Lamu Old Town is a place authentic, raw and rich in history.
The thought of it awakens a deep yearning in me that the Corona virus pandemic continues to prod incessantly; the urge to travel.
With the necessary means, I would globe-trot to the world’s ends.
In another life I would be an explorer. Moving from continent to continent surviving on meagre supplies, richly filling my thirst for adventure.
Or a long-distance trader like the Kamba people. Delivering wares over far flung and remote areas in the lands south of the Nile and north of the Limpopo. Casting curses and spells over anyone who dared stand in my way. Telling stories to my kinsmen of lands where water filled the whole horizon and the iron snake which laboriously slithered over land masses.
I get nostalgic over the last time I filled this black hole. Reminiscing over the freedom I felt as I hopped place to place not knowing it would be a cherished memory I would closely behold.
Close your eyes and open your mind to imagination. Neither limited nor bound by curfews and quarantines.
Allow my words to build sandcastles in your brain, as we embark on a virtual journey.
WELCOME TO PARADISE: LAMU OLD TOWN
It is the oldest continually inhabited town in Kenya. A place most beautiful, which brings heavenly calmness to the troubled. It carries the aura of a world’s end, where the sun tucks it eyelids after shining in all its glory throughout continuity of time.
You wake up every morning to the endless battle of water and wind; forming the offspring of waves out of this holy union of nature.
Each dusk, cocks croak in competition to who among them would sound the loudest. Or maybe, an acknowledgement to the gods, for having survived another day against the glares of the bloody knives of their butchers.
Imams from all sections of the island make their religious recitals calling believers to the first of five prayers of the day. A show of the deep piety running in the veins of the town’s inhabitants.
FUN FACT: Lamu Old town has 23 mosques.WIKIPEDIA
Each morning, I sat on the side of the beach as I got lost in the mirage of the ocean. Forming my own version of paradise in my head.
In hindsight, not living in the moment and appreciating the paradise I was sitting on. My trail of thoughts would only be interrupted by the buzzing of motor boats.
BACK TO BASICS: AUTHENTIC LAMU
Lamu Old town has been able to withstand the wildfire of modernity. Continually playing with fate, in cognizant of when this donkey will finally break its back from its burden of stubbornness against civilization.
The part of an archipelago of coastal islands, has been able to stand man’s dalliance with technology. The only motorized modes of transport are the noisy speed boats. Always in a rush to unknown destinations.
This is what I thought the mythical King’s Landing town of the Game of Thrones trilogy would look like.
Numerous boats line the shore.
White houses made of coral stone and mangrove timber are closely packed together like white puppies clinging together for warmth. The houses are aesthetically designed with courtyards strategically positioned in the middle.
The streets are a couple feet, wide enough for only two people to walk through. They are a like maze to an outsider. Each street resembling the last and the next one. You create visual beacons to find your way around or else you get lost trying to find your way around.
The walls offer a calm solace to the unforgiving sun. No single car is in view as I behold the view of donkeys moving around as the primary source of transport.
Extravagance is mildly shown. All the houses looking identical. With the resulting inability to pick out affluence unless you entered these abodes.
Some of the people walk around barefoot, their big toes protruding unusually over their feet. Probably a physiological adaptation of their bodies to swimming. A similarity to the fin dynamics of fish.
CHILDREN OF LAMU
I watched with envy as the children of the island swam in the ocean with boldness despite of their nudity and an unusual courage.
Knitting dripping accents with the strokes of their tongues, an embodiment to their mastery of the Swahili language, which I would never hope to achieve in my life time.
How would it be growing up here?
Certainly, limitation would not be a word fathomable. The image of the ocean with its end never in sight etched in your mind.
I grew up in a place that has a mountain and hills all around it.
A perpetual damnation on my young impressionable mind, that put a lasting impression of having to conquer existent and seemingly insurmountable limitations.
BEAUTY OF THE PEOPLE
The Swahili are a fascinating people. I would sit and eavesdrop on their conversations. Full of metaphorical phrases and innuendos.
What stood out was their storytelling. A question always led to tales full of historical references and gossip. A small island where everyone knew everyone.
The beauty of their women only shown by their eyes, on the windows of their masterfully embroidered Buibuis. This only served to build anticipation on knowing how their faces looked like.
Guiltily I wished the wind howled and unearthed their masks for a tantalizing glimpse.
The food was always full of tastes.
They have the magical ability to turn even the most primal of foods into exquisite dishes.
Through ages of wild experimentation and passing down of recipes through generations, the Swahili had evolved their culinary skills to awe biding taste levels.
I allowed the scent of food to drive me to where I would hungrily indulge. Calculatedly savoring every meal in my mouth, like a piece of melted chocolate.
One which stood out for me was a sweet treat locally known as Labania.
It has the ability of jolting the body with bouts of energy while still awakening your taste buds.
THROUGH THE EVENING…
When sun is about to set, the town comes alive.
Women line the streets with their wares. The smell of fried potatoes and bhajia sift through the air causing the salivating of tongues and grumbling of bellies.
Fishermen come from the sea. Their boats filled with their daily catch of fish. The boats are anchored to shore, as children jump around them dramatizing future lives as navigators on the sea.
In the night, pitch darkness takes over the island.
A welcome cool wind breezes over the island, replacing the hot climate of the day.
A bearded old man alluded to me that those were the spirits coming back from the depths of the seas.
A calm atmosphere and stillness of sound only broken up by the occasional bickering sound of a complaining mother to a child. The children here, being unusually bold, would unimaginably reply and argue with their mothers. The whole drama coming to an anticlimactic end with the sound of palm to face.
Occasionally, I’d hear the braying of mating donkeys.
The Wahenga who came up with the saying, Asante ya punda ni mateke, did not have in mind the donkeys of Lamu. At first, I cautiously approached through the narrow streets desperately praying the donkeys would not throw their hind legs at me. Besides the knack of decorating the streets of the whole town with their excreta, the donkeys were always a welcome sight.
THROUGH THE VALLEY AND SHADOW OF DEATH
All sweet things tend to not come easy.
To get to Lamu, you have to go through the unforgiving Boni forest where even the bravest shudder in fear.
The thick and marsh forest holds malevolent mysteries ready to consume those who dare go through it. Or rather, that is the popular belief.
It took me around 10hrs to move from Malindi to Lamu.
The view transitions from views of the Indian Ocean, semi-arid areas of lower North Eastern Province to the dense Boni forest.
Grass thatched houses dot the surroundings with children and women walking around with jerrycans in their search for water.
Occasionally, the long necks of giraffes would be seen as they tore off the leaves on the trees.
When the bus stopped, they would rush to the windows with pleading eyes, thrusting their commodities onto our palms, begging incessantly for the pieces of prized paper and metal we closely kept in our pockets. Flies buzzed over their toddlers tightly held in shukas on their backs.
They came bearing roasted maize and camel milk. I would mercifully throw a pitiful glance at them. Inevitably choosing to avoid making eye contact for it not to be mistaken as an expression of interest.
Every time the vehicle stopped or slowed down, heads jerked off their seats with fear and panic written over their faces. I slept soundly, quite oblivious of the potential evil lurking in the forest.
Occasionally, the vehicle would be stopped by menace looking service men with fingers on the triggers of their loaded guns. They would bark out that everyone gets out of the vehicle holding their identification documents and luggage. No one dared blurt out a word.
My interest piqued on sight of their armored personnel vehicles.
A week after I left, I would hear on the news of a bus was attacked by militants on this same road.
Shout out to these selfless men and women who risk their lives every day to provide protection to others.
The buses get to the end of the road at Mokowe jetty.
From here you have to take a boat to the island. Any hint of fatigue is taken away by the views from this point.
Mangrove forests dot over the vast water mass. Going into the boat, I desperately clang to my life jacket as the waves beat the side of the boat. Needless to say, I was only interested in the life part of it.
Moving deeper into the ocean, fear melted away like ice and my adventurous spirit took over. A wry smile formed on my face as I felt the freedom and set my eyes on the boats which lined the shores of Lamu Old town.
GOODBYE LAMU…FOR NOW
On the day, I was leaving the Island, I felt a deep sadness engulf me. Bare truth, I did not want to detach myself from it.
I thought of all the things I hadn’t managed to do. I had only managed to experience a fraction of what was on the platter.
Visiting the monkey infested ancient ruins in the surrounding islands of Mande and Pate.
Eating Octopus meat and drinking its soup which allegedly had the ability of driving libido to insane levels.
Lounging on the scenic beaches of Shela and going on the heavenly evening dhow excursions into the deep sea, under the setting sun.
Beyond doubt, I made a resolve to come back to this best kept secret.
I prayed that the people of this island would continue to take care of this cherished gem. The sight of pieces of garbage lining the shore was sorely disheartening.
A few recommended sites for future travelers are the picturesque monuments such as the Lamu fort, Lamu Museum and the German Old post.
A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
Lamu Island is a paradise for the meta-physical.
It is for those who appreciate authenticity rather than luxury.
For those whose minds are clogged with tabs which need to be shut down.
For those who are adventurous enough to have a dalliance with their fates. The seekers of peace in themselves. Appreciators of the beauty of nature in its struggle to resist modernity.
Definitely, a fitting remedy for the disruptive effects of the Corona bug on our lives.
READ MORE BY THIS WRITER: MENSTRUATION: CHANGING SOCIETY’S PERSPECTIVE
My next article has been cooking for a while.
By the smell of it, it will be finger-scrolling delicious. I can’t wait for you my dearest readers to indulge into it.
Set your mental calendar to the 3rd week of next month, 17 June 2020.
Drum rolls…A SUMPTUOUS meal awaits! Bon Appetit!