another world, yet in Lamu. .