UNESCO describes Lamu as, “The oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, retaining its traditional functions. Built in coral stone and mangrove timber, the town is characterized by the simplicity of structural forms enriched by such features as inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors.” UNESCO also terms Lamu as a World Heritage City. Well, maybe that’s just the seafront, the butt of the town is smeared with fecal matter so disgusting to look at.
Lamu is a beautiful town. An archaic atmosphere welcomes you as you alight the boat from Manda Airport. The brown-stained pillars of the bridge give you an aura of a salted community, a warm one but with some extra spice. The amazing greeting you get from the locals saying, “Karibu Lamu” is ecstatic. They are thrilled to see visitors, some will offer to carry your bags and advise you of the best hotels in town. Some even offer to help you take photos of yourself in the place.
The evening sea breeze is blissful. Lamu has these concrete seats just beside the ocean which are ever clean. The town is safe and everyone is friendly. The breeze marinates the weather making it comfortable and not as hot as other coastal towns. Shela beach is like colorful petals in autumn. The beautiful sand form yellowish dunes that calm the soul and the motored boats that stride the ocean compliment the life of the gloomy town.
Every shoe has that surface that faces the murk. The surface is only touched when one buys the shoe and is never to be looked at or admired again in its lifetime. A shoe is finite; its lifetime depends on the strength of one’s pocket. How about a heritage town like Lamu whose lifetime depends not on its resident’s breath. Shouldn’t it be nurtured and cared for?
Well, I am not talking about the donkeys’ rolls of filth that crown the scent or rather the smell of Lamu town nor am I talking about the sewage water that flows on the sides of the suffocating corridors. Actually, on the first day, the guide who escorted me to the hotel told me that should I ever get lost, I should always follow the murky waters that flow and they will lead me directly to the seafront.
The butt of the town is scarier than hell. I sought to walk to the end of the meandering corridors of Lamu. The thirst to know what exists past the old buildings was unquenchable and it only had to be quenched by my personal experience. I first asked a local what existed there and they told me nothing much, just a forest of trees and vast land of emptiness.
They say better the end of something than its beginning but this cannot be said of my trip to Lamu. I was heartbroken by the sight I got when I decided to explore further. The old buildings ceased being in close proximity and as space became a luxury, life became a misery.
There were no more concrete floors. Women sat by their houses selling viazi karais as dirty children boggling sand and mucus played beside them. There was no more donkey poop. Fine sand laced with razor blades and thorns petaled the walkways.
Donkeys and scrawny cats rummaged from the heaps of garbage that lay scattered all over as young boys played at a distance. Diapers well wrapped like emergency food packs were scattered at the base of the heaps.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I asked my friend, “Do we have a government here? Do we have a county council office? Do they have waste management and disposal policies? If they do, who enforces them? Lamu looks beautiful on the front, do visitors and tourists really know how it looks from behind?”
We walked further past the small field where young boys played football and another heap of garbage greeted me. A black cat was staring at me as if I were intruding on its privacy.
What devastated me the most were these sanitary towels disposed of in the middle of the road; right where shoeless residents were passing. What crushed me is that they were unbothered, to them that was the norm, they would step on them like soft padding on a rough spiky road.
I am a lover of the environment and I know that when organic waste decomposes, Greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide and methane gas are created which are emitted to the atmosphere and later contribute to climate change.
I love animals. I love how my uncle’s donkey nicknamed ninja was treated. Its shelter was good and its food was fine napier grass when it wasn’t openly grazed with other domestic animals. The sight of seeing donkeys rummaging heaps of dirt was devastating to me. I mean, a donkey carried Jesus, the savior of the world, why not accord it its dignity?
The Nairobi cats that purr and lick themselves on sofas cannot survive the day job of rummaging the heaps of Lamu. I mean, tender animals should live a tender and soft life.
Lamu’s front is beautiful but the beauty is not even on its rear. I call on organizations, the Lamu county government, and all affiliated stakeholders to clean the town’s butt. I don’t believe that this is part of its heritage.
*All photos were taken by phone and are copyrighted.