Main street, Stone Town, Lamu. No cars only donkey transport.
I learned a great deal about community when I was living in Kenya where it meant not only an affirmation of cultural identity, but also an expression of hospitality; the call to an absolute stranger of “karibu,” “come on in!”
And so it proved to be one Christmas, when we spent a few days on the Indian Ocean island of Lamu. I suppose, in amongst the excitement of organising our flight there from Nairobi, I had wondered what it might be like to spend a Christian festival within a strongly Muslim community. Or perhaps I had gone there expecting simply to forget it. I know I had thought about clothing, packing only things that would not cause offence by too much inappropriate exposure.
Christmas Day on Shela Beach, Lamu
But I had not expected to feel so ‘gathered in’. From the moment we were picked up from the tiny Manda Island air field, and taken by dhow taxi to the Island Hotel in Shela Village we were quietly embraced by the locals.
Sensation was anyway heightened: it had just stopped raining as we stepped ashore and followed our guide up damp sandy paths. The sense of unobtrusive acceptance somehow fused with the scent of jasmine, the touch of steaming coral walls of deserted gardens and tumbled village houses, the warm salt breezes.
At five a.m. on Christmas Day we woke to the call to prayer at the local mosque. Allahu akbar filled our room, and unavoidably so when the roof was only a thin layer of palm thatch and three of the walls were open to the elements. It seemed a transforming moment somehow. I lay in the little Lamu bed, and listened to the village stirring to life around us, hee-hawing donkeys, the clatter of kitchen pots and pans, radios quietly playing. It seemed a community well set in its ways, and for many generations. Yet later, when we set out to walk along the long strand to Stone Town, we were greeted from every side by smiling locals. “Happy Christmas!” they cried. “Happy Christmas!”
View from ‘the pent-house suite’, the Island Hotel, Shela
Stone Town, Lamu, now a World Heritage site
Christmas Day afternoon: a time for strolling, snoozing, chatting.
We went sailing with Uncle Lali: I see three ships…
Weekly Photo Challenge: Community
Daily Prompt: Memories of holidays past
© 2013 Tish Farrell
46 thoughts on “Christmas on Lamu: views of a Swahili Community”
Reblogged this on When Education Meets Adventure.
You pressed like too quickly, Tish. Have another look, it is completed now- well another episode to write, but there’s a natural conclusion. Ian
What a wonderful post, Tish. And lovely how the community embraced the foreign holiday.
Thank you, Annette. I think perhaps it’s because they’ve been embracing foreigners for several hundred years. They know how to be good hosts without crowding the guests.
Lamu is a time warp. Lovely photographs and I love the idea of being gathered in…
What a lovely post! Gorgeous photos too from the island community. Happy Christmas!
amazing photos, a really nice post!
Lovely photographs and story of a different world – especially the boats in full sail.
Thanks, Robin. Yes, those dhows, a bit like something out of Sinbad or Sendibada as the Swahili call him. His merchant ship plied this coast of course…
A lovely glimpse into ‘another’ Africa I know nothing about. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
My pleasure, Celestine. Happy Christmas.
I ate some fabulous lobster here in 1980. Enjoyed reading about your experiences, as usual.
Thanks, Ian. My enduring Lamu food memory is fish samosas, sold to us on the beach. And the other one is smoothies (before they were invented) of mango and cardamom.
This is such an inspiring post. I also enjoyed the one on Kitu Kidogo. You are a truly talented writer
Thank you so much for your comments, Emily, and for reading my posts. You’re a pretty good writer yourself. I enjoyed your piece on why we should come to Uganda for a holiday. Would love to.
What a great holiday… especially the sailing.
Hello Trish! Wow! I was like in a dream state reading this. Your words are so soothing and I love your photographs too. Lovely post.
Thanks, Vashti. Lovely of you to drop by to be soothed!
I love this post, Tish The writing perfectly complements the photos and visa versa. The colours and composition, like the other one. Smashing.
Well thank you, Ark, for all those nice compliments.
My favorite sentence.
Says it all…
What a great post.
What an idyllic place this is. Your descriptions paint a picture of paradise.
As everywhere, I’m sure there are problems there – not least Somali bandits on the nearby mainland. Then there’s the developers who want to cover the beaches in hotels, and of course not a lot of future for the young people.
Paradise is never how it seems at first glance then Tish
Gorgeous photographs. You have such an eye!
And your story-telling! Now I want to go to Lamu. It goes on the list!
Ah, That list! 🙂
Thanks for sending me here Tish, a lovely morning read.
Thank you, Gilly. Very nice of you to take the hint 🙂