The end of the road: Lamu, Kenya

          The turtles and I would like to say that the mangoes are fantastic here on Lamu. I eat at least two a day. Depending on the size, they cost 10-20 shillings (12-25 US cents) each. I feed the donkeys the peels. It's a win-win all around.

     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!

     Every afternoon in the main square men sit around and play this carom game. It says something positive that in 2011 four grown men will play a simple game like this and eight men will watch, and when one team loses the next competitors race to occupy their seats like little kids. I also like that they have a bottle of baby powder close by that they shake over the board to facilitate sliding.

     Wait a minute, I'm getting mixed messages here from your flags. Are you a skull and crossbones hell-raising pirate or a peace-loving psychedelic hippie? Please explain.

     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.

     The women who do this do it very quickly. It is something to watch. No, this is not my hand.

     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.

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The end of the road: Lamu, Kenya — 8 Comments

  1. Your recent posts keep giving me a nasty surprise when I scroll down to the close up of the toes pictures! Maybe you could make a separate toe gallery just for those following the toe’s recovery?
    I did like the picture of the two little boys and the boat very much though!

  2. Toe or no toe, I’m a dedicated reader. And by the way, Kent, if your last post was a subtle hint for some fundraising, I’ll throw in a few bucks for you to safari in Kenya. Anyone else?

  3. No no no, but thank you for the offer! I might subtly hint about fundraising if i go to japan this summer to help with the reconstruction, but the radiation is still scaring me away from that.

  4. “and all buses have an armed guard on them. ”

    What happens if there’s actually an attack? The one guard has a shoot-out with all the bandits?

    Just spent six days trekking in the jungle, and maybe 4 minutes after we got off the river and out of the canoe a shop owner passed the Bin Laden news. Pretty Muslim area (Sumatra, Indonesia) though, and nobody betrayed much emotion either way, so I also let it glide past.

    Haha.. toe looks better as well. Took me a minute to remember what that picture’s context was, though.

  5. Indeed, one half-asleep dude with an ancient gun isn’t much match against a bunch of hungry Somalis, but I made it out alive.
    Hope it’s mangosteen season in Sumatra!

  6. I love reading your stuff.
    Here in Penang, Malaysia I spoke to a few people about it. Didn’t get too much reaction. Suprisingly the most reaction came from a Chinese Malaysian man here and he was quite animated about it, but maybe that was only because he had enough english vocabulary TO be animated. Either way, he did so much favor to either way.

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