Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lodging on the Island of Lamu

When packing our bags to ship off to Lamu, Phil & I had several ideas on what the island would actually be like. Culturally, the island has been influenced by Indian, Turkish, Portuguese and Arab settlers due to its position as the first stop off on the eastern coast of Africa along the trade routes. It is one of the original East African settlements and nowadays is dominated by significant Swahili and Muslim practices. The old city is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as "the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa" **

In typical "Carolena & Phil" fashion, we had not scouted out lodging prior and figured that we would sort it out once we get there. No big deal, right? Several weeks ago Maria had mentioned that we might have the use of her friend's house, but that all depended on whether or not they would be in town when we arrived. So, off we set on a 72-hour trip to Lamu with stopovers in Istanbul, an overnight stay at the Nairobi airport and a short flight to Lamu. Upon arrival we were exhausted. We found ourselves hoping, desperately, that the house would be available. Well, lucky for us, it was. When we landed in Lamu airport, we headed along with Maria and the kids on a short boat ride to the other side of the island. We exited the boat and found ourselves walking through narrow, windy dirt streets with broken cobblestone and donkey remnants making the walk ever so delightful. After about 15 minutes we arrived at a staircase. At the top of the staircase were two grand wooden doors with elaborate carvings marking the doorframe; finished with a beautiful brass lock. This house, owned by Maria's friend Antonio, was quite spectacular.

The house featured three bedroom suites complete with bathroom and terrace, an indoor/outdoor dining room situated next to an indoor cold plunge pool and a nice kitchen close to the entrance of the home.
An open-air courtyard graced both sides of the pool allowing a cool breeze in to keep the house at comfortable temps. A large fruit tree kept the afternoon sun hidden, enabling us to stay in the shade all day long. The third floor featured a viewing deck that was ideal for the double hammock we purchased just days before leaving. We really could not believe how awesome the house was and we certainly were grateful to have use of it.What we quickly learned after spending a few days on the island is how expensive and rare nice accommodations are. Through Maria we befriended Frank and Miriam, a Belgium couple that manages the Lamu House property, just a 7 minute walk from our home. We shared many delicious meals at the hotel restaurant. They told us how expensive it is to import all the goods that are required to run both a successful hotel and restaurant on the island (more on that later). We had the opportunity to visit the Peponi Hotel for a sunset cocktail with Frank, Miriam, Maria and Co. While the accommodations were beautiful, the prices far exceeded our budget. Same went for the Majlis Hotel on the island of Manda. Phil, Maria and I went there one afternoon for a lunch of thin crust pizzas and beer and quickly realized how lavish the location was. The more time we spent in Lamu the more we realized it was only built to house the lavish or frugal traveler but not much in between. While I am the last person to sneer at a good hostel, finding ones on the island were rare and some accommodations would leave even the most tolerant backpacker uneasy.

Thanks to Maria and Antonio we were able to spend our time in Lamu in lovely accommodations.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Children of Anidan

Almost four years have passed since my good friend, Maria Parga, shared her dreams of helping children on the small island of Lamu, Kenya. She spoke of a fledgling non-profit, Anidan, whose mission was to remove children from poverty-stricken streets of Lamu and provide them with food, shelter and education. Since 2008 she has been living here on the island. Four years later, here we are, visiting her, spending time with her children and getting to know and appreciate the extent to which Anidan has grown.

When I thought of rekindling The Malarky, I thought of trouncing down the streets of a new city while taking note of the best lodging, food stalls, shopping and sights to see on our extended pre-honeymoon. Now that I sit down to write I realize that I would be doing myself a disservice if I wrote about anything but the children and the people that I've met here at the wonderful non-profit Anidan first. Not to worry, tidbits about the island and surrounding areas in Kenya are to come in future posts!
Phil and I were greeted at the Lamu airport by smiling faces and happy children, Maria in tow. The kids immediately ran up to us, gave us kisses on either cheek, relieved us of our luggage, grabbed our hands & led the way. We were struck by how outgoing, friendly, unafraid and unabashed they were - a reflection of the culture engrained in them at Anidan.

We've spent the first week here in Lamu in and out of the orphanage. On our first day we plunged right in, distributing gifts of coloring books, rubber toys, horseshoe games and little bites of chocolate we brought to share with the children. Anidan provides shelter, clothing, three square meals a day and nursery care to 200+ children. As we get to know the children by name & learn more about their histories fraught with pain, suffering and loss, we realize the significance of the work being done here. The children are cared for, nourished and most importantly, loved.

In the past few years Anidan has extended its services by building a fully functioning pediatric center on site. The hospital is the only one to provide free health care for children in the entire Lamu district. I am proud to say that Phil was given the task of setting up a temporary pediatric ENT clinic, having seen 15 patients to date. Everyone here is grateful for his expertise and I'm glowing with pride as I watch him help those in need. Its been a fulfilling and gut wrenching experience for us, one that with stay with us for always.Aside from spending time on campus with the kids, we've had the opportunity to head out in Lamu with them. We've spent a day sailing on the Anidan Dhow (wooden sail boats that dot the Lamu coastline) and hosted 30 of the younger children at our home in Lamu for an afternoon pool party. The kids are so much fun and we feel so lucky to have spent this quality time with them.