I looked at the red hues of the fish and frowned. It was a curiosity frown, one that spreads over my forehead the dozens of times that curiosity strikes me on any given day.
“Huyu ni red snapper sir!” This is a red snapper sir!' Magoma told me in his loud booming voice. I had told him a million times to stop calling me sir but he had persisted. He was our lead fisherman and handy man. Magoma was born in Faza Island and knew everything there was to know about the ocean and the sea life that inhabits it. He is one of the few human beings who have actually walked on the ocean floor.
“Poa!” Cool! I said as I took hold of the red snapper fish and pulled it closer to me. It looked healthy and yummy. Good to look at and judging from the two times I had tasted it, good to eat. It had medium-sized scales and was almost three feet long. Grande! I thought as I looked at it admiringly.
“Hii ni kubwa sana Magoma,” this is quite big Magoma. I said as we placed it on a scale. Three kilos.
“Hii si kubwa sana sir! ” This is not that big, Magoma insisted, “mi nimewahi kumshika red snapper wa kilo ishirini!” I once caught a red snapper that weighed twenty kilos.
If I didn't know Magoma, I would have thought that he was exaggerating. But as someone who has spent at least twenty of his thirty five years doing ocean-related activities, I knew his knowledge of marine life was probably more than that of many marine professors. I think the tragedy of contemporary education is that it often treats people like Magoma, whose indigenous knowledge is monumental, as illiterates just because of their scant formal education.
I gingerly placed the red snapper on top of the freezer and poked it cautiously.
“Nieleze zaidi kuhusu huyu red snapper,” Tell me more about this red snapper, I told Magoma.
“Yuapenda sana kula shrimps na aweza kusihi miaka mingi sana!” He loves to feed on shrimps and can live for many, many years! Magoma answered enthusiastically, his Swahili laden with a heavy Lamu accent. He always finished his sentences with exclamations, as if every word he spoke needed emphasis.
Magoma’s enthusiasm for the red snapper inspired Bwak the Bantu poet to write a red snapper poem whose opening line was, ‘They leave a trail of red thrill in their trail as they roam Lamu’s deep sea waters.’
What do you leave in your trail as you go about your life? Do the footprints of your life leave hope and help wherever they tread?
The rotting dhania, coriander, sat gloomily on top of the small fridge. It had been a sweet green color just days back in Mombasa when we bought it at Nakumatt, City Mall. But that was then. Now, thanks to a dead fridge when I arrived back in Lamu from Mombasa, it was way past its prime and I reluctantly tossed it into the improvised polythene waste bin that was next to the sink.
The dishes gazed back at me, dirty and weary. I had just taken a shower, so unlike the dirty dishes, I was clean. But like them, I was weary after a phone interview with Radio France International, the best radio station in Europe. I was their Kenyan correspondent and from time to time, I fielded phone interviews from them about the latest significant news in Kenya.
On this particular day, I had been rather lengthy in my answers about the MPs pay dispute and had to be cut mid-sentence. Ouch!
Another ouch was awaiting me at the kitchen sink as my dish-washing venture came face to face with utensils that stubbornly resisted my attempts to wash them. One of them, a small saucer, bore a small mountain of candle wax that refused to depart without a fight. Sitting smugly in the center of the sink was a sufuria, cooking pan that was plastered with the white and brown remnants of ugali. I had forgotten to soak it in water so that the ugali coating could be softened.
Fifteen minutes later, the kitchen was sparking clean, thanks to my concerted efforts. I gazed at the clean sink, clean utensils, clean floor and smiled triumphantly. Got ya! I said loudly as if I had just won the third world war. What is it about men that makes us treat almost every venture as a war or competition?
Though the kitchen was clean, the living room and five bedrooms of the house were something else. I have names for all the bedrooms, but that’s a story for another day. For today, let’s just say that these bedrooms have lives and personalities of their own. Follow me now as I give you a peek into these oh-la-la bedrooms that are part of the Yellow House, so named because of its yellow walls.
There are two bedrooms downstairs, on either side of the living room. We converted one of them, the one nearest the main gate, into the Sasafrica office (www.sasafrica.net). It has seen a lot of banter as computer keyboards clicked over the latest office gossip and strategy sessions. As leader, I was probably the focus of most of the office gossip and not a participant. But I did partake in the strategy sessions that saw us laying down ambitious strategies to transform Lamu SMEs into the next big companies of Africa.
Once during a strategy session, I put on my sober face, looked at my four female colleagues directly in the eye and said without blinking, “this small team here is going to change Lamu!” I paused, and in the silence, sighed deeply as I folded my hands in front of me as if in prayer.
“This small team,” I repeated in a voice so low that they instinctively leaned forward, “is going to change Lamu!”
As Bwak the Bantu Poet wrote in one of his poems about social change, “you cannot change the world if you don’t change the person in the mirror.”
The two donkeys were hurtling towards us with scared looks in their usually expressionless faces. Hot on their heels were three German Shepherd dogs. I stopped in my tracks as did Mulhat. As the man, I tried to look brave and behave as if I met angry German Shepherd dogs every other day. Truth is, the last time I had met with a German shepherd dog was ten years earlier in Imola, Italy as I was strolling down a lonely street.
“Where are those dogs coming from!” Mulhat lamented as she pressed against the fence of the fisheries department as if willing it to open up and protect her. Her green hijab blew softly in the wind as did her bui bui.
A Rastafarian beach boy soon trotted along and nodded proudly when I asked him if he was with the dogs. Mulhat’s pretty face relaxed and we continued walking along the sea wall in bouts of chatter that were punctuated by occasional moments of silence as we exchanged loving glances. Within a few minutes, we took a right turn that led to Dudu Villas and Cottages. It was just after 6.30 PM and as is true of Lamu, it was already dark.
Bang, bang! I knocked the heavy wooden gate. No response.
‘Hodi!’ ‘Hodi!’ I shouted.
‘Kuna watu?!’ Is there anyone? Mulhat shouted. No response.
Just as we were preparing for another round of gate-banging, a couple joined us at the gate. They were staff, and so they proceeded to make a phone call that resulted in quick opening of the gate.
Mbarak, the Manager of Dudu Villas was walking towards the gate, smiling warmly.
“Welcome my friends!” he said and immediately took the small rucksack that I was carrying.
If only he knew what was in this bag, he probably wouldn’t carry it. I thought to myself and exchanged a mischievous look with Mulhat. She adjusted her blue hijab so that not a single hair was sticking out. Gazing at the index and thumb of her right finger moving the hijab closer to her forehead, I felt as if the warm ocean breeze was lifting me off my feet and placing me in the midst of those stars that were bound to light up the sky later that night.
This feeling was still dancing my chest when I took a bite from the doughnut that Mbarak’s wife had graciously offered us. I had never eaten such delicious doughnuts before. Oh my God, they were divine. I told her that and Mbarak’s face lit up with pride.
“My wife is a very talented chef,” he said, “she actually has her own catering business.”
“I will be sure to invite her to my wedding as the caterer,” I said and cast another playful glance at Mulhat. She responded with a smile so imperceptible that am the only one who noticed it. But when Mbarak told a potter, a young man wearing a uniform of grey shorts and a white shirt, to carry the small rucksack to my room, Mulhat’s smile became noticeable.
If only they knew what was in that bag…