© Rohini Das, 2015
“Why do you stay here?” asked Richard, the askari (security guard) of the ruins of whatever lodge I had picked to hang my hammock in.
“It’s nice,” I grinned. “I have a great view of the ocean, I’m out in nature and I can see the stars as I go to sleep.”
“I have 50 acres. Let me give you one acre, you build a house on it and you can stay there,” Richard offered.
I had reached this cliffside in Watamu after a hectic three weeks building up to the preparation of the Musafir Floatel and Sundowners fundraising and on top of that, managing the campsite at Distant Relatives in exchange for a ticket to one of the biggest New Year’s events on the East African coast.
The Gypsy Queen was hanging out with her friends and I was about to hang out in my hammock which I had strung up between two dead trees in the property of this run down lodge. Richard was kind enough to allow me to spend the night. We sat and chatted. I explained to him my philosophy which was very confusing to him. In the end he asked me to sponsor him a ticket to Russia to go see his brother.
“Rafiki, my friend,” I said, “you see where I’m sleeping?” I indicated my hammock. “You think if I had money I would be sleeping out here? Let alone you want me to buy you a ticket to Russia? And you are only asking me because of my skin colour, no?”
He hung his head in shame.
“We are all humans, my friend,” I philosophised. “You are not a black man and I am not a white man. We are hu-man. Kweli? True?”
He nodded, his spirit lifted. “Why don’t you have money?” he asked.
“Money is evil,” I said. “It’s destroying the world. All of our problems come from money. War, famine, you wanting to get to Russia. Money is bad. I survive on trade.”
He left me to go visit his girlfriend, another askari on the property. I sat to play my guitar as the setting sun played an abstract visual that could stop traffic. One of those once-a-year type sunsets with high puffs of clouds reflecting back the pinkish-orange that paints the sky as the giant orange ball of flame drops like a coin into a slot machine.
Richard came back with some bread and a bottle of Krest, a bitter lemon soda. He sat with me and although he gave me the food I demanded he share it with me. He hummed to my guitar and eventually said,
“I will come back in the morning with my girlfriend. I want her to meet you.”
“Sawa, kaka. OK, brother. Lala Salama Goodnight.”
As soon as he left I sparked up the joint I had rolled and listened to the gentle roll of the waves 30 meters below me. I packed up my guitar and hopped into my hammock with it, straddling Ol’ Red between my legs as the breeze lightly swung us into one of the best sleeps I’ve had in a long time.
I awoke as the sun rose over the Indian Ocean. I packed up my hammock just as Richard returned with Mary, his girlfriend who also turned out to be a, “Police officer,” she said.
Glad I didn’t offer them to smoke.
As we chatted two Sikorsky military helicopters flew past, heading north, not much higher than the cliff we were on. I recognised the flight pattern as being below radar.
“Where are they going?” I asked Richard.
“Kenya is at war with Somalia.”
I’ve been in Kenya almost six months now (on and off) and had no idea that war was being waged across the border.
“Kenya is at war with Somalia?” I repeated.
“We want their land.”
“For their resources.”
“So we have money.”
And there it was. “So you see?” I grinned, as the thud-thud-thud of the helicopters drifted off. “What did I tell you last night? That money is evil. It causes war and people die for a piece of paper with a number on it.”
Richard’s jaw dropped so hard he almost caused a rock slide. He stuck his hand out to shake mine.
“You are a different kind of man,” he grinned, walking off following Mary, shaking his head in disbelief.
I made my way back to the white sandy beach. I was meeting the Gypsy Queen between ten and eleven at the gelato place so I had a couple of hours to kill. I headed north on the beach and found a quite spot protected by jagged coral rock. I sat down and rolled a joint, smiling and waving at the locals that passed by.
A young fisherman with a speargun rocked up.
“Hey Rastamun,” he grinned sitting beside me.
“Karibu. Welcome,” I grinned back and gave him the spliff to light.
“My friend, in his home, has a cave. One day, I will take you there,” he said as we passed the Bob Marley cigarette between us. We talked about fishing and free diving. After an hour he thanked me and made his way home. I continued to sit, grinning, people-watching as they passed me by. Some noticing me, others oblivious.
And then Elizabeth showed up. She seemed to be in her mid-40s, carrying her bag of goods to sell. She stopped when she saw me and struck up a conversation, a rarity with African women.
“Where do you stay?” she asked.
“On the beach,” I said with a smile.
Her eyebrows almost jumped off her face. She couldn’t believe it. I continued to explain my way of life. She continued to stand perplexed.
“Are you an angel?” she asked.
Now it was my eyebrows that jumped face. I laughed. I’ve been called many things during my travels. Jesus is the prominent name, usually followed by either Moses, or even the occasional Osama Bin Laden cause of the beard. I’ve been called Chuck Norris on two occasions and even Jack Sparrow around Zanzibar.
But an angel?
“Sorry to disappoint, mama,” I laughed, “but I’m not.”
She bid me farewell as she continued on to open her shop. I felt the need to jam out some tunes so I hit the beach and hiked back to an inlet where a bar in the shape of a shack was having the sand out front of it raked by a young local.
“Is it alright if I sit here in the shade and play some tunes?” I asked.
“Of course, rafiki!” He urged me towards a beach bench and I rocked out some blues and funk instrumentals.
During the sundowner events on Musafir I was able to plug Ol’ Red into the wireless speakers we had to entertain the crowds of 50-80 people that we had every night. I couldn’t sing over the volume so I just did instrumentals.
Turns out I’m not too bad when I don’t sing. Perhaps it’s even better that I don’t open my mouth.
The guy on the rake was dancing to my tunes and after what felt like an hour I thanked him and headed up to the gelato place. The Gypsy Queen wasn’t in sight so I returned to the beach and headed to the Barracuda bar where a local I met in the village told me that an old man plays guitar.
I sat down and chatted with the smiling faces around me and the local villager that had told me of the place was there, greeting me with a huge smile.
The old man that plays guitar showed up.
“My fingers are rotten,” he said, exposing his left hand. Indeed, the flesh seemed to be falling off his digits. His hand was swollen and quite grotesque looking.
“What happened?” I asked, trying to look a way but it was like when you see a car accident. You can’t not look.
He told me of symptoms that I found to be quite familiar.
“Recluse spider,” I figured. “Doc gave you antibiotics?”
“Yes,” he said, scratching his head with his good hand. “How do you know?”
I showed my scar on my left leg. “I know, brada. I know.”
I rolled up a spliff and gave it to him to light. I stuck around for about half an hour, laughing along with the others at the local drunk that had staggered into the shack, completely incomprehensible. I thanked my hosts who offered me a place to stay next time I was around and headed back to the gelato place to catch up with the Gypsy Queen who was sat, waiting patiently.
I told her of my evening and morning’s adventure and local interaction, something I had desperately missed.
The next five days we spent doing nothing but eating and sleeping.
The New Year’s event really did a number on us.