A swahili place: Lamu town

I had been told by several people that Lamu and Mount Kenya were the highlights of Kenya. There are so many highlights in Kenya that I was really wondering what Lamu would be like!

The problem is reaching… it’s located on the Northern Coast : there are three Lamus; Lamu town, Lamu the island itself and Lamu archipelago. It seems the most beautiful thing is apart from enjoying the atmosphere to navigate from one island to another and enjoy the nature around. In fact there are mangrove forests and the islands are surrounded by turquoise water. I didn’t do that myself, because it wasn’t what I would call a highlight: Diani for me is more of a highlight having a coral reef at 200 m from the shore!

When I arrived a guy took my suitcase and asked me what my hotel was and took me there; I had just landed… I had no time to breathe: people in Lamu assault the tourists that come especially in low season: they are hungry for clients. No tourist goes unnoticed in Lamu. The inhabitants greet you, ask you if you need or want something… They probably thing they are being nice by doing so but it produces a contrary effect in me: all I want to do is run home! And I become really unkind to whoever is trying to make a living, because after all, all they are doing is looking for clients.

There are no cars in Lamu: they use donkeys instead, and there are 2200 donkeys on the island. It’s a multicultural city: Indian, Arabian, Kenyan influences merge. It is what they call the Swahili culture. Like the rest of the coast it’s an Islamic territory.

In the evening the children jump into the water from the “main road” … a main road which reminded me of Pondy’s promenade. Their games include also are boxes which become cars, and even I saw them playing with a dead baby donkey which they threw into the sea they were swimming in again and again… Ok this is definitely a different culture I thought.

The streets are narrow, the houses and buildings are made of corals, and the sewerage runs through the streets itself. Yes it can seem relaxing in the sense that we are on an island where there are no cars. It could seem like a voyage in time … if only people didn’t assault every single tourist!

What I did enjoy in Lamu was my beautiful hotel : a Swahili house made of coral with a beautiful green patio in the centre, and I think it was the cutest I’ve ever experienced.  Three windows and a bed like the one I dreamt of when I was a child. There is was really fun to do all the writing I had to do: calm and relaxing, just what I needed! Another thing was watching the tides: the difference is huge so huge that when some people attacked Lamu, they got stuck when they wanted to leave because there boats which they had left in the water were now stuck in firm land… and also the food: fresh snapper, fried bananas with honey and the amazing, truly amazing fruit juices that are as creamy as smoothies.

But I have said enough: as we say in France an example is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the video and get a sense of what it is like.

My favourite vegetable ever

ladies fingers

look at the beautiful star shaped vegetable…

I had tasted it for the first time in 2008 in India. The lovely taste of something melting in your mouth. What’s it called? ” Laydiezfingars” – ” mmm, I beg your pardon?…-“Laydiezfingars.” – I couldn’t get it. The indian accent was not helping either… at that time I was just beginning to understand tamil English…

“You mean “ladies’ fingers” I asked showing my hand. “Yes that’s correct….

Of course when I told my mum the name of the vegetable she had the same reaction. We thought we din’t get it properly.

Then in Singapore also the Chinese cooked it.. mmmmiam….

Before coming to Africa I had tried to show this to my aunts and see if we could find it in Spain for them to taste. But I didn’t even know the name…

When I finally managed to check the spanish name ” el gombo” I didn’t find it on the peninsula.

I check the areas where it was grown before coming here, to see if I had a chance to find it in Kenya…. Yes!

Here I found it in a supermarket owned by Indian Kenyans… the Gujarati people that I had met in Pondicherry which had made a lot of business inTanzania, were also found in Kenya. The only difference is that the ones in Kenya had not been asked to leave as the ones in Tanzania. All those Gujaratis  were still very rich nowadays in Pondichery. Or at least they wanted to show they were. Everyone remembered Doctor Raichura and his Mercedes…

Here this is called Okra…

Below is my first cooking experience…mmm let me ask how they do it in Singapore next time I get there!

Tilapia

A carp from Lake Victoria…

This fresh water fish comes from Lake Victoria. This lake is one of the collectively known Great Lakes of Africa, among which Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika are two of the most famous one. These great lakes are a result of a rift. The rift has created depressions which are filled with water, sometimes alcaline, like in the case of Lake Nakuru.

Other lakes such as Lake Nakuru or Lake Naivasha can be seen on this blog.

Lake Vitoria is named after Queen Victoria – like many other places in Easter Africa such as for instance the Victoria Falls This is subject to confusion because the falls are not at all located in Eastern Africa : they are located in Southern Africa at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. For now, Lake Victoria is a natural border between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

But here is one of the delicious fish coming straight from the town by the lake, Kisumu. The lake, like most fresh water areas in Africa, is inhabited by crocodiles and the fishermen risk their lives to get this fish for us.

In Nairobi, ladies like this one, set up a stove and fry it for us. Prices rage from 700 to 1200 Ksh (Kenyan Shillings) depending on the size of the fish.

 

Eating….

Kenya or at least Nairobi is far from being a cheap place. The reason for this is the same as everywhere: the price of oil. And although Kenya has its own oil – “ only a little bit” they say, “ This is not Nigeria” the things which are imported bear the ever increasing cost of what we call in French the “ Black gold”.

This reminds me of the story my father used to tell about some people in Algeria. “No need to work, we are rich, we don’t need to worry about our food, now we have petrol, we shall never be hungry. And an elderly lady asking “ Does it taste good?”.

However if you keep away from the places which are meant for the “Musungus” ( the white people) you can manage to have organic food, everyday for ….. less than 1 euro! That’s to say around 100 Kenyan Shillings.

So this is what I do. I go to the market, and buy two bunches of 4 green sprouts of something: like Spinach, Terere, or some so called weeds extremely tasty. Each bunch costs 5 Shillings. To that I add a bag of 5 organic potatoes for another 20 shilllings, 4 tomatoes for 20 shillings, 1 garlic, 2 onion  this is another 30 shillings, some carrots for 20 shillings, add some South Indian dall and that’s it! I can eat it for lunch and dinner and it lasts three to four days.

We need to wash the food carefully because of the remaining insects – so for that it’s best to use vinegar… and there we go! Who can afford to eat only healthy organic food for around 50 euro cents per vegetarian meal?

If we wish to we can buy a fresh fried delicious fish, which some ladies cook on the spot and sell on the street. The price varies according to the size of the fish, from 200 to 350 Shillings… but considering that it’s delicious, it’s worth the deal!.