democracy in lamu

i’m on a boat. a blue wooden beast, dusty and baking hot, full of every manner of passenger – a young african man in grubby T and barefoot lugging a sack of potatoes; an older arab-african in full white tunic and embroidered muslim fez cap, travelling with a woman dressed head to toe in black headscarf and burkah covering all but her eyes; a young woman in colorful headscarf and modern dress, jeans and sleeveless top, holding a baby wrapped to its ears in woven linens; a rasta with three-inch-long dreds poking every which way, braided wrap tied into a skirt around his waist, staring out over the sea like me, the solo white backpacker to brave the overnight bus from nairobi to mombasa and on to lamu.

lamu is a small chill island on the northern coast of kenya. it comes highly recommended as a place to absorb some sun and indian ocean breeze, a blend of africa and arabia in its architecture, people and culture.

and the people are out in droves when i arrive, singing and drumming, marching down the wharf to the jetty, a mass of burkahs, fezes, orange t-shirts, and flags waving. a welcome parade for me? don’t i wish. today the muslim presidential candidate is making a campaign stop on lamu. his plane touched down minutes before my bus pulled in, and his swanky motorboat is just behind our sluggish dhow.

pushing my way onto the jetty and through the crowd, fending off touts offering to be my guide, trying to book me a room, sell me a boat trip to the islands, even a safari, i dump my stuff in the hotel and hightail it back through narrow streets to catch the remaining festivities. the politician has arrived, is waving to the crowd, shaking hands, and leading a procession back down the wharf past my lookout from the steps of a restaurant. i don’t have my camera because pictures aren’t really appropriate, but i’m taken with the sheer number of burkah-clad heads. these women, by western standards opressed in costume at least, are cheering and dancing with the same, if not more, vigour as i’d imagine at a hilary clinton rally back home.

the rasta standing on the steps next to me, the same guy in the skirt from the dhow earlier, who i’ll later join for a late-night beach party on another island, turns and says: ‘this is democracy man.’


sailing dhows in lamu harbor quiet streets rasta looking out to sea

~ by aliciawolcott on November 27, 2007.

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