Christmas on Lamu: views of a Swahili Community

Scan-130428-0010

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.

Scan-130426-0012

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. 

Scan-130429-0029

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!”

Scan-130426-0010

View from ‘the pent-house suite’, the Island Hotel, Shela

*

Scan-130426-0004

Stone Town, Lamu, now a World Heritage site

*

Scan-130428-0063

Christmas Day afternoon: a time for strolling, snoozing, chatting.

*

Scan-130426-0019.jpg

We went sailing with Uncle Lali: I see three ships…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

Daily Prompt: Memories of holidays past

Related:

Sleep (Lamu Dreaming)

Culture: the Swahili

© 2013 Tish Farrell

 

44 thoughts on “Christmas on Lamu: views of a Swahili Community

    1. 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.

      1. My favorite sentence.

        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.

        Says it all…

    1. 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s