12 March 2019

Lamu Island: annual New Year's Day dhow race

When we learned about the annual dhow race held on New Year's Day at Shela, we made plans to be there! Hassan (who had taken us snorkeling and prepared our picnic on the beach) was one of the contestants along with seven other crews and their boats.

These guys had quite the fun as they waited for the race to begin! I think they also enjoyed showing off for me :)

Spectators gathered from all around the archipelago to see this annual event take place.

Each team stood in a line near their boat, eagerly waiting for the signal to begin! The race organizers had to wait for the 'wind to wake-up' before giving the signal to start. And they were off, making a dash for their boats!

The boat from Peponi Hotel (the sponsors of the event) took 1st place, earning a nice cash reward. When they completed the race, they came back to where the spectators were and actually sank their boat, sail and all. Apparently it's a tradition! [Don't worry, the boat was okay, and was pulled up out of the water later.}

Here we are after the race with Hassan, and his brother. They were disappointed in their 5th-place finish, but we were impressed!

Never give up, indeed! I know they will back in the race again next year!

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"The nature of cross-cultural ministry can take a personal and relational toll. Missionaries must value their physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational health as much as they value the work they do. Surely we can grant permission for them to find appropriate respite from the rigors of their ministry. Rest isn’t a luxury; it’s a God-mandated necessity."
   ~ Michele Phoenix (author and speaker with international sensitivities)

11 March 2019

Lamu Island: donkeys, donkeys, and more donkeys! Another 'vlog' post of sorts, for your viewing pleasure

This guy loads heavy coral stone on the back of this donkey, to be used in construction

An interesting sight on one of my strolls around the town

We only saw four cars during our week at Lamu town, and they were only on the wide road near the sea. Donkeys are the primary means of moving all the cargo that arrives by boat on the island. Donkeys and mikokoteni (large hand-pulled carts) are the only thing that can fit in the narrow, winding pathways of the town. As we did our shopping we had to always be alert to their movement, as they have the right-of-way!

Donkeys get a drink of water outside the Donkey Sanctuary

Donkeys are the backbone of the economy in Lamu Town, with an estimated 3,000 'beasts of burden' living there. They're used in agriculture and also in carrying household provisions and building materials. When goods are delivered from the mainland to this island, they're off-loaded from the boats and placed on the backs of donkeys to be delivered to their final destination.

Dr. Elizabeth Svendsen founded the Donkey Sanctuary in 1987 after seeing the poor condition of donkeys while on holiday at Lamu Island. Since then the health of the donkeys has improved considerably and the primitive practices of treating wounds and illness has been reduced. The Sanctuary provides treatment to all donkeys free of charge. A competition for the donkey in the best condition is held annually.

One day I took a stroll in this rural area between Lamu and Shela towns

08 March 2019

Manda Island, snorkeling and a fun picnic on the beach - viewed through a series of short videos (a vlog post of sorts)

Hassan's young (in-training) assistant for the day

The café below is where the idea for our picnic on the beach started. While strolling around one morning, Gloria and I happened upon Tamarind Tree Café, actually built around a tree. We decided to give it a try and climbed up to the top floor, where we enjoyed the view and a mid-morning soda.

As we were leaving, the owner of the establishment asked if we were interested in snorkeling, which indeed we were! She introduced us to her husband, Hassan, and we arranged a day to meet. Somewhere along in the conversation, a picnic on Manda Island was also mentioned and we negotiated a price for our upcoming adventurous day.

After a few mishaps as Hassan attempted to organize things plus some difficulty getting the outboard engine to actually work, our first stop was the coral reef near Manda Island. As always we thoroughly enjoyed the beautifully colored fish! I'll never cease to marvel at the stunning view that reveals itself when you wear a mask and put your face in the water. Wow, it's like entering another world!

At some point while I was snorkeling, my leg bumped into the barnacles on the coral and caused a rather deep gash at the back of my ankle. When I climbed back up on the boat and discovered it was bleeding a lot, I tore off a piece of my leso and wrapped it around my ankle. Hassan insisted we inform Gloria and then get me to the hospital, but I didn't want to interrupt her enjoyment. Instead, I just kept pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. Later when Gloria (a nurse) joined us at the boat, she said the wound was deep enough for stitches. But I was comfortable with sticking to our plan for the picnic! [The gash did stop bleeding and eventually the wound healed.]

The beautiful site for our picnic on the beach, in the shade of lovely acacia trees

Our view of Shela beach across the channel, plus some fishing boats

Yummy veggies cooking

Our fish grilling over the open fire

I loved the simple style of how Hassan cooked, using the materials at-hand. It reminded me so much of my many years of camping.

And - oh, my! - the meal was absolutely delicious! Just when Gloria and I finished our large portions of fish and veggies, Hassan offered us fresh fruit. Of course, we couldn't refuse the second course.

Our adventurous outing had come to an end and it was time to return to Lamu Island. It was a very fun day we won't soon forget. I hope you enjoyed the videos and photos of our picnic on the beach! Perhaps you, too, will visit Lamu and Manda islands some day.

[FYI - A 'vlog' is a type of blog where the medium is primarily videos.]

06 March 2019

Lamu Island: boats, boats, and more boats!

I chatted with these cute boys for a while about the boat they were building.
I imagine they were dreaming of one day operating a real boat when they get old enough

Because Lamu is an island there is constant movement of boats to the mainland, other nearby islands, or even from one town to another (like Lamu town to Shela). In the past it was only dhows (wooden boats with sails), but more and more boatmen are now using diesel engines to power their boats. Gloria and I commonly use buses and vans (called 'matatu') to move around various parts of Kenya, so it was an easy switch to use boats while we were at Lamu.

The video above and the picture below were taken a few days before a highly anticipated annual boat race on January 1st; naturally it was only for experienced adults. But before that big day, several youngsters held their own race with their small homemade boats. 

There are two towns on this side of Lamu Island - Lamu and Shela. They're just two miles apart, but during high tide the only way to move between the two is by boat. We went there a couple of times, once for a swim and lunch, plus also to watch the annual dhow race.

Beautiful Shela beach and sand dunes. I took this photo from Manda Island.
It's believed that the dunes conceal the remains of long-deserted settlements.

These guys are making a sail

Many earn their living by diving in the ocean for seafood.
This guy wanted to sell his recently-caught lobster to me.

People alight from a boat after docking at Lamu's quite busy pier

"Slow travel advocates savor the journey, travelling by train or boat or bicycle, or even on foot. They take time to plug into the local culture instead of racing through a list of tourist traps."    ~ Carl Honore, In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed

04 March 2019

Lamu Island: living like the locals at fascinating Lamu town

My good friend, Gloria, and I thoroughly enjoyed our first-ever visit to Lamu Island. Wow, it's so different from the rest of Kenya that we almost thought we had arrived at a different country. Our time there was a quite enjoyable Christmas vacation!

I had a crazy idea to ride a donkey... and I did it! When I asked some young guys if it was possible, one of them politely helped me.

Street food - roasted octopus
It's been said that the best way to travel is to live like the locals... and that's exactly what we did. We stayed right next to Lamu town's produce market, doing our grocery shopping there or at the small shops along the narrow passageways. When we didn't do our own cooking, we enjoyed sampling a variety of the street food.

Street food - pancakes

Enjoying fresh coconut water and staying hydrated

An example of the narrow passageways throughout Lamu town

Outdoor market area near Mkunguni Square
(I took the picture while up high at the Lamu Fort Museum)

Mkunguni Square is a common meeting place (I took the picture while at the Lamu Fort Museum)

Mkunguni Square became a crucial meeting point 100 years ago. It's named after the Mkungu tree, which is native to the area. The town square is situated right in the middle of the Lamu Old Town which was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2001. The square is part of the Lamu Fort Museum, which came under the National Museums of Kenya in 1984.

I grew up playing the game of Carem and was pleased to observe its popularity among the men of Lamu. I watched them play during the early evenings in friendly, but quite competitive matches. I even chatted a bit with the current champion of the game. He and others were surprised that I knew the game. When they asked me to join them, I politely declined :)

While touring the old Lamu Fort earlier in the day, Gloria and I learned that a wedding was to be held there that evening. When loud Taarab music wafted throughout the town square coming from the fort, I went to take a look and was invited in! I only watched for 20-30 minutes, as the women arrived, and shot this short video (with permission). It was all so very fascinating! 

In the evenings at Mkunguni Square, local TV news was projected onto a large white board. After the news, Taarab music was placed quite loudly. It incorporates Swahili, Arabic, Indian, and Egyptian cultures. The lyrics are Swahili poetry, often containing a double meaning.

Masjid Riyadha was built in 1892, when a renowned Islamic scholar settled at Lamu and began religious instruction.
The mosque was declared a national monument in April 2018.

Masjid Rawdha is a very active Mosque at Lamu's sea front.
It was built in 1877 and renovated in 2017.

We enjoyed strolling around and seeing various features like these two old mosques. We also visited three museums at Lamu town. 

The Lamu Archipelago lies two degrees south of the equator, just south of the Somali border with Kenya. It's almost directly east of Nairobi. The archipelago consists of over 65 islands, the largest of which are Pate (not shown on map below), Manda, and Lamu.  

Lamu town's current population is about 6,000. The people are of mixed origin and referred to as Swahili (an Arabic word meaning 'of the coast'). Like all of Kenya's coastal regions, Lamu town's culture results from interaction between the Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians, and Europeans down through the centuries. The vast majority currently are Muslim, with over 40 mosques in the town. Lamu's current livelihood depends mainly on maritime industries, export of mangrove poles, and fishing.

As Kenya’s oldest living town founded in 1370, Lamu (situated on Lamu island) has a rich and colorful history. The town was one of the many original Swahili settlements that stretched from Somalia to Mozambique. It remained a thriving port town through the turbulent Portuguese invasions and later the Omani domination of the 14th century.

Originally the islands were home to the Bajun, but their traditions vanished almost entirely with the arrival of the Arabs in 1441. Lamu town was visited by Zheng He of China in the early 1400s. Vasco da Gama's Portuguese fleet were the first Europeans to discover the East African coast and Lamu surrendered to their rule in 1505. 

Historically a significant city-state, Lamu has traded for the best part of 1000 years, first under the nominal control of various Arabic magnates, then under the Portuguese, and finally at the behest of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, before eventually achieving independence with the rest of Kenya in 1963. While its exports included timber, amber, cowrie shells, oil seed, turtle shell, rhinoceros horn, and spices, the cash cows were ivory and slavery. In 1873, the British forced Sultan Barghash of Zanzibar to close down the slave markets. 

The Swahili houses made of coral rag still surviving today, were built during the 19th century. Until it was discovered by travelers in the 1970's, Lamu existed in a state of humble obscurity, which allowed it to remain well preserved for tourists today. By the 1990's many new resorts were developed making Lamu Archipelago is a premier beach destination.

The physical appearance and the character of the town has changed little over the centuries. The narrow, winding streets accommodate only pedestrian or donkey traffic. Lamu town is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as 'the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa'.

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Be sure to view all 25 of my videos from Lamu by clicking here, as they play one after the other.

20 February 2019

Four Ladies' Retreat: four photos of fabulous friends and four funny videos

This was the second three-day retreat where we four lady friends gathered together. Both times it was an intentional, quality period to step away from our normal routines, turn off our phones, and focus on the Lord.

I gathered several contemplative and imaginative reflections focusing on a few stories out of the Gospels. One example was the story of Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. We used a guided recording, which put us into the shoes of the Samaritan woman. We were encouraged to feel what it’s like to actually be inside the story - to listen, taste, smell, feel, and watch what happened. We imagined the environment around us, as well as what Jesus’ facial expressions might have been.

Afterwards, we shared what we felt during the reflection. We also discussed a variety of reflective questions, such as - "Where in my life does it seem Jesus has no bucket or rope for my deep problems?" Such probing thoughts can be quite powerful and impacting.

Because we stayed at an Airbnb that was very close to the quite renowned Safari Park Hotel, we went there for lunch one day. It was really special as we reveled in the lovely surroundings, the beautifully landscaped gardens, a lovely waterfall, and a pool.

Linet led us in two sessions on the questions God asks in Scripture. Here are just a few examples: To Adam, after he and Eve had sinned, "Where are you?" After Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, God asked her, "What is this you have done?" To Hagar when she ran away from Abraham's wife Sarah, "Where have you come from and where are you going?" To Elijah when he was hiding in a cave, "What are you doing here?" Jesus asked the woman with the bleeding problem, "Who touched me?" It was quite an interesting study throughout the Bible!

We listened to an encouraging sermon by William Carroll (Times Square Church, New York City), titled "A Word for the Weary". All four of us are involved in ministry, and we found it to be quite impacting.

We also thoroughly enjoyed some fun, funny, and tense games of Jenga!

18 February 2019

"Stop and let your soul breathe", excerpts of an article written by Karla Markus (for Velvet Ashes)

Do you remember that moment, the place, time, and circumstances when you knew deep within your soul? Do you remember the holy mixture of fear and faith, the overwhelming sense of purpose sprinkled with the anxiety of what it all would really mean? Do you remember the call?

I do. In just a flash of mental effort I can place myself back into that moment. The sounds, the smells, the people surrounding me. It was a time of action. It was go and do. It was verbs and momentum and adrenaline. It was a long time ago.

In the years between that bliss and this keyboard have been many hard days. This morning the mirror showed more wrinkles, darkened spots, and gray hairs than I may ever be comfortable with. And next to my name I now carry an age that I once believed could only belong to my parents.

I am tired from all that doing and going. 

All of that sacred work of the kingdom, in truth, has worn me down into a person I never believed I could become. And while I am certainly tempted to place the blame of my state on a thousand things – the air, the language, the bureaucracy, the inefficiency, the never ending evil plans of men in power – the fault lies within me.

I have forgotten the way of my Savior. He had a lot to do. Certainly. He had just a few short years to light the fire of faith that would overcome the world. But he never forgot the tension.

He never forgot that he’s not just to do. He is to be.

He is to be the one and only begotten. He is to be the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased, far before he’d actually gotten anything accomplished. He is to live taut between what he does and what he is becoming.

Yes, he fed the five thousand, but he also went up the mountainside alone. Yes, he raised the dead, but he also withdrew in the boat. Yes, he calmed the wind and waves, but he also almost slept through the storm altogether. Yes, he preached to the crowds, but he got up early to seek the Father. Yes, he washed the disciples’ feet, but he also went to the garden to pray.

Give and retreat. Work and rest. Serve and commune. Preach and pray. Do and be.

Along with stories of faithfulness, I could share too many testimonies of tragedy. The one who lost her marriage due to neglect. The one who worked so hard her body couldn’t keep up and she found an early grave. And those few, whose memory still stirs my tears, who in the midst of their calling lost the very One whom they sought to serve.

What good is it to save the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? In all of your doing, have you forgotten to be?

Can I ask you to restore a balance? Can I ask you to take some dedicated time to lay aside the many do’s in life and allow your soul to be? Let it be so for you. Lay down your list and trust that the Sovereign can manage this minute without you.

Stop, and let your soul breathe. Retreat and come be with the Father. Let Him sustain you as only He can. 

   ~ by Karla Markus   [see original article here]

13 February 2019

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with Linet and Jeremy

Fun with a live Santa and his helper, at The Hub in Karen

Linet, Jeremy, and I strolled around The Hub a while before having a meal at Burger King. Then we walked down the road a ways to attend Karen Vineyard's Christmas Eve Service. It was great to sing carols with the congregation!

Jeremy and Linet pose with what we think (?) was a cow 

The group, Spellcast, strolled around The Hub entertaining shoppers; we were quite impressed with their talent! We also enjoyed the singing hand puppets, and Jeremy tried his skill at riding a Segway around the open courtyard area.

The following day we enjoyed many, many wild animals at Safari Walk. The animals there live in large open areas, with natural habitats well-suited to them. We then enjoyed our packed lunch and headed home in opposite directions.

Our guide took us to an area not open to the public, so we could see this napping lioness very close.

Jeremy really enjoyed feeding this Black and White Colobus, a very beautiful monkey found in many areas of Kenya

We enjoyed watching this rhino quite close to us, as well as a buffalo, hyena, leopard, cheetah, and many other animals.

This shows the raised boardwalks from where we viewed many of the animals, including this ostrich.

I got this shot of an Agama lizard on the boardwalk (not inside the fence enclosure)

Jeremy really liked using the binoculars!

Perhaps it was a bit out of the ordinary for an activity on Christmas Day, but we had a wonderful time at the Safari Walk! 

You'll turn out ordinary if you're not careful. 
~ Ann Brashares (1967- ), American novelist