We went to meet Abdul. He seemed pleasant enough, an illusion that would quickly be dispelled. We opted to walk to Lamu (30 minutes) rather than take a dhow (10 minutes) to his visible disappointment. With a sinking feeling, we walked next to him while he rambled on in a monotone, when he could be bothered to talk at all. He told the bloke that his nickname in Shela was “FBI”. “Really? Is that because of your glasses?” the bloke asked mischievously. Abdul/FBI looked wounded. His glasses were red-tinted, gold-wire-framed numbers that were faintly Spider Jerusalem. He explained dolefully that he bore the nickname because he’s the village “fixer”, a claim we were to hear repeated by various other touts throughout our stay.
We rambled, rather directionlessly, through Lamu. Abdul/FBI occasionally pointed out an interesting building, about which he knew almost nothing. “That’s the fort,” he informed us, a fact that the large sign out the front confirmed. “When was it built?” we ask. “Oh, the 1830s. Or 1820s.” Then he attempted to explain the symbolism of the fort in the context of the present culture of Lamu. He had just enough English to be pedantic, but not enough to convey concepts clearly. He was, in short, the most frightfully humourless bore.
We went for a cup of coffee at the expensive Whispers cafe, which was European-owned and offered the only respite from both the busy streets and Abdul/FBI’s droning. He clearly considered the job to be beneath his dignity, as he was a “scholar” - of what, we never managed to ascertain - which would be fine if we hadn’t agreed to spend Ksh1500 for a guided tour of Lamu. By the end of the “tour”, we just wanted to be rid of him. We knew only slightly less about Lamu as when we started, although by dint of ignoring him and keeping our eyes peeled, we’d obtained an idea of the layout of the streets, the markets and the location of the museum. Duncan and Liz opted to escape back to the hotel in a dhow, while the bloke and I walked back.
Not so wide
We gratefully spent the afternoon on our peaceful balcony. The bloke and I made one brief foray to the shop, where we convinced the shopkeeper to make us some samosas. He pottered off to tell his wife (who actually did the cooking). Twenty minutes later, we popped back to pick them up, piping hot, for our lunch.
As the sun dipped toward the horizon, we created cocktails from our rum and vodka stash with juice from downstairs. At 8 PM, we went to meet Ali Samosa (not his real name). The previous day, he’d convinced the bloke, Duncan and Liz to come to his house for the best Swahili meal we could get on the island. His restaurant turned out to be the first floor of his house, furnished with three long tables and a quantity of rickety chairs. The food was quite good - better than the hotel’s - but not the best meal we’d eat on Lamu, although the prawn chapatis were definitely a highlight. We acquired three 1.5 litre bottles of juice, which turned out to be a godsend as we couldn’t find anywhere to purchase it on the island. Ali Samosa sat with us for some of the meal, showing us photos of Lamu from 20 years ago as well as his wedding photos (none of which included his wife). We didn’t see his wife, who was the cook, either. This made me uncomfortable, as the cloistering of women is my least favourite aspect of this culture. It confuses and upsets me, partly because I don’t think I have sufficient understanding of it to form an educated opinion. Since I was on holiday and with other people, I wasn’t about to discomfit them by probing into it there and then. I was glad to leave. Despite the beautiful settings, it was not a day of experiences I would care to repeat.