“Lamu is one of the highlights of Kenya with Mount Kenya”, I was told. Well I don’t know if they were talking about Lamu town. It’s a Swahili place like Zanzibar and I think I’m not too keen on Swahili places after all. There are Dhows and islands, so maybe he was talking about islands. I went there when I had academic writings to do. So, I stayed most of the day in the room and came out of my coral hotel (yes because most of the buildings are in coral stone, it’s basically limestone but doesn’t it sound magical when you hear that?) only to order amazing fresh mango juices and fresh delicious fish in coconut sauce.
Apart from that there were donkeys everywhere, the sewerage system was running along each street and you always met the same guys in the street with the same kofia and sometimes their hair dyed in orange henne… wow…
Of course the tides were indeed impressive. Unbelievable, magical. The water disappeared and left the boats shunken in the sand, stuck… unable too leave. It would only be years later that I’d understand that this had actually caused the British to lose a war in Zanzibar…
When I was in Diani, a guy approached me. He was an acrobat, I had seen them perform on the beach. He asked me if I needed entertainment. I said “no thanks”. Then he asked if I needed entertainment in my room. It took me some time to understand what he meant. I first thought of the guys coming to perform their acrobaties in my tiny room. Then, I understood what entertainment he meant. Had I not been young and good looking I would have probably understood quicker.
Usually these “services” are offered to middle-aged lonely ladies. Then, discussing with the people at the hotel I understood there was actually a big business going on with European women. Some adopted the guys and paid for their siblings studies. It was a kind of win-win situation they said.
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“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got up high, near the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.
The geographical position and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent. The colours were dry and burnt, like the colours of pottery. The trees had a light delicate foliage, the structure of which was different from that of the trees in Europe; it did not grow in bows or cupolas, but in horizontal layers, and the formation gave the tall solitary tress a likeness to the palms, or a heroic and romantic air like full-rigges ships with their sails furled, and to the edge of a wood a strange appearance as if the whole wood were faintly vibrating. Upon the grass of the great plains the crooked bare old thorn-trees were scattered, and the grass was spiced like thyme and bog-myrtles; in some places the scent was so strong that it smarted in the nostrils. All the flowers that you found on the plains or upon the creepers and liana in the native forest, were diminutive like flowers of the downs – only just in the beginning of the long rains a number of big, massive heavy-scented lilies sprang out on the plains. The views were immensely wide. Everything you saw made for greatness and freedom and unequalled nobility.
The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, whiteness, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has a blue vigour in it and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills in the woods a fresh deep blue. In the middle of the day, the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created great Fata Morgana. Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought : Here I am, where I ought to be”.
Out of Afica, incipit, Karen Blixen 1937.