“It’s been four years,” Paolo reflects in the talking circle on the balcony of the Musafir house. “I’d really like for us to push to set sail in the kaskazi winds (the trade winds that blow south) and head to Mozambique by the end of March.”
We all nod in agreement, charged with renewed energy after surviving the hectic festivities of the New Year’s celebrations. Musafir, the 70-foot traditional dhow, was turned into a floatel (check out The Tripping Lass post) to raise funds to sustain the continuous construction of the boat.
Musafir is a word shared in several languages. In Farsi, Hindu, Urdu, Arabic and Ki-Swahili it means ‘a traveller’. In Romanian and Turkish it means ‘a guest’. It’s an old word that refers to travellers that would exchange goods, knowledge, culture and art and pass on that knowledge to their next destination. Like Marco Polo bringing pasta to Italy from China.
The project’s humble beginnings began in November of 2011 in the tiny inlet village of Kipini, just off Kenya’s northern coastline. Known for its traditional boat-building community it was here that Paolo, along with various travellers from all backgrounds, began to design and build the vision he had.
“I wanted to build a boat to have a platform that is open to everyone as an alternative community,” he explains. “The mission is to sail around the world and interact with local, remote coastal communities. Stay for a few months, learn their ways, see how we can assist in developing a sustainable project. Spread environmental awareness, exchange culture and music. To survive on barter and to use as little money as possible.”
This sounded familiar.
Over the four years it has taken to manifest one man’s vision, more than 50 travellers and a handful of local paid fundies (labourers) have passed through Kipini and now Kilifi, where the boat is anchored in the creek.
The small town of Kilifi is just an hour and a half north of the major port city of Mombasa. The nearest ATM is a five minute boda ride (motorbike taxi) or, if you can take the heat, an hour’s walk. Up on the hill sits the Distant Relatives Eco-lodge and Backpackers which has wifi access.
To build a traditional Swahili dhow one must use a lot of wood. Wood comes from trees. “To give back to nature, we help out with tree-planting projects in the communities that have hosted us,” Paolo says. “Before Musafir was sailed to Kilifi, we built a playground from the left over wood for the community of Kipini and planted trees.”
In the first week of my arrival I took part in tree-planting at a local school organised by a Musafir volunteer, planting 108 saplings.
Nothing gets wasted and with every new traveller that volunteers on the project, fresh ideas are brought to the table on how to recycle materials, how to market the project online, sustainable projects. Ideas that are hoped to be passed on to the remote coastal communities that the boat will sail too. Hence the talking circle held once a week to brainstorm and discuss what is needed and if any, what changes need to be made.
I joined the project in May of 2015 with the idea that I would stay for two weeks and then move on. But something about this project grabbed me. The feeling of being accepted into a community – a family – without judgement, with open arms and being back on a boat was tickling my fancy.
And I didn’t even know I had a fancy.
Well, it’s now January, 2016 and I’m still on the project, jumping ship for the occasional hitch hiking adventure.
The dhow is almost ready to take advantage of the upcoming kaskazi winds. It won’t be completely finished but construction will be ongoing as it sails.
As it stands now (or anchored), the two-rigger boat (meaning two masts) now has a deck (recently completed), a main hatch, a cargo bay, a temporary toilet and a sundeck for fishing or sunning (and once reinforced, jumping). To set sail at the end of March, work on the stern cabin and lower deck must be completed, and a trustworthy captain and some crew who know how to sail such a boat need to be found.
Musafir is in the heart of each and every one of us. It drives (or sails) us forward and pushes the limits of global human interaction. I reflect on this as I sit in the talking circle surrounded by a rainbow of people from various backgrounds. Like-minded folks that see people for what they are – just people.
And the circle can always be more round.