morning light filters through the narrow alleys of Lamu Old
Town as the calls to prayer echo between the cracks of its ancient
walls. The Unesco World Heritage site awakens to the beat of donkey
hooves and spinning bicycle wheels, without the rumble of a single
car engine. Throughout the day, the sunlight bleaches the already
faded pastels of its streets and highlights the natural colours of
its shores: turquoise waters, pink sand and green palm trees.
Sweet, sweet Lamu, “Lamu Tamu” in Swahili, is a place that has
been special to us for a long time. This slice of paradise in the
Indian Ocean is the oldest, continuously lived-in Swahili town and
as a result lives at a different pace. Its strategic position on
ancient trade routes means that it has been in continuous contact
with the outside world and has been strongly influenced by Middle
Eastern, Persian, Indian and Portuguese cultures. However, now it
faces multiple environmental, political and social threats.
If you look up Lamu, you will find news stories of Al-Shabab
attacks in the region, never on the island itself, but close enough
to be filed under the same name. You will read of campaigns
fighting against the new coal plant or the local movement battling
against plans for the largest port in East Africa to be built on
the mainland right next to its shores.
Over the past year, tourism on which the island sustains itself
has dwindled but is slowly resuming. The unknown has created fear
for the outside world, yet life goes on as it always did. When we
were there, celebrations for Eid after a month of Ramadan fasting
were well under way. The town was in a euphoric frenzy with wooden
dhows plowing across the channel and sails held proud and high for
their annual race. Henna parties filled the streets as locals
played board games of ancient Bao and a children’s sports day
unfolded on the beach.
Lamu has stayed strong against the odds, its people adapting to
change in their own way and becoming resilient to outside
pressures. Despite fears and misunderstandings in the media from
the outside world, it seemed as safe as it always has been and as
welcoming as it always will be. Its people always more beautiful
than its stunning backdrop. Stay strong Lamu, we love you.