Shela is a small labyrinthine Islamic village—actually it was settled before Lamu by those people who came here after abandoning the small town of Takwa on nearby Manda Island. First timers to Shela could quite easily get lost here. Odd that, the kids know there way around here better than their mom. On our frequent forays out of our Swahili guesthouse, we have managed to find a dozen different ways of getting back to our lair.
Most days we go down to the beach, and mind you that can be 5 times days depending on if: the kids and Gracie go running, we go to see if it is low tide, we go to check out the resident dogs of Peponi’s, go for a treat at Stop and Go café, we take a boat to Lamu or go to check out my email at Peponi’s patio. During those times, it is not unusual to pass by a small herd of braying donkeys, some mangy cats howling at each other, some noisy school kids off to the madrassa, some Rasta dhow boys smacked out on miraa who want to know if we want sunset cruise, Mr. Turtle drumming up business, or some fishermen hauling a freshly caught 25 kg yellowfin tuna and leaving a trail of blood on the concrete, another man carrying a very small baby hammerhead shark and some red snapper off to market, or a reed basket of mud crabs trying to pinch us. We usually see the new version of Ali Hippy either sitting on a step outside Janataan Guesthouse or down on the concrete ledge next to Peponi’s. His name is Ali Samosa and he is always looking for customers to buy his famous samosas.
Being that as it may, there is something liberating about being in a place where there is no vehicular traffic and only tame donkeys to avoid, and their associated donkey doo. Back in Nairobbery, the kids are rarely allowed into the open parking space in our compound for fear of cars coming and going, they are never out of the security compound by themselves, and god forbid, never allowed to walk down our road to nearby shops on their own. The roads where we live in Nairobi have cuckoo matatu drivers, many whacked on miraa, who are dodgy drivers at the best of times and quite dangerous when stoned.
Here in Shela, we have no such fears.
The kids know their way down to Peponi’s and the beach right next to it, they even know the different routes to get from the beach back to our accommodation—Baitil Aman. So much so, that the other day when we were on that beach, one of Gracie’s workers had just arrived by dhow from Lamu with some antibiotics for me and I instructed him to take it up to our place here. I figured that he would probably want to banter in Luo with the “aunties”, but in asking him, he had no clue of where our place was.
Jessica volunteered to show him and I had no trouble letting her show him the way something we would never have allowed her to do in Nairobi. Besides most of the shopkeepers, local guides, salon owners and artists, know the kids by now and keep an eye out for them.
The kids have the run of our Swahili house with its spacious three floors, endless rooms and open rooftop. Outside our room, there is a sheltered sitting area like a verandah that looks out over a garden, there are concrete benches with thick cushions to recline on, a heavy mangrove coffee table to put your feet up on or play 52 card pickup. At the other end of this sheltered verandah is a dining table that can seat 12 people and this is where we eat breakfast, sometimes lunch and dinner. We usually eat the Swahili version of a lightly sweetened cardamom/coconut flavoured dutchie called mandazi. This along with copious cups of sweet milky tea and followed by either fresh passion or lime juice. The kids and I often take a break from the mandazis and opt for a dry cereal with milk. A late lunch could be pilau, chicken curry, or a large plate of samosas. Dinner often is grilled snapper, broad beans or mung beans cooked in coconut milk with chapatis, or as a treat—deep fried or grilled chicken and chips.
The kids often come out of our house to go to neighbouring dukas or shops to buy sodas, water or phone credit, and to watch and pet the numerous donkeys and their babies who frequent the area. It’s like the kids have a personal petting zoo.
Despite taking the normal precautions of travelling and living in an equatorial zone known as the malaria coast, one by one our extended family is succumbing to the #1 killer in the world—malaria or falciparum plasmodium.
We started taking the prescribed malaria prophylaxis, Meflaquon, back in Nairobi before starting our journey. I took 500 mg per week each Thursday and the kids are on 250 mg. per week. I assumed the maids, or as the kids call them “aunties”, were taking it, but you never know as they didn’t seem to be bothered about taking them—maybe it is a mzungu thing? In Africa, getting a disease seems to not be a big issue or even trying to prevent getting one—I guess that is why AIDS and HIV took off here as no one likes using condoms—still!
At any rate, after being here for two weeks, Auntie Lynette felt loagy and tired—we just thought it is some flu virus, but then she was running a temperature. So we got the Coartem treatment stuff for her and she is still not 100%, no appetite, but better than before. Next, was Jessica who sat wrapped in a fleece, another fleece on top and two towels and she was still feeling cold at sitting on our verandah. Mind you the evening breeze coming off the Indian Ocean these days is decidedly cool compared to the muggy days we spent here on the malaria coast, but surely not in need of a fleece. She had succumbed to malaria and we took no chances and got her on the treatment as well. We had gone to the island clinic with Lynette, but could not do the blood test for malaria since we were all on prophylaxis.
This would not be such a big deal with Jessie’s condition, but we were reminded that Gracie’s younger brother Josie had succumbed to malaria in Lamu years ago which eventually turned into cerebral malaria—the most dangerous strain, which nearly killed him. The fact of the matter is that both Gracie’s dad and aunt had died from it, so we weren’t going to take any chances. Neither Gracie nor I slept well and we couldn’t wait to see what the treatment would reveal in the morning. Thankfully Jessie was OK in the morning, but Lynette was still quite out of it—no appetite and sleeping all day.
We thought we were out of the woods, but next up was the youngest—Jeremy. He had no symptoms until one night he leaned up against me and he was like a boiling pot next to me. I told Gracie, because unlike Jessica who had the chills two nights before, Jeremy was boiling. I laid some cushions on top to keep off the mossies and keep him warm. When I took them off, so he could be carried to bed, he had soaked all his clothing. We woke him up and gave him treatment and then sent him to bed.
The upshot of this is that Gracie didn’t take any prophylaxis and says she thinks she is immune from it as perhaps her body has built up a resistance to the strain of malaria here on Lamu. One wonders why there is such a bad strain since the majority of the island is desert with sand dunes, and I haven’t seen any standing water where the malarial blighters can breed. Having said that, my old African hand, Bill Curry, just succumbed to dengue fever a few weeks back and he got that in Mombasa area just down the coast from here, so who knows.
When we told our chef about our ailments, he just shrugged and said it was just “Lamu fever”—whatever the hell that is.