Star Date: October 2009
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Hello! I'm good. Masai tribe; only 40 more tribal dialects to go in Kenya!)
"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind
word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of
caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
Bandits! Every matatu north has 1 or 2 armed soldiers for protection but it seems that the Somalian bandits have moved further south and are getting more brazen. Six people were recently killed when their bus was ambushed by these nasty guys. The war raging in their country has pushed them south to pillage in neighboring Kenya. It is always important to check conditions before heading into troubled regions. Earlier we had a quick change of plans when we met a man who had been in hospital for a week. His matatu had been attacked and robbed by Somalian bandits on the roads 100 miles north of Isiolo. Speeding along the dusty road south back towards the safer green slopes of Mt. Kenya and on towards the coast, Joseph's suitcase met with an unfortunate end as it went flying off the top of the matatu, bouncing behind us in a cloud of dust. The usual "Sorry" was uttered but his dear companion of 4 years had to be replaced. No longer able to 'roll along' we would have been excommunicated from our tribe. We wonder if the warranty would have covered that?
On the bus the sidekick was wearing a t-shirt stating: Fact - Ninjas Hate Pirates - sponsored by the World Association of Ninjas Against Pirates. Bandits by land, Pirates by sea these Somalian outlaws have effectively struck terror into the hearts of their neighbors and certainly the close to 400 international ships they have attacked in the last year. Now requiring armed military ships as escorts for a high price (sounds fishy), many shipping lines have chosen to instead go around South Africa to avoid the rat infested water altogether. As the deserts creep south due to mismanagement of the land and overpopulation, we can expect territorial wars over more fertile lands to the south. We observed this happening as we made our way up the Kenyan coast. Desperate Somalian herders drive their herds into neighboring Kenya; a place barely able to support their own cattle and land. Pandora's box is about to spring open.
Finally reaching the tiny island of Lamu up near the Somalian border we soon realized we had found a place like few remaining on earth. A safe little harbor hiding a window into Swahili life in times gone by. Reached by dhow or wooden sailing boat there are no noisy vehicles here, aside from one small 3 wheeled ambulance which we witnessed being pushed along the sand road. 'Everyone is already where they want to be' and we decided to follow suit. Mainly Swahili Muslims with Arabic roots, call to prayer rings out 5 times a day with the small donkeys, the only transportation available on the island, braying in time. Most town women walk around completely covered in heavy black robes and head covers 'buri buris', while the men enjoy cooler white cotton outfits and fez hats. Muslim women from the fishing villages often cover just their heads with colorful scarves and unwrapped Christian women walk around cool and smiling as they enjoy the sea breezes. Everyone gathers in the town square under the shade of the banyan tree or along the waterfront drinking coconuts or quietly visiting.
"Esalamu eleikum" (peace be with you) is always pleasantly returned with "Eleikum esalamu." Taught to recite, "Hello. How are you? I am fine," in class at primary school, a cheery "Hello" is often rebounded with "Fine", by those who don't remember any English. Whatever the response the warmth with which it is expressed is contagious in this friendly Muslim corner of the world. Narrow alleyways or stone footpaths create a maze of whitewashed buildings dotted with small mosques, stalls or markets. Completely safe and friendly we definitely will return here someday. Safe that is except for the punk donkey drivers who hit me one afternoon as I stepped out of a door way, sending me spinning. With the traditional "Sorry" yelled in their wake, off these delinquents sped. "What's becoming of the young people nowadays?" (as per Socrates 399 B.C.) Evenings with the full moon rising over the ocean were magic. Until we return, 'Lala Salama' peaceful dreams!
A young Masai moran we made friends with in Lamu told us he had built up a cattle herd to fifty head and had finally begun looking for a wife. Within the last 6 months all but 2 of his cows had died of dehydration. He was devastated. Everything he had been taught and raised to do literally had vanished with the dust. He cut his long braids off but still dressed in the traditional red plaid wrap and carrying a club, he traveled to the coast in search of employment. He has convinced his fellow moran that tribal traditions must change. Changes forced by overpopulation and the ensuing drought. These modern thinking young Masai are discussing having less children and sending those children, for the first time, to school. They realize the value of education to adapt to the new lifestyle they are being forced into. As one Masai said, " I want my sons to grow up side by side with the Nature. That way, there will be a link between my ancestors, me and the future." Disconnecting from Nature has broken this link across the planet. Our future hangs by a thread. The only thing constant in life is change and the time for change is now.
Loaded with a large bag of fresh vegetables from the market we were wandering the waterfront in search of a place to cook and stumbled on Juliana, Dama and Stellah. Cooking over the coals together for 2 weeks we had a ball. Changing the 'blah blah' news or politicians blabbing on the radio to a lively station blasting traditional African music we would dance a couple of songs before the food preparations began. As we exchanged dance moves, I was lovingly nicknamed 'hakuna matako' no butt. I had the rhythm and energy to keep up but lacked the proper 'back porch' to pull it off in true African style. No worries; fun is fun. Just a bunch of women, irrespective of race or nationality, sharing life around the cooking fire. We exchanged photos, life stories of abusive husbands and spousal deaths, the joys of motherhood, and always ended on a positive note, thanking God for what little they had. We paid for charcoal but were never asked for money.
When the dust had settled in the kitchen, Joseph and I would eat out in front of Juliana's house, along the waterfront, soaking in the ocean breezes and watching life unfold in this sleepy little fishing village. The day before we left I told the 'girls' to get dressed up, "We were going out for a drink." Dressed in beautiful colors and bright scarves we promenaded down the waterfront to one of the nicer 'Muzungu' restaurants and ordered fruit shakes. Sitting on the inside looking out, they had walked by these tourist establishments hundreds of times but never ventured into their world. They were thrilled and we spent a couple of hours relaxing together as someone else served us for a change, something only women understand. By the time we left Lamu we had forged friendships with some wonderful souls: these 3 beautiful Mamas, vegetable sellers in the market who threw in extra produce, gentle "Rasta Modi", the little dumpling chef "Ali Hippie", teachers at the schools receiving Joseph's library, April from Boulder, Colorado via Spain and last but certainly not least, "Marcus the Welsh Viking ", honorary member of the 'rollalong tribe'. Sad to go we had a crowd of well wishers bidding us adieu on the dock amid hugs and great fanfare. Either they came to say goodbye or they wanted to make sure we left the island!
Welcomed with open arms we stayed with another good new friend, Rajesh, in his 8th floor penthouse apartment in Mombassa, on our way to Tanzania. Randomly striking up a conversation at Chetna Indian Restaurant on our previous visit we were invited back and spent a week together sitting by the ocean having coconuts and cassava chips, sampling much craved for Indian food, walking through Old Town, relaxing on Tiwi Beach with 'blue-balled' monkeys and colorful hornbills, teaching his housekeeper, Grace, how to cook international dishes to add to her delicious African mokimo and ndengu, and watching new movies next door with cordial David and Delphina. One year earlier and thousands of miles away we had celebrated Dewali, Hindu New Years in remote Gujarat, India; in Bhuj, in the Great Raan of Kutch with Rajesh's Auntie. By no coincidence we celebrated once again amid grand fireworks displays exploding right outside our 8th floor balcony! We never know what is around the corner. Isn't Life Grand and Full of Surprises? Enjoy it Right Now!
And so it goes.........................................Next month south to bordering Tanzania. Spread your smiles, love, kindness, and light to those around you. You never know who you will help in the process. It changes lives, including our own. Glad you stopped by. Thanks for keeping in touch! Take care.
Love, Light &
$1.00US = 79 Kenya Shillings
Check out Peter's beadwork collection at African Village Art at the entrance to Old town near Fort Jesus. Sat with him and his lady stringing necklaces and earrings.
Watch the movies: "A Good Year" or the
Indian Bollywood hit, "Lagaan" for impressive cinematography and an
enjoyable evening. Great choices, David.
Just spend time getting lost in the maze of alleyways. The museum, Swahili house, German PO are expensive to enter and if you explore you will see buildings and artifacts everywhere in Lamu Town. When entering the Fort just say you are going to the library (up the stairs to your right at the top.) Hang around for 5 minutes, then notice the photos on the walls outside and you have just seen the whole place for FREE and saved $7 or 500s.
Tailor: Steven Mganga phone #0711886806 made yet another duplicate of our handy 'Buddha' bags. First monk bag was purchased in Lhasa, second made in Katmandu and now Lamu.
Check out Namibia's Ogres Beads Shop for some interesting, flashy beads. Follow the signs that lead you through the alleys like a treasure hunt.
an interesting read and fun pics go to our friend's, Marcus, blog
about his year long trip overland from South Africa to the UK.
He took the photo of pushing the ambulance on Lamu and the donkey
smiling as we walked the island together. What a hoot!
Great mokimo and gather beans in a hut next to the main market downtown (60s) - just ask.
No, all Kenyans, Chinese, Whites
or Masais don't look alike.
BELOW are a few of
the interesting sights we've seen along the