Part 4: Beggars and boda bodas

Beggars and boda bodas
I guess begging has always been a problem here in Lamu since apart from being a stevedore, or carrying luggage to hotels for tourists or working in the hotels—there is very little chance of gameful employment.

Seems Lamu County and the other provincial authorities would like to keep it this way with the uneducated lot here. A pity really! I never did see an actual school in my time here apart from madrassas.
Perhaps, as a result, begging is endemic here.

For instance, take the older Swahili guy in raggedy clothes and a tattered kofia and his younger mate, who were dragging a dead fish, what I presumed, was a mud shark along the dirty rutted concrete promenade next to sea front.

He was a toothless hag maybe my age, accompanied by his much younger helper, and judging from his mate’s darker skin colour, physical shape and lack of kofia—probably from up country.
A crowd had gathered and followed them wherever they went.
He soon spied me, the only mzungu sitting near the dock, and headed straight for me to start a conversation.
“We caught this tiger shark and we want to sell it,” he said.
I had no interest in this shark or any shark for that matter.
It was about four feet long with its tail making up the majority of length.
It was gray, with dappled black spots like a leopard.

“It is very good”, he continued, “You just slit the sides to make thin slices, dry it and mix with salt and it will taste good.”
“Lekum” I said, reminding myself that I had been told by my Emiratis students that the Omanis liked to eat dried shark in some kind of salty brine—called lekum.

But, this toothless hag neither heard me nor knew this Arabic word.
He continued with his story and another crowd grew, but I told him I was still not interested in it.
He seemed to be pissed off that I wouldn’t buy it.
“Mzee,” (old man) he said, “I need to sell this to buy two new fishing hooks so I can feed my family.”
I genuinely felt sorry for him, but I had no use for the now rotting shark.
He mumbled something under his breath and he was off again making the rounds of other mzungus.

I was sitting there awhile watching Lamu kids trying out there new roller blades on the very uneven concrete surfaces of the promenade without much success I might add.
A bevy of bui bui waddled past in their latest embroidered burkas called bui bui.

I could have easily been back in Doha at my university with all the Somali, Sudani, Irani and Qatari women who dress the same but in more expensive and chic attire.
Awhile later, the same two guys came by me pedalling the same rotting shark but to no avail.

Further along our route, an older gent in his green dog eared kofia struck up a conversation as we walked.
A toot toot sounded from behind and we scurried out of the way as a boda boda (motorcycle) drove by us.
He commented that the boda bodas were ruining Lamu.

I think he has a point as I don’t remember any of them in town as far back as I could recall. Not only that but now there are speed bumps everywhere for the cursed beasts.

Boda boda touts have taken the place of the hotel, tour and sunset dhow touts that used to proliferate here in the old days.
At any rate, in his conversation, he mentioned that Lamu was at risk of losing its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation with the unfortunate arrival of the cursed boda boda.
I also offered my two bits about the potential arrival of tuk tuks.
He said that might be a possibility—pity!

As the kids and I walked back to our place, we heard some older chap, a bald headed guy hassling some other tourists for some money.
Our new friend told me, “This guy is always begging from the mzungu.”
I thought it was a bit flippant of our friend that was until awhile later, I saw the same old bald guy, lying down in the doorway of his hut, with a cloth waving behind from the wind, asking for money. He was just too lazy to come out and ask us in person but rather from his shack.

Today I walked out from our place around 6:30 am and there was a person perched on the promenade concrete wall. At first, I thought it was a woman dressed in a flowery bui bui but on closer inspection, it was the bald headed guy begging again but this time pretending to be a woman—the nerve.

On another walk of the promenade, we came across our old friend Farouk.
Farouk has lost most of his teeth now probably due to his love of sugary tea and his penchant for palm wine. My wife says he is an alcoholic and can’t be trusted anymore with our kids.

I later saw him shouldering a heavy suitcase for a pair of well-heeled Italian tourists and shuffling off to their abode in town. He was smiling this time with the few teeth because he had at the bit of money from them, and he would probably buy some more palm wine.

Between cocaine, miraa, bhang and who knows what else they do, a great majority of the Bajuni and Swahili menfolk here are addicted to one thing or another which leads to their slovenliness in character.

I get the distinct impression  that some of these former “dhow boys” have never grown up or out of their addictions despite having family, but I think their children suffer as a result through neglect and maybe not going to school.
It’s a vicious cycle and one that may be hard to get out of. Begging goes along with this life cycle too and a hard one to break.

I am constantly asked for money to pay for family meals, to pay for a visit to the dentist because of a tooth abscess or to buy fishing line or hooks, but undoubtedly and unfortunately, the majority of time this small money will not go for any of these given reasons but to the guy’s addiction.
I still try to be civil with these men but sometimes it is difficult.

En route to my favourite hangout these days, Lamu House, I struck up a conversation with a young artist guy, Patrick, who is from the Giriama. tribe
He was saying there were too many Giriama in Mombasa and more in Malindi but hardly any here in Lamu. The Giriama are the largest of the Mijikenda tribes which inhabit the coast. Many of the up country folk come to Lamu as well but mostly to do the heavy construction work as the Bajuni and locals don’t seem to be up to that kind of physical exertion.

At any rate, he told me that the locals are lazy, something I had already gathered, and that the Saudi and Emirati governments are partly to blame.

He claimed that those governments send food money to the local Muslims here so, he claims now that the locals don’t have to work for a living.
This seems a bit of a sham as the majority of those I saw don’t look like they have eaten many meals, but maybe the locals use this charity to buy miraa or whatever drugs they are on. At times, the locals act like a bunch of drugged out zombies.

The odd or ironic part is that the bui bui women look overweight whereas the men look the opposite.

Moreover, the slightest bit of information these beggar guys offer you, or to tell you where such and such a place is—they expect kitu kidigo or small gift for doing absolutely nothing. It is pathetic at times. Why don’t they just busk?

Derek, the Belgian manager of Lamu House, is so exasperated with the Lamu shenanigans, boda bodas, and donkey shit everywhere that he is planning on moving to nearby Shela.

For some reason the town fathers of Shela and those hotel owners on Manda Island have taken matters into their own hands and don’t allow boda bodas in Shela or Manda Island.
Also, there is a concerted effort there to clean the latrines, donkey do from streets and clean the beachfront in from of hotels in both areas.
None of this is done in Lamu despite it being a UNESCO heritage.

This is probably why most tourists opts for staying in Shela or the back side of Lamu rather than in Lamu stone town itself.
I told Derek that we had stayed in a private house in Shela two summers back and for a month, we all walked barefoot without fear of stepping in donkey shit or being run down by a boda boda.

The open sewers here where we live now are putrid and I complained to my wife, but she said the Lamu City Council just doesn’t do its job.
If Lamu wants to get its groove back then the Kenyan government and the Lamu City Council need to get their act together; build a new sewer system, get a recycling plant for all the water bottles, build a new sewage plant, install solar panels for every house, and fix up existing roads, and maybe, just maybe, ban boda bodas.
* * *
So we came out of Lamu World last night after being told there would be a local musician, Makenya, playing from 8-10pm. We arrived late (8 pm) and instead of getting front row seats, the only seats available were at the back of the café near the hotel’s pool.

One of the attractions also was nyama choma or gristly goat meat being barbequed outside on the promenade along with jacket potatoes and some other garnish. This was a favourite meat dish amongst Kenyans.

One of the distractions we had to endure was the gay banter between the latest scourge of Africa—NGOs with their faux limey accents. They sound so pretentious as they bore each other with their babble and fill their glass from a third ice bucket of chilled Pinot Grigio.
“I just bought my third property on Manda Island.”
“Oh, how nice.”
“You must visit me when you come to Addis.”
“When you come to South Africa, call me.”
“Here’s my card, I’m based in London now”.
“I shoot promos and TV ads.”
The idle rich and as someone has said—“They are different from us.”

Do they actually work or just spend time lounging around, waiting for “happy hour”, sipping wine, telling tales, and collecting paycheques paid for by the UN or IMF?

One of the guys that works with us in Doha had spent time with an NGO in Kenya. I told him I was going to Lamu and maybe Shela.
He smiled and drifting to the past said, “I remember happy hour at Peponis.”
Really, that’s his memory of Lamu or Shela–a happy hour no less.
The funny thing is, I remember Peponis “Happy Hour” too, not because I drank there but because of its notorious clientele: many Brits/white Kenyan ex-pats, Ian from Talisman restaurant fame, and writer Errol Tzrebinski (Happy Valley gang), to name a few, who started their “Happy Hour” at 11am rather than the typical later time.

Nevertheless, as we traipsed out of Lamu House just opposite us, I noticed two guys chewing miraa perched on the concrete balustrade. The wind had died down, but the high tide still lapped just below them with the silent heaven’s above—it was a blissful scene except why were two guys so busy chewing the addictive narcotic at such an ungodly hour—is nothing sacred?

For crying out softly, even the qat chewing Yemenis had a set time for chewing their narcotic leaf—qat. The time in Yemen (mostly the North) is roughly 2pm till 5:30 and then the green spittle stuff is spat out and life goes on. According to Professor Keall, trying to get anything done in Yemen between those hours was “a total waste of time”.

Why would some young guys be chewing the Kenyan version, miraa, at 11 pm then?
Were they going to be doing an all-night drive to Nairobi?
Hell no, there are no roads directly from Lamu Island.
Were they going to an all-night cinema showing?
Hell no, there weren’t any and if there were, they would be Bollywood movies.
What the hell would they do for the rest of the evening—stare into black space above their heads?
Would they read a Robert Ludlum thriller by paraffin lamp?
Doubtful.
For that matter, no wonder many of the Lamu guys appear slovenly.
They need jobs here but imagine reporting for work or looking for work at 7am following a night of miraa chewing. Not a pretty sight.

God only knows in this zombie like town which is more like a shadowland.
What a waste of a narcotic—William S. would not be amused or would he?

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