Lamu Island's Yellow House

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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 ( 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.”

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