Bliss in Lamu Island

The Majlis, Lamu. PHOTO | COURTESY  

I spent three days on a hammock. Three days of waking up at sunrise, having breakfast, then shuffling off to one of the hammock beds at the beach when the sun was out and reflecting harshly on the white sand.

I carried two things; a Kindle paperwhite e-reader and sunscreen. I would remove my shirt, get on the hammock and lie down, staring at Shela Beach across the channel. I was staying at Majlis Resort, a privately owned beach hotel on Manda Island.

When you do nothing but lie on a hammock the whole day you realise how much unnecessary importance we accord time. How time is an annoyance illustrated by something so inane as the shadow that moves around you.

Escape sunset years

I’d lie there and read. I was reading ‘‘The Things They Carried’’ by Tim O’Brien, a gripping tale of war and the poor men who are caught in it.

I’d immerse myself in a small village in Vietnam, an impending ambush on the Viet Cong, a soldier in love with a picture, smoke drifting to the sky after a whole village is torched. It was 1965.

Then when I came up for air, the sun would be torching my exposed leg and across the channel I’d watch a dhow glide through soundlessly. I’d lie there for a while, catching my breath before I go back to the dark days when America started bullying and meddling with small nations.

These are many years before an Italian man called Nani discovered Lamu. Before he— Nani—and his wife Nena discovered these beaches in 2000 when they were looking for a place to escape to in their sunset years after slaving in Ethiopia at a textile factory.

They needed a place they could run to during the dreadful European winters.

So they landed across the very beach I was, when Lamu was a virgin, with donkeys ferrying sand in baskets on their backs, children leaping off the wooden jetty, the architecture of Lamu marked by the jade green domes of the island’s numerous mosques.

One day, Nani, staring across the channel to the deserted and uninhabited Ras Kitau Bay in Manda probably told the wife, “Look, how there is no form of human life there, I think we can love it there.” And they did.

They went back to Italy but came back because Lamu never leaves your head and mind. They bought a piece of land and built a family home.

Then they bought the piece of land next to it and built a villa, which with the help of their interior designer friend, Armando Tanzini, they filled with intricate fretwork, exotic rugs from afar, hand-made furniture, an eclectic collection of art, carvings, sculpture and intricate fretwork.

Unbeknownst to them, they were building The Majlis Resort, an exclusive and well-heeled resort embedded on their love for nature, art, exotism and charm.

They fused Italian style and Swahili culture. Friends came. One of them, film director Julian Shnabel, brought some architectural zing to the villa when he used local dhow sails, weathered by the elements of the sea, to act as canvasses for his flamboyant paintings that hang on the walls.