If you visit the three-roomed, brick-walled house of forty-year-old Muhammadi Musa, you will escape the island humidity thanks its cool grass-thatched roof. But you will not beable to escape the rolling waves of giggles from Nasra, his three-year old daughter. She is the last of his six children and has sparkling brown eyes that you will want to paint even if you are not an artist.
“Asalaam aleykum,” Nasra’s mother Halima will greet you warmly as she serves you mdalasini (cinnamon) flavored tea within minutes of your arrival.
Placed next to the steaming cup of mdalasini will be chunky pieces of mahamri (a first cousin of doughnuts), fresh from the oil whose sizzle will reach your ears since the kitchen is right next to the living room. To top it all will be a red enamel plate full of vitumbua (rice pancakes). They will taste organically delicious because the rice flour that made them was ground using kijaa, a traditional grinder that preserves the organic taste of rice grains.
As you enjoy this coastal Kenya snack, your eyes will wander through the open window and feast on the calm blue waters of the Indian Ocean as they stroll into the smooth beach that is barely twenty meters away. Such is the marine feast that lives in the very soul of Wasini Island. Even at night when darkness blankets the blue ocean and white beach, the rustling sound of waves clings on the atmosphere like a night angel.
If you happen to be having dinner at Musa’s house, this night angel will be part of the dinner conversation as you will definitely hear the melodic hum of those waves. But don’t expect to catch the evening news because there is no television in the house. Neither is there an electrical iron box or any electrical appliance. That’s because Wasini Island which is off Kenya’s South Coast, is not yet connected to the national grid. Although it was already inhabited long before USA was a civilization, the national grid hasn’t made it yet to the Island. Should you see any lit-up bulbs or the occasional television set, it will be because of the dozens of solar panels that dot some of the roofs.
The few individuals on whose roofs those solar panels sit are able to switch on their TVs and bulbs at night. Some of them literally earn a living from the sun since they use their solar-powered TVs to screen movies or football matches to fellow islanders who pay a small fee for the service.
Muhamadi Musa and the other ten thousand residents of Wasini Island are among the 635 million Africans with no electricity in their homes. Indeed, sub-Saharan Africa is so underpowered that the 48 countries in it generate roughly the same amount of power as Spain. I found this to be so crazy and unacceptable that when I spent a few days on Wasini Island in November 2017, I wanted to email Howard Bamsey the Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund and ask him why the 10 billion dollars that had been pledged to the Fund hadn’t yet resulted in clean electricity on the island. In that same email, I also wanted to ask him why this island remained completely vulnerable to climate change-induced sea level rise.
In the same vein, I wanted to email a guy known as Amadou Hott. He is the vice-president for power, energy, climate change and green growth at Africa Development Bank (AfDB). I wanted to ask him why the $12 billion that the bank had mobilized between 2011 and 2015 to support climate-resilient projects hadn’t reached Wasini Island and increased its climate resilience.
I never got to send these emails because it rained for most of the time I was on the island which affected the solar energy that was powering my laptop leaving it in comatose condition for most of the time. In addition, the mahamri, mdalasini and vitumbua, not to mention utterly delicious fish biryani and the dazzling sunrises left me in a divine world of pristine nature where emails and their bothersome passwords ceased to exist.
But I will be sending those emails so that I (and you too) can understand how vulnerable African communities like those in Wasini Island can tap into the billions of dollars that are reclined in the climate coffers of the Green Climate Fund, Africa Development Bank and other climate financing institutions. I have a sneaking feeling that the more communities know about these billions and how they can access them, the more they will act on that knowledge and tap into the funds. That way, energy will flow within Wasini Island with similar relentlessness of the Indian Ocean's waves that sorround it.
You must put Wasini Island on your bucket list. Where else can you find organically delicious rice pancakes, mdalasini tea, sizzling mahamri, equally sizzling sunrises, dolphins and an undisturbed Swahili culture?