Table of Contents

Dunes

Dhows. Lamu was the setting for the short story I wrote for Elaine Rankin. Nowhere in Kenya captured my imagination like Lamu. That's the name of an island and the town at one end of it off the coast of Kenya. You got to Lamu by walk-on ferry. No motor vehicles were allowed on the island. The streets were built for foot traffic only, with a single gutter running down the middle. Lamu and a handful of other cities south of the Horn of Africa were thriving international seaports since the 12th Century, long before any Europeans arrived. Dhows traded up and down the coast. Warlords built little empires, lost them.

Trophies. Shela Beach, near Lamu Town, had some bloody history. Hiking in the dunes I found human bones bleaching in the sun. I wanted to collect some of the teeth I saw in skulls and mandibles. I'm glad to say I didn't. Somehow Leela saved me from that shame. It's a sad enough world without human trophies.

Ali. On the advice of, well, everyone we hired a guide for our weekend stay there. Hiring Kenyans in service roles was a duty, a matter of principle. Wealthy wazungu could bloody well afford to contibute that much to the local economy. In Nairobi we had a houseboy, Adrian, a highly skilled handsome Kikuyu in his mid-forties. We also had a shamba, our driver and yard boy, Lokerio. Lokerio was a toothless Turkana elder with a sunny disposition. On Lamu we had Ali. Ali could do it all. Ali guide, Ali clean, Ali shop, Ali cook. We asked for samaki, fish. It was Ali samaki to the rescue. He got fresh fish down at the dock and a big green coconut. I was intrigued and watched the whole thing. He took his panga to the coconut and whacked off the hull with a few expert strokes. Then he whacked off the top of the shell inside without spilling a drop. He handed the coconut to me. I'd drunk plenty of coconut water in Florida, but this was a green one. There was milk inside, not water. What a flavor. He got out a board with a serrated blade sticking out one end. He sat on the other end, propping the blade end up on a rock. He expertly shredded the meat out of the coconut into a big shallow bowl. He put the grated green coconut into a long skinny basket that looked like a sock, or a fish. It was very tightly woven palm fiber. He put water in the bowl and began working his fish-shaped basket in the water, which turned white. The water got richer as he worked until he had a bowl of coconut cream. Our dinner of fresh fish poached in fresh coconut cream was even better than what you're thinking. It was you had to be in Lamu and watch it get made good.