Landlubbers in Lamu

Dec 5, 2005
Author: P&S

For a man who has no cell-phone or watch, we’re always amazed how our modern-day explorer, Kingsley Holgate and his expedition team, somehow manage to get news back to the Grindrod offices in Durban. Sometimes it’s a scribbled note on a piece of soap-box carton via a stranger, a crackling HF radio message or on a bad-line from some remote trading station. Today’s update is via Julie Lawrence, who escaped from her clapped out camper van to join Kingsley’s ‘One Net, One Life’ mercy mission. From the crumbling 14th Century Muslim stone town of Lamu, she sends us these extracts from the ‘grey-beard’s’ expedition journal, coming to you in his words….

“November 2005 - Starting as a distant drone, that slowly penetrates my sleep filled mind, the muezzin's call to prayer echoes up the old town’s narrow passageways to explode inside the mosquito net enclosed bed of our quaint 300 year old Swahili styled house, set deep inside the old town.

As Ramadan draws to a close, all 37 mosques seem to compete in loudly urging their followers not to break the dawn to dusk fast. The noise machine is indescribable, the challenge taken up by scores of braying donkeys. Loudest are the two that Mashozi feeds with potato peelings and scrap, tethered outside Mohammed the Bajun’s house who’s already awake and having a Swahili shouting match with his wife and kids. Not to be outdone, the garbage dump cats screech, claw, howl and reproduce in an orgy of sound; there’s even a one-eyed shabby that’s learnt to frighten the shit out of us by creeping through the kitchen window at night to wreak havoc with the dinner left-overs. Add the cries of the push cart operators, the ‘slip-slop’ of ‘flip-flops’ being dragged along by early morning feet, the endless noise of chisels turning hardwood beams into carved Swahili doors for wealthy Europeans and Salaam Aleikum’s being shouted across the passageways. Lamu is AWAKE!

So it’s on with the bush hat and sunglasses, cotton shirt and sarong, down 46 twisting steps - as is the Swahili custom, sandals on only at the front door. Dodging the donkeys and push carts, “Salaams” and “Jambos” from the chirruping children – “howarrrryoooo? wotisuname?”, they shout in broken English. Then it’s a right at Abubaker’s little grocery shop, shared with 12 cats, fed each morning with raw beef thrown from the meat cart. There’s a buzz in the streets - people shop for gifts and new clothes. Soon the new moon will be sighted, and the mosque will call for the celebration of Eid, marking the end of the month long Ramadan fast. Pushing through the crowds, past the cannons and broad steps leading up to the Old Fort, I raise my hat in greeting to the old men who sit and chat under the shade trees. Lamu’s endured a long Ramadan, the endless heat and humidity, nothing past the lips from dawn to dusk, not even a cigarette or the chewing of miraa, not even a puff of ganja. The endless calls to prayer, everyone looking forward to sunset, the cool of the evening, children selling samoosas, chilli bites, fresh juices, and chapattis. Pasted on to the ancient buildings, referendum posters urge Kenyans not to allow intimidation or bribery, outside immigration there’s a corruption complaints box. Noisy crowds gather around a man selling a cure for constipation, whilst the village madman, dressed in a dirty white robe and dreadlocks, screams out a verse from the Koran. “Habari Captain”, shout the local dhow sailors, intrigued by this handful of South Africans who’ve travelled all the way from Durban in Land Rovers and an old Swahili sailing dhow, giving out mosquito nets. Down near the jetty, black Bui Bui clad women – their black gowns allowing only a glimpse of seductively made-up eyes and beautifully henna painted hands and feet - sidle past in high heels, leaving a lingering smell of jasmine in the narrow streets. Sweat trickles down my back…

the Grindrod-sponsored engine being fitted into the dhow in Kenya

Intricately carved doors open up into small shops crammed with carvings, antique clocks and decorated sea chests from India and Arabia, brought here in dhows driven by the same monsoon trade winds that we hope will carry us back south on our “Return of the Rainbow expedition”. Soon, we’ll no longer be land-lubbers in Lamu - barefoot on the creaking deck, we’ll feel the wind in our faces again, the thrill of the open sea, the Land Rovers back in action, tented camps in the bush, the inflatable boat journeys, loaded up with mosquito nets for pregnant mums with babies in remote villages. The day we launch there’ll be music and drums, a feast of pilau, the fundis will slaughter a goat and make a blessing. Everybody who’s been involved with the overhaul of the Grindrod Spirit of Adventure dhow has been invited: the painters and scrapers, carvers, caulkers and sail-makers, Ahmet Mohammed and his team who have sweated it out fitting the Grindrod sponsored marine engine, the askaris who have guarded the Grindrod branded Land Rovers on the mainland..... And so we wait for the annual return of the Kaskazi, the north east summer Monsoon trade wind that will allow us to continue with our “One Net, One Life” malaria prevention campaign. Thanks for your support we’ll keep you posted…

Best wishes from Kingsley and The One Net One Life expedition team.



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