No longer a moto-taxi novice!

No longer a moto-taxi novice!
No longer a moto-taxi novice! It can be exhausting but it's great fun!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Showing the VSO flag in Nyakarambi.

My home-made rice sack banner.

Last week Mark and I, representing VSO, had to take part in a new event for KIrehe District which was interesting but also frustrating at times.  The Joint Action Development Forum is a council of members of the many international organisations, local charities and co-operatives which meets every month or so.  The general aim as I understand it is to try to make sure each organisation is working collaboratively and not just doing its own thing and also that each one is accountable for what it is doing.  The committee decided to put on an Accountability Day where all organisations would set up an exhibition to tell the public what they are doing.  Eventually this became two Open Days and the dates were set for last week.  Mark and I duly turned up on the first morning, first at 9.00 to find that the marquees were still being erected.  At 10.00 we decided to grab a space and try to get started.  The first challenge was the lack of walls dividing the areas of the marquee.  We saw that people were attaching lengths of cloth between the poles to divide up the area.

Awunick and Mark building our tent
Fortunately our friend, Awunick, a head teacher, was soon on the scene to help us and she expertly scrounged lengths of cloth and showed us how to wrap them round the poles and tie them with strips of cloth and the odd bent pin.

We then set to putting up our displays - rice sack posters with various workshop objectives, materials and activities we had used and some classroom activity posters.  Fastening rice sacks to cloth walls with duct tape is quite a challenge, especially as the wind sprang up and blew everything around.  Eventually we were satisfied with the walls but there was still no sign of the expected tables and chairs.  At that point we learned that each organisation was supposed to bring its own furniture!! After several conversations and phone calls which ranged from the pleading to the irate we spotted a man heading for us with a huge table balanced on his head, followed by some boys carrying chairs in the same way.  By about 11.00 we were ready to go but the exhibition field was still a hive of activity as the various organisations continued to work at their stands.

Members of the public were also drifting in and many children were enjoying the unexpected diversion.  Seeing me taking photos of the VSO stand, of course they wanted to have their picture taken too.  They are usually quite delighted to see the picture on the small camera screen and some of the expressions on their faces - giggling, surprise, amazement- are even better than those in the photo!

This girl with the baby on her back came back to get her brother into the picture

As each stand was ready we noticed that they were setting up their speaker systems and beginning to play music in the usual Rwandan way - that is so loud the sound is painfully distorted and the speakers sound as if they are about to blow up!  That was ok at first until we realised that there was no overall control of the noise and about half of the stands were soon competing to be the loudest.  The "Compassion" stand opposite us which is a Christian organisation committed to eradicating child poverty had the loudest speakers, banks of TV monitors, flashy folding display units and a gospel choir plus t-shirts and free caps to give away too. God's voice certainly echoed loudly round our ears hour after hour and compassion was the last thing we felt.  Mark and I are often horrified by the amour of money spent/wasted on material objects by some of these charities promoting their work, driving round in posh 4x4 cars.  It was virtually impossible to hold a normal conversation anywhere on the field and we had to shout at our visitors to be understood!

At the other extreme there were several small low key stands showing the work of co-operatives, for example a group of women displaying their craft work and their honey,

some small farmers showing their banana wine and others showing off the new "improved" bananas which are being grown near here.  They are the green ones which are used as a vegetable and the latest ones are about a foot long!  Recently you can also find large yellow bananas rather like the ones we have in the UK, but usually the sweet bananas are tiny, only about finger length.

Another interesting stand was a goat pen in which a couple of special goats was on display.  In Rwanda goats are raised by virtually everyone for meat, but these goats were for milking - a real revolution here.  Traditionally the people believe that a child given goat's milk will grow up to be stubborn and difficult and so there is not much demand for it.  I recently saw a documentary with a section showing a goat being milked and the Rwandans were in hysterics at the sight!  They find it difficult to believe that in the UK we breed goats primarily for the milk and cheese and don't eat them!

Partners in Health, a big US health NGO had the biggest stand, including a stage which featured in turn rap/ hip-hop singers dancing about, a gyrating dancing girl, actors playing out a moral tale about sugar daddies and contraception, followed by demonstrations of putting on a condom or femidom using realistic latex models - they are very up-front about protected sex here in the battle against HIV/AIDS and in attempting to lower the rate of teenage pregnancies.

By the way, I learned the other week that one way to make a really bouncy football is to wrap up an inflated condom in layers of old plastic bags all tied up with string - it's an improvement on the traditional balls made entirely of banana leaves and string. You have to admire their resourcefulness!

By about one o clock the rain started to come down heavily and we discovered that we had a depression in our tent which was filling up with water.  Fortunately the rain didn't last long and the sun soon dried up the wet.

As it was market day in Nyakarambi the people started to drift in after their shopping and selling and the place got very crowded and even noisier as the speakers boomed over the voices of the visitors.  Our stand was popular firstly for the slide show I put on showing general photos of school visits and some of training sessions - the crowd of three or four deep peering at the little screen of my mac.  When the computer battery died we set up a game of Connect 4, which was equally popular and we had children playing that constantly over the two days.

I should mention the electricity supply, which would make your hair stand on end.  During the first morning the electrician ran two wires right around the site from tent to tent, draping them over the metal poles.  He then came back and cut into the live wires to splice on a spur for our light bulb, leaving bare wires in the air above our heads.  Later he came back and spliced in a second bulb for outside the tent, leaving more bare wires dangling.  I guess we could have had a connection for the computer, as others had ones for their amplifiers and TV displays, but I'm glad we didn't having seen how the wiring was done!

Towards the end of the afternoon the event was officially opened by cutting a ribbon and the field filled up as more and more people came from the market or from work.  As darkness fell at 6.00 Mark and I emptied our table and went off leaving the displays in place, knowing that there would be security guards on duty all night.

The next morning the tent was pretty wet after rain in the night, but the wet rice sacks were still ok and most of the duct tape had held well.  It was a sunny morning and things soon dried up well.  The noise soon started up again and continued all day.  By then we had noticed that the official banner had the dates for three days and I was quite depressed at the thought of another long day in the din.  Mark and I each took an hour or so to go home and rest away from the noise and when I came back I learned that in fact the event would be finished the next morning, which made me feel better immediately!

We had a constant stream of visitors attracted in by the crowds of children gathered around the slide show or the Connect 4 game.  In the afternoon the mayor did a quick tour round (about 30 seconds with us!) and we even managed to get the District Education Officer to leave his computer screen and come for a look at our displays- I think he was very pleased with what he saw.  Another head teacher friend, Damien came to help us on the second day and Awunick was also around quite a lot too.

At the end of the day we packed up our table displays and left the walls with the posters.  The next morning turned out to be cold and wet and when Mark went to take down the display he found that two posters had disappeared.  They were the much admired examples of posters on rice sacks produced by a firm in Uganda called Mango Tree.  They employ artists to make rice sack posters, teaching resources and toys using local materials.  As well as the rice sacks they do lovely toy cars made from small plastic jerrycans and four bottle tops.

I think I've mentioned before the general absence of children's toys here - but here is one clever use of an old jerry can, which this boy seems to be really enjoying as a pull-along toy.  They use the same thing to make a kind of toboggan to slide down a dirt hill or even down a tarmac road in some places.

An empty stage and loud music has the same attraction for children everywhere!
Last week was also national tree planting week, so on the two last Saturdays for "umuganda" (community service) we were planting tiny seedlings of acacia trees all around the park area in front of the District Office.  The government here is concerned at the depletion of woodland as trees are cut for firewood or charcoal making and also for construction of houses, so there is a big campaign to plant trees everywhere as often as possible and severe penalties for felling trees without permission.  Last Umuganda we were out in a forest trimming trees to help them grow better and every scrap of twig or branch was collected by the women and children to take for firewood. 

For last month's "umuganda" we were out in a forest trimming trees to help them grow better and every scrap of twig or branch was collected by the women and children to take for firewood.

At the end of the work there was the usual meeting which is used for giving out notices, answering questions and we had the District Mayor to speak to us.  Eventually a man and a woman stepped forward and it was explained to us that the man was accusing his neighbour of beating her children and her husband.  The woman would have none of that, but many people from her village corroborated the man's evidence and her guilt was agreed.  The mayor asked them to reconcile their differences and the man duly apologised for having brought the accusation to the meeting.  Once again the woman was determined not to co-operate still insisting she was not to blame,  It seems that she is terrorising the village and doesn't confine her beating to her own family!  In the end the Mayor had to tell her that she is forbidden to hit anyone in her village and that if she does she will be arrested.  It was very interesting to see this kind of public airing of, grievances and how they are settled by the Rwandans.  The concept of reconciliation is very strong here and in schools there are "Unity and Reconciliation" clubs to try to make sure that the tensions which caused the genocide will never happen again.

Forest meeting after tree trimming "umuganda" to give notices of local interest

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Kazo Nursery School and Co-operative, Kibungo

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to visit a church and nursery school near Kibungo, about an hour from Nyakarambi by bus and moto taxi.  I had appealed to friends in Harrogate to help a local science teacher, Valens with his co-operative project and St Paul's Church came up with a donation thanks to the efforts of my friends Aileen and Erica.  The donation had been transferred to my bank account by Richard and I was able to take the cash to Kibungo in order to make a presentation to the co-operative on behalf of St Paul's.  Valens had told me about his project but what I had learned from him did not really prepare me for the morning's activities.  Valens met me in Kibungo and took me off with him on two moto taxis to the very far side of town, to a small village, where the church and school are located.  The church is the usual brick built walls with iron roof and bumpy stone floor, standing near the dusty road through the village.  A few parents were waiting for our arrival and the sound of children singing was coming from the church.  Valens explained that the Pastor of the church, Alphonse allowed them to run the nursery school in the church during the week and allowed the co-operative to use the kitchen and the church itself for their activities. 

We all assembled in the church just after nine o' clock, nursery children on one side, parents on the other and Valens made a welcome speech in English with a few phrases translated into KInyarwanda. 

Alphonse said a prayer and then I made a brief speech greeting them on behalf of St Paul's and presented the donation to Valens and Alphonse.  There were big smiles and applause from the parents and then the morning's activities began.

First of all one of the young parents showed us how he was teaching adults to read and write, using a blackboard which had been made on the wall of the church. The young mothers one by one proudly showed how they could read and write the letters of the alphabet, vowels and then consonants, using the blackboard.

Adult Literacy class for villagers from the church

 Teaching reading in schools in Rwanda is a whole area needing development as the techniques they use are very dated and long-winded.  Briefly they teach the letters one by one, beginning with the vowels (about one letter a week in P1).  Children have to say words like "abana" (children) but are only shown the letters they have learned already that is "a.a.a".  No letters can be shown until they have been taught and practised thoroughly.  This means that most children cannot learn to read or write their own name until months or even years after they start school!!  USAID and VSO are collaborating on a five year project starting soon to address methodology in literacy and numeracy and one of the biggest hurdles will be in getting the reading and writing programme reformed.  There is no culture of reading for pleasure in Rwanda - schools and colleges are where reading is done, purely for knowledge or information.  Even newspapers and magazines in Kinyarwanda can only be found in the big cities, certainly not in little Nyakarambi!  You rarely see anyone Rwandan reading a book and there is no print material in classrooms other than the rarely used text books.  One of the project aims is to develop a new reading scheme with graded readers written by locals, helped by writers' workshops, in the hope of making reading a pleasurable activity not just a task to be done.  It is no surprise to learn that the illiteracy rate is very high in Rwanda and children have no model of story reading to follow.  So the adult literacy class at this little church is an excellent initiative, helping those people aspire to a better life.

 Next the school children showed off their singing and newly learned English speaking skills, directed by the volunteer teachers, including the Pastor's wife, Betty. There were well over the 30 children Valens had told me, but they were all turned out in their best clothes and well-behaved. Their ages were about 18 months to 6 years plus a few babies crawling about or on their mother's back. 

We all went into the garden in front of the church to play a game in the already warm sunshine. 

 The game consisted of some chanting while one child walked around carrying a rolled up piece of cloth.  The aim was to place the cloth behind one of the children seated in the circle, then run off pursued by the recipient to see who could get back first to the empty place.  They all enjoyed themselves very much.
Meanwhile inside the church some of the women had been getting ready to demonstrate their tie-dye skills.  In the kitchen water was boiled on the wood fire and chemicals were mixed in plastic bowls.  At the same time other women were carefully folding two lengths of cloth and tying string around to create different patterns.  The hot water was added to the chemicals with much bubbling as it was stirred and the tied up cloths were dipped, one in purple and one in green dye. 

In no time at all the cloths were untied and the amazing patterns revealed.  The cloths were laid out in the sun on the grass to dry, while other women showed how the dried cloths would be ironed with a hot coals flat iron.

Valens explained that each cloth cost about 4,000RWF to make and could be sold, with great demand, on the little market near the church for 5,000RWF (about £5).  The process was quick, with many hands making light work and they are very happy with that level of profit as the cloths sell very quickly.

Spreading the newly dyed cloths in the sun to dry.

Next it was on to paint making - back to the smoky kitchen where more water was being boiled.  To my surprise Valens explained that one of the ingredients, whose scientific name I have forgotten comes from cassava flour, which everyone grows and eats almost every day.  It's a root vegetable, which they dry in the sunshine and then can eat boiled or grind into flour.  It is a very dry vegetable, which we find quite difficult to enjoy, even with a lot of sauce on it, but Africans seem to like it. 

The flour was used to make a big bowl of what is basically white sauce (or flour paste, like we used to make before glue sticks came along).  Another big drum held whiting (kaolin) which had been mixed with cold water and one of the men poured the paste into this and then two of them mixed it up thoroughly using their hands.  Next a few capfuls of blue pigment were added and the white sauce was transformed into paint.  All that was then needed was a few capfuls of PVA glue to make it water resistant and later some ammonia would be added, presumably to resist fungus and bacteria.  In no time at all the large drum was ready to be decanted into containers to go to market. 

Adding the pigment and stirring by hand

Adding PVA to make the paint water-resistant

Just across from the church a block of shops has been painted with their product and it looks just as good as the commercial versions.

Valens, who is only 22 years old and has three years experience as a science teacher had taught the villagers to carry out these processes and they are now able to do it independently - it is really amazing that he has created an effective co-operative in less than two years and has given these people a way to pay for their basic needs and especially to fund the nursery for their children.  Pastor Alphonse is clearly very active in the co-operative and in the nursery school (he and Betty have three girls and two boys of their own) and gives Valens his full support and encouragement.  As well as cloth dyeing and paint making, Valens has taught them to make soap and is planning to develop cement making from locally dug materials.

After the demonstrations we went back into the church, where the children sang some more song, more speeches were made and prayers were said for their benefactors.  The parents were so pleased they gave me some presents to take away - a small souvenir drum with the words "We love John" carved on the side, a traditional wooden milk container and a banana leaf picture showing a ceremonial basket being presented in front of some traditional huts with the words "Mwabaye intwari" - "you were heroes" - which must be addressed to the people of St Paul's Church, Harrogate.  The people at Kazo were so delighted to have that gift all the way from England to help them develop their craft activities and support their nursery school and the smiles and thanks were warm and sincere. 

Gifts from the Church Cooperative
 It would be wonderful if my experience and the photos you can see here were to encourage further links between these two churches and Harrogate.  I certainly intend to visit them again after my Christmas break in the UK to enjoy the warmth of their friendship and hospitality.  As Valens and I chatted over milky African tea (ichayi) and bread and honey I couldn't help feeling great admiration for how much this young man (only 22 years old!) had achieved for the people of this church.  What's more he has a science club at his school where pupils are also making soap and paint for the school community.  It's no wonder that he recently went to Kigali to be presented with a notebook computer as runner-up prize in the national best science teacher of the year competition!  There's no doubt he will go far in future!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Visit to the Kenyan Coast

Malindi and Watamu.

Thursday 4 August - My first day turned out to be fairly cloudy with a rain shower in the evening. The hotel "African Pearl" is on the edge of town (about 10 minutes on foot) and is set in lovely gardens with a swimming pool. My room was in a side building facing the gardens and the pool called "The Big Five" rooms named after lion, rhino etc. All the walls inside and outside the hotel are decorated with quite nice murals depicting animals and Kenyan scenery.
Hotel African Pearl, Malindi.

I walked around Malindi market and craft market which was very interesting. I actually bought two pictures, which I managed to get for a good price - partly because I had not yet found the bank and had a limited amount of currency so could not even pay our first agreed price! The beach here is flat and boring with no natural features to make it more attractive. I had to shop for some essential stuff like tooth brush and tooth paste as my luggage had got lost en route. I had my dinner at the hotel, where the staff were very attentive and I enjoyed the meal.
View of Vasco da Gama's monument, Malindi

Friday 5 August. I called the airport and eventually went to collect  my luggage discovering that I had been mis-informed at Kigali airport and I should have transferred my luggage myself in Nairobi as I had to clear it through customs. One good outcome was that I found a good tuc-tuc driver so I booked my transfer to Watamu for Sunday. After a snack lunch I went to Malindi Museum. The education officer gave me full tour including the Portuguese Church and the Vasco da Gama tower which were a short walk away. It turned out he had been a teacher who had got fed up with school kids today and found a way out! It is interesting how developed the Swahili people were way back in the 17th century, trading all over the world long before we Europeans started interfering.  I walked back to my hotel, had a swim, a drink then set off by tuc-tuc to "The Old Man of the Sea" restaurant as it is highly recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. The restaurant was quite busy but the sea food was really good - I had kingfish with lovely sauce and rice, starter and dessert too. It was good to drink some decent red wine.
Fishermen off Malindi Coast
Saturday 6 August. I had booked boat visit to Malindi Marine Park and left the hotel by tuc-tuc to arrive at the park entrance for 10.00. The boat was full of Italians and a few other Italian speakers. They did not bother with me much. The water was very rough at the snorkeling stop - a bit above my ability! I saw pretty fish from the glass bottomed boat when bread was thrown over the side. Our stop at a beach coincided with cold wind and rain - I even had to put extra clothes on!
Boatman preparing kingfish fillets for the grill.
We moved on to a sand bank near the reef where other boats had anchored and set out grills in the shallow water. Our crew had already sliced up huge king fish ready to grill. We had a longish wait under the grey skies and in a cool breeze but the food was good - rice and sauce, lots of good fish then prawns then grilled half cray fish.
The charcoal grill standing on the sand bank.

Starfish picked from the sandbank.

 That was followed by bananas, pineapple, water melon and coconut. There was Coke or water to drink. There was a good atmosphere during the meal on boat - but all in Italian. I could vaguely follow but no-one wanted to speak English - quite  shock after Rwanda! On our way back a young man called Alison from Brazil, but working in Italy spoke to me first in English then in French, which he spoke better. The sun finally shone brightly as we sailed homewards arriving at low tide so we had a long walk across the beach at landing! Back to hotel for swim,in the pool, a  shower and a drink. Meal at the hotel, which was fairly quiet but relaxing.

Sunday 7 August. Leisurely start then an 11.30 transfer by tuc-tuc to Tembo Village about 35 minutes away. My driver, Ellison had brought his brother in his vehicle, as his boss, a Christian, does not allow him to use his tuc-tuc on Sunday, and he normally has a day off.
Tuc-tuc transfer to Watamu.

View of bay at Watamu.
Tembo Village is a lovely guest house - even nicer than the web site pictures suggested. I had a lovely roast chicken lunch after a swim. I walked to Watamu village centre and explored the beach area -lovely white sand but covered in brown seaweed, which is washed away in other months of the year. Watamu is very big hotel dominated but in a beautiful setting. It is completely over-run with Italians and there are pizzerias, gelateria etc everywhere! The locals even speak Italian to the tourists instead of English! Back at the guest house I had a swim then dinner- four courses! Really good food!  My room was beautifully decorated, very luxurious! The guest house was very quiet for the next day or so with only two other guests. It was a change to hear some German after all the Italian!

Monday 8 August. Looked for nearest beach, but found only coral cliffs with nice views but nowhere to walk. Found a different track heading to beach and two beach boys/fishermen showed me the way. Nice beach but also full of seaweed. Again big hotels dominate the shore and it is hard to get to the beach unless you are staying in one. I chatted to some fishermen for a long time then one showed me another path to the road along the edge of a hotel compound. After a rest and a swim at the guest house I set off to find the other bay nearby.  I walked into Watamu, found the bank with an cash machine, looked at the craft shops and the one supermarket. The beaches were again full of sea weed which disappears later in the year leaving the beaches famously "pristine". Lovely dinner again.

Lovely scenery but too much sea weed!

The pool at Tembo Village.

View from sun lounger at Tembo Village!

More sea weed! But look at the view!


Tuesday 9 August. Took tuc-tuc ride to Gede Ruins an old Arab and Swahili trading town, abandoned in 17 or 18 century and only rediscovered in 1920s. The ruins have been cleared and excavated and also conserved to a point, though the forest takeover is still there with huge Baobab trees and others growing over some of the walls. My guide, Andrew was informative and entertaining and took me around, accompanied by my tuc-tuc driver. There are artefacts from Spain, Venice, China as well as Arabic inscriptions on the walls. There are two mosques, 22 wells, now dry, and the remains of toilets with washing water in every building. It seems most likely that the city was abandoned when the wells ran dry. That may have been the result of a geological event which caused the Indian Ocean to recede bringing about a drop in the water table. It is very clear that the people who lived there were highly advanced and that the colonisers were mistaken in assuming all Africans were savages before the Europeans arrived.
Gede ruins - could be any site in Europe!

Gede ruins -stone buildings in 16th  century Africa!

The afternoon was a little showery but when it cleared up I headed for the Bio Ken snake farm, just a few minutes walk from Tembo Village. Not a big place, but quite a collection is snakes which are mainly used to milk venom which is sent to South Africa to manufacture anti-venom. The very expert guide talked about the various snakes on view and how they had come by them. Many resulted from emergency calls such as "help, a snake is eating my chickens" or" "there is a snake hiding in my car engine". The farm also keeps a stock of anti venom in case of local accidents. It was a bit scary to hear how many venomous snakes are around here and what the consequences of a bite could be! There were also other reptiles like tortoises, lizards and chameleons to see. Overall a worthwhile visit, though I resisted the invitations to hold various snakes for photos!

Wednesday 10 August. Morning started grey and showery so I stayed at the guest house until it was bright enough to have a swim. After a shower I set off to visit Mida Creek hailing a tuc-tuc near the guest house. It took about half an hour to get there - it is an inlet from the sea where a nature reserve has been set up with a board walk among the mangrove trees down to the water's edge. There were flamingos near the bird watching hide but not much else to see in the creek as the birds hide in the forest until low tide when they can look for food in the mud flats. Loads of special  snails and small violinist crabs, where the male has one big pink claw and one small one. My guide was very informative but not as outgoing as the comedian I had at Gede ruins!
The board walk at Mida Creek..

Flamingos at Mida Creek.

Me on the board walk.
 At the Mida Creek reception they told me about a local project run by A Rocha, the Christians for Conservation charity. A Rocha was where I had tried to book my stay but they were full. I learned that the guest house and research centre is the other side of Watamu so I asked my driver to call there on our way back. It was a bit of a detour but if was interesting to meet the director there and some of the staff and volunteers who gave me a very friendly welcome.  The house is about a minute from the ocean and as I left a group of British volunteers was off for a swim after their day helping improve the grounds of a local school. It is very clearly a Christian organisation so I'm not sure how I would have felt staying there and had no regrets as I returned to Tembo Village to find the two other guests had left and I had the whole place to myself - it must be a bit like being a millionaire, having a luxurious villa with pool and a staff of eight of more to look after me!!!

Breakfast time at Tembo Village.  The food was great!

Diamond Beach Village
Thursday 11 August.
Time to move on to my next guest house on Manda Island. I had booked Ellison's tuc-tuc for 10.30 so had plenty of time for a good breakfast and to pack my bags without rushing. The driver arrived on time and I found that once again he had come in another brother's tuc-tuc. Thieves had stolen all three wheels from his tuc-tuc in the night. Poor Ellison was faced with waiting perhaps a month for the insurance to pay up. We got to the airport a good hour before the scheduled take off only to be told there was a half hour delay. That soon became two hours then eventually almost five! I was wishing I had opted for the four-five hour bus journey! The flight was only 25 minutes once we got going and loading and unloading the small plane took only minutes. On arrival at Manda airport I was quickly located by a grizzled captain called Ali who led me about 150 metres to the dock, where a small fleet was waiting to take people to a variety of hotels on Manda or Lamu islands.
Getting ready to leave the airport at Lamu.

Sailing past Lamu heading for Manda Island and Diamond Beach

We sailed over towards Lamu getting a good view of the town then went along the calmer waters of the coast before crossing back to the other side where the long beach led up to Diamond Beach Village. Rachael the owner came down the beach to meet me and showed me to my banda. By now it was just beginning to get dark but there were lights around the village area and I saw staff busy with various jobs. My first evening was a little strange as I turned out to be the only guest (again!). The food was excellent - three courses- French onion soup, steamed fish with rice and vegetables, lime torte. The banda has solar lighting and also a hurricane lamp on the patio. The house boy prepares the bed with the mosquito net and insect repellent burners. There is a flush toilet and a sink and shower in a bathroom with open views of the flowering hedging shrubs.

My "banda" named "Melon"

Interior of banda.

Toilet and shower facilities with view of garden!

My favorite spot for a cool drink.


 Friday 12 August. I woke quite early after a reasonable night's sleep -just a bit cold with the sea breeze coming through gaps in the various woven materials of which the banda is built. I had a good breakfast ,followed by a longish walk along the beach. The sandy beach in both directions from Diamond Beach Village is clean and free of sea weed (a nice change after Watamu!). After about fifteen minutes I left behind the sand and continued across the coral rocks where the channel between the islands ends and the open Indian Ocean begins. There is a lot of jetsam among the rocks, both interesting natural things like coconut husks and shells, sea worn pieces of trees and bamboo, large seed pods and so on but also a lot of indestructible manufactured materials like plastic bottles, pieces of nylon rope, broken jerrycans and an incredible number of flip-flops in a wide range of colours and designs. It all invites some kind of sculptural intervention as the random groupings of pieces create some interesting assemblages, a few of which  I photographed. I went on to put together a few pieces with holes using a bamboo stick, which was fun! I may well go back and make something more substantial!

I hope the owner of this did not meet such a sticky end!

Flip-flops are almost as numerous as empty water bottles!

Not very inspired, but fun to make
Looking left from Diamond Beach Village.

..and looking right...

..and looking from the gardens!
 The beach and guest house had a few visitors, mainly French, some of whom have holiday houses there, some of whom have virtually settled there and like to use Diamond Beach as their local bar and restaurant for lunch and dinner, then relax on the virtually empty beach.  A few tourists take a boat across the channel from Shela or Lamu to enjoy the lovely beach and have a meal.

Saturday 13 August. I had arranged a boat to take me over to Lamu old town and set off about 09.30 to cross the channel between the islands of Manda and Lamu. The tide was low and the sea was calm as we sailed along the waterfront of Shela village, just opposite Diamond Beach. The sun was shining and the large waterside villas with gardens and private landings looked lovely. Shela is a rich ex-pats renovated old villas and town houses kind of place, which is up-market from Lamu. Our boat glided past many dhows and small boats and pulled in at the jetty in the middle of the waterfront of Lamu. As I stumbled out of the boat and up the steps I was taken in hand by a grizzled old-timer wearing a faded orange t-shirt proclaiming that he was an official Lamu tourist guide. His English was very good and although he wanted about £10 he seemed honest and he quickly proved he knew a lot about Lamu, taking me to places I either would never have found or else never dared enter. Mohammed introduced me into the shops and workshops of furniture makers, wooden door carvers, boat builders and a bakery where they were making a kind of Turkish delight. He told me that during Ramadan this is what people buy with a cup of coffee on the street to break their fast before they go home to eat the evening meal.
Building a new dhow.

Pieces are carved using an axe - no steel toe capped boots!

Approaching Lamu from Manda island.

We visited several small shops aimed at wealthy tourists and found some really interesting work in re-cycled art using the sort of things I had seen thrown up on the beach by the Indian Ocean tides. We went into several old town houses, now guest houses or hotels to look at the old Swahili features like the carved plaster niches used to display china. He led me up to the rooftops to see the views across the town and he showed me the town wells which are kept filled by the rain soaked up by the sand dunes behind the town. Manda island opposite, actually has no fresh water supply so all water beyond what is saved in the rainy season has to be brought in by small boats. That is why the buildings along the shore each side of Diamond Beach are all less than 8 years old. The place I am staying was the first on this shoreline about 10 years ago and others have come and gone in the meantime. Lamu town was built long before motorised transport so the town streets are narrow, often un-paved and the only transport is wheel barrows or dozens of patient grey donkeys carrying building blocks, sand, stones and jerrycans or just waiting or wandering around until the next load is piled on. Sometimes they trot quickly back to the jetty carrying their driver on their back. At the biggest festival in the Lamu calendar they have donkey races, dhow races and swimming races.
The vast majority of restaurants were closed because there are very few clients during Ramadan until the evening. However, Mohammed showed me a hotel on the sea front which served beer as well as food. I then took a rapid walk along to Shela, where I had arranged to meet the boatman from Diamond Beach, Kapala. Unfortunately the beach along which I had planned to walk was under the high tide and I had to take a sandy path behind the private villas at the foot of the huge sand dunes. I was glad when the track wandered back to the sea wall and the going was a lot easier. Kapala was waiting and we quickly landed back at Diamond Beach. The restaurant was a little busy in the evening but again I was the only guest staying the night.

Every evening brought a gorgeous sunset - an excuse to enjoy a "sundowner"!

Sunday 14 August. Lazy day on beach, attempted to fly my kite in the morning but the wind was too gusty and I just finished up with a huge tangle that kept me occupied for at least an hour. I later realised that during that hour I had not paid attention to the sun and had roasted my back!! In the evening Rachael had arranged a film and pizza night, using her laptop and a projector to show a French film "Le Grand Bleu".  Although it's a French classic I had not seen it so it was very enjoyable. There were about 30 people from round about or across from Shela and Lamu so it was a good night.  There is a real wood fired pizza oven and a chef who really makes excellent pizzas at Diamond Beach.

Monday 15 August. I arranged an afternoon sail by dhow to another Swahili ruins site so spent the morning exploring the area a little by going out the back door and wandering around the dusty tracks until I found the ocean. I came back along the very rocky shore, eventually finding myself on familiar territory from a previous walk - my little jetsam sculpture was still braving the wind and had not been knocked down. During a walk of about 2 hours I saw hardly anyone either inland or along the shore. It sometimes feels like real desert island stuff! The sail to Takwa ruins, around the island then inland through the mangroves, was great, as there was a gentle breeze, just enough to fill the sails and make the dhow lean over as sailing boats do.
My captain and crew for the trip.

Sailing into the Mangroves.

Takwa ruins - a mosque.
 The ruins were not especially interesting and the guide was not particularly good at his job, seeming more keen to get around quickly than to impart a lot of knowledge. The sail back was just as good with the addition of a setting sun, which was just going down as we landed in time for a Tusker beer before a pre-dinner shower. Still only me staying at Diamond Beach!
The full moon brought high tides just at sun set.

Tuesday 16 August. I booked a boat to take me across to Lamu so I could explore more on my own without a guide. I got a friendly welcome again from the guide, Mohammed, but after a chat he left me to my own devices. However, it wasn't long before a persistent young man wanted me to come and see his art, so I followed him along a narrow lane and into a shop next door to one I had visited on Saturday. He had  three small paintings I quite liked so haggled for a while before deciding he wanted a fair price but I didn't want to spend that much. Knowing how much work had gone into the paintings I really felt uncomfortable trying to beat him down to bargain basement levels and preferred to forget the pictures. After wandering a little longer I was tempted to buy a small version of a game often played in Africa with a board with little bowls carved in and seeds for playing. After my purchase I saw a couple of young boys playing on a full size board with marbles and stopped to watch and chat. A man came up and talked to me about the game and also about the street children he was teaching to paint in order for them to have a living. When he found out I was a teacher and interested in art he invited me to come to his room/studio to see his work. As we wandered into the narrow lanes many people greeted him and it was clear that he was well-known and respected. It turned out he had been a street orphan himself then grew up into a political dissident who got three years in jail for opposing corrupt politicians in demonstrations. Since he came out of prison he had decided to try to help street children by teaching them art and craft and getting them a basic education and enough to eat. He was busy applying for government recognition of his school while selling cards painted by himself and the children to tourists in order buy food for them. I hope I'm not just being naive but it is good to see another example of an African doing something to help his people and not just waiting for international aid. Ben, as he was called, was well up on African politics generally but was pessimistic that there would certainly be trouble next August when Kenya has its next election. What with Ramadan and the election Kenya will not be the destination of choice next August, which is a shame when there is so much to see and do.

View over the roof tops of Lamu.

An example of the Swahili plaster carving in an hotel.

Lamu market.

Looking down on the market from the Old Fort.

My next stop was also off the beaten track at a bead shop, where they also had a good selection of masks. I managed to get the price of a mask down to almost half, which was fun! After lunch and a beer my boatman took me back across to Diamond Beach, where I had a quiet afternoon on the beach. Once again I was the only guest but the chef cooked me a great three course dinner.

Wednesday 17 August.
Last day, day of departure but not the end by any means! Lamu was holding dhow races in the afternoon so I was invited to join some French people, who have a house near Diamond Beach, who were making up a group to follow the race in a friend's dhow. So I duly packed up in the morning, had a leisurely lunch then settled my bill. By then the dhow was waiting for me and my luggage on the beach. We sailed over to Shela to pick up cold beers and eventually set off just as the second wave of larger dhows was starting.

Our crew could not resist the challenge and we soon found ourselves speeding along, chasing the competitors until we all tried to get round the first buoy together. Our boat sneaked through after a near miss collision and for a while we were in with the leaders! It was really exciting, with a great atmosphere, much banter between the different crews and a lot of shouting and waving! We soon fell back especially as the rain began to fall briefly and the wind dropped. We got stuck on a sand bank, but soon got free as the crew jumped in the water to push helped by the outboard motor. The rain shower was brief and the wind soon blew us up to a good speed again. By now we were opposite Diamond Beach and a fast speed boat roared up to pick me and my bags off the dhow to head for the airport. We shot off across the water back to Diamond Beach at top speed - unbelievable - in order to collect other passengers for the airport. We soon roared off, not quite so fast, but fast enough and reached the airport jetty very quickly. What a last afternoon- dhow sailing, getting involved in the race and finally a speed boat trip to go for the plane!

The journey went according to plan though there was a scheduled but boring four hour wait at Malindi airport, where I had already spent five hours on my way to Lamu.  I arrived back at my Kigali guest house by 00.45 and my luggage had made it from Malindi to Kigali via Nairobi without getting lost!
I was lucky that my holiday improved day by day - the weather started grey and showery but became sunny and hot every day, with a nice fresh sea breeze.  My accommodation started well but just got better and better and Diamond Beach Village was positively idyllic both in terms of the peaceful beach location, the lovely room, the nearby town of Lamu, and the great service from the staff and the owner Rachael. My stay coincided with the full moon so there were really high tides in the afternoon which enhanced the beautiful sunsets.  The only small downside to Diamond Beach is the annoyance of sand flies which seem indifferent to repellent and undeterred by clothes and come out to bite in the evening.  After 11 months and only about five mossie bites in Rwanda it was quite a shock to find myself being bitten every evening in Kenya! A small cross to bear in exchange for an otherwise wonderful place, which even if it had a good number of visitors has beach and sea a-plenty and to spare!

Lamu boys use a rice sack and empty water bottles to make a fishing boat!

Donkeys are the main means of transport - no cars at all!

Although there are a few camels...

Washing a donkey in the harbour at low tide.

View of Diamond Beach Village from the sea during the dhow races.