Donkeys and Dhows

The muezzin’s voice, amplified through a sound system, jolts me from a restless sleep. Soon other muezzin joins in. Every voice is amplified to the point where it sounds distorted, angry, irritated. There is no trace of the gentle, musical lilt the call to prayer in the UAE contains. Yet, despite this unexpectedly harsh intrusion of technology, life on Lamu Island still moves at a pace that is in step with the past: slow and relaxed.

Life has not changed much in this corner of the Swahili Coast of East Africa. There still is no air-pollution, traffic jams or honking car horns. Here donkeys and dhows are the modes of transport. Men while away hours and hours sitting around talking. There is much to talk about these days: the terrorist attacks by al-Shabaab on the mainland; the slump in the tourist trade; the impact of the port slated to be built not far from the island; politics; economics; health. Life here is not easy.

We arrived on Lamu Island the day after Christmas; the day after the curfew that was in place for six months was lifted here. The week between Christmas and New Year has always been one of the busiest on the island, yet this time around, it is quiet. People are worried. The guest houses that haven’t closed their doors had to let many of their staff go. There are no bookings. A question hovers on everyone’s lips. “When will the tourists return?” It is the same question that was asked two years ago when I visited the island for the first time. At the time travel bans deterred tourists from visiting, and things looked bleak. If it were hard then for people, it is even harder now.

But daily life continues despite economic hardships. People still smile and do the best they can. They celebrate weddings, and mourn the deaths of their loved ones. They worry, they cry, they laugh. And hold the hope in their hearts that 2015 will be the year the tourists return.

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Previous blog posts written on Lamu Island:

1.  Lamu Highlights

2. Searching for Sinbad

3. Sailing with Sinbad

4. On Turtle Watch

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