Below, the road to Lamu. It’s an all-day trip from Mombasa northward along the coast. By the afternoon the road worsens, traffic thins, and you see more monkeys than cars. There are checkpoints and road blocks because it has been under Somali bandit attack—as the bird flies, Somalia is less than 100km away—and all buses have an armed guard on them. The trees and shrubs grow into the road, making the neglect feel like you are coming to an end, and you are. The road empties into the Indian Ocean in Mokowe where a short boat finally takes you into the Lamu Archipelago. Lamu!
Lamu is a predominantly Muslim town. It feels like I am back in Syria sometimes as I see lots of women in black robes, showing only their eyes. The first couple of times I heard the Arab greeting, I was roused:
“‘Salaam aleikum’, you say? Oh, what’s this? You want to go Arabic with me now, do you? I was two months in the Middle East not that long ago, Habibi. Don’t make me dust off my Arabic! I’ll do it, you know! Hold me back! HOLD ME BACK!!”
I’m already limbering up for wild arm gesticulations and clearing my throat for exaggerated gutteral sounds. Feeling good in Lamu!
Even in remote Lamu, English soccer has a big following. I asked a man with a Chelsea shirt where I could watch a match and he laid out the three main places (that charge between 30 and 50 shillings—US 40-60 cents—depending on the demand for the match), warning me to reserve early if I wanted a seat. Reserve? Really? He assured me it was so and there are even seat numbers! In little Lamu! British soccer’s popularity wasn’t much different in Ethiopia. (Motherwell vs. Aberdeen at 8am, anybody?) It’s mind-blowing.
I overheard the Osama bin Laden news on a radio at 6:30am in the home of someone next door to me. I never expected to hear Obama’s sober announcement coming from a Kenyan radio. I was surprised to later see news reports showing people celebrating in the streets in Washington as if something had concluded.
There was no overt local reaction that I could see. I spoke to three people about it as all of them wanted to know if it was true. They didn’t trust the radio. One young woman—I think she was young; I could only see her eyes because she was fully covered otherwise—working in a restaurant asked me if the news was true. I said I believed so and she didn’t look happy about it. I asked, “Is it good news or bad news?”
She said, “Bad news. He was Muslim.”
I said, “But if he was Muslim that killed many people?”
“He didn’t kill people,” she insisted, and then someone came to pay their bill, ending the conversation.