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:
Reblogged this on The Kenya Daily News.
As always, I enjoy seeing your pictures from your lens. Although I’m curious. Why was there a tourist ban?
The militant group al-Shabaab often cross the border from Somalia and engage in terrorist activities in Kenya. Hence, many Western governments advise their citizens against visiting Kenya on a regular basis, which has a detrimental effect on tourism in the country in general. Last year the Kenyan government instituted a curfew for Lamu Province, as it borders Somalia, which made the situation for the tourist industry on Lamu Island very difficult. Ironically Kenya in general, and Lamu Island specifically, is still one of the safest places to visit.
Ahhhh, got it. Thanks for explaining.
What a wonderful place for a Christmas break. And I agree with you that most of Kenya is very safe for tourists. Highly recommended. Just avoid the north.
It certainly is, Peggy. Lamu Island is one of my favourite places on earth. I will not hesitate to return.
I’m negotiating a new relationship with my wanderlust, and this post is not helping…
Thank you. You clearly have to re-think your negotiating tactics, and include more travel destinations. 😉