Archive for the ‘Shela’ Category


Lamu archipelago is Muslim

The islands of the Lamu archipelago are all Muslim, while the rest of Kenya is predominately Christian. Charles Miller writes about the islands in his book “The lunatic express” in the first chapter in which he also quotes Basil Davidson who wrote the book Africa in history”

Davidson has for a long time been regarded as an expert on African history. His books have been used at university courses of history.  Miller writes about the history of Lamu from the 8th century and onwards in his first chapter of the book and he also explains why Muslims started to settle down here at these islands, something I find quite interesting.


Many things are invisible

We have now been at Lamu Island since the 10th of January this year and we are still asking questions about the community in which we live. Many things are invisible for a foreigner while other things are quite clear.


Lamu is the most important island

Lamu is the most important island in the archipelago. The other islands are less inhabited and some islands are not inhabited at all. The most important place is Lamu town with more than 15000 inhabitants. Shella is the second biggest place at Lamu with 1500 inhabitants.



Accommodation in Shella

In this village there are many hotels as well as guest houses. The prices are different like in all other places. Here you can find every kind of accommodation from one star till five. There are also apartments for rent, some are very expensive but others are cheaper. It depends what you want to choose, the standard you want.

The high season is in December and January. That is the time when the island is crowded. Most tourists come from Europe.

There are no organized charter trips to Lamu so you have to book everything by yourself over the computer.


To find an apartment is not easy

We have rented an apartment. It was not easy to find it because there are no agencies or brokers here which can assist you.

If you want to find something you have to contact locals and ask them to help you, which we did and that was how we found the apartment in which we live. We like it very much because it is very nicely planned and well equipped and the standard is high.

What we like most is our living room which is on the roof terrace. It is quite hot here, sometimes more than 30 degrees Celsius, so in the evening we like to sit in our living room and enjoy the breeze.

Sometimes I sleep on the terrace as well because it is less hot there and I really like to sleep outside. It reminds me of my youth when I slept outside in Cairo, Istanbul and Athens where beds were rented at roof tops for cheap money.

But here the sounds from donkeys, cooks and cats disturb me, not to talk about the announcement of the first prayer from the mosque at five o’clock in the morning. I feel sorry for the people who have to get up so early to pray. As soon as the children are twelve years old they are expected to get up and pray together with the rest of the family.


Check even out the pictures in 
Shella Sunday the 20th of March 2011 – A dinner party


Lamu is Muslim

This is a Muslim community something which is quite obvious for any visitor. Men are dressed in long white shirts and they have a special hat on their head and women are covered all over their body with black clothes and many women also cover their faces but there are different fashions for Muslim women to dress. Some also have clothes in very bright colours and they show their faces also.


How people earn their living

The male population of the island work as farmers, fishermen and captains. Some are busy being owners of hotels, restaurants and shops while others work with handicraft of different kinds.

I have earlier written about the small workshops in Lamu town where people produce things like furniture, items of silver or garments of different kinds. Many people have small shops where they sell for example souvenirs. Also here in Shella there are tailors like in town.

Muslim women also work in hotels or shops or offices. Some of them are teachers in the nursery and other schools, but most women are housewifes and stay home when they get married and get children. Women get married very early because marriage is very important. It is perhaps more important than education.


Labour from the mainland – economic conditions

Muslim men and women seldom work in households or hotels in the service sector so that is why people from the mainland come here and settle down at the island.

These people are quite young, between 20-30 and most of them are young men. They are Christians and dress in another way than the locals from Lamu. They work with service in the hotels and restaurants of the island. It is quite hard work they are supposed to do like cleaning, washing, serving and cooking food, washing the dishes, garden work and many more things.

The salaries are very low and unions do exist, but they are corrupted so nobody joins them. A young man working six days a week, 48 hours, often has a salary like 5000 Kenyan shillings (less than 400 Swedish crowns) per month and food and lodging is not included.

Very young girls around twenty who are unmarried are employed in households where they have to do all kinds of works and they earn from 2000-3000 per month, which means a few Swedish crowns per hour only. Overtime is ordered and rarely paid for.

Very few people have a washing machine or a dish washer. It is not needed here because labour does not cost anything so the young people who are employed in households wash by hand and iron everything of course. I have never seen a man here going around in a shirt which is not ironed. Some people employ a maid and then he or she is supposed to wash not only for themselves but also for their relatives who come with bags full of dirty laundry.


Foreigners pay more

There are quite many foreigners who have hotels and restaurants here and many of them are considered better to work for than the locals, because they pay higher salaries and help their staff with small loans when they need money for their children’s school fees or for health care or something else.

Many people say that they cannot be organized in a union because then they will be without work since nobody wants to employ them in that case.

For us it is impossible to understand how people can survive here with the salaries which they are paid. Many young men around thirty are married and have their families at the mainland and they have to send home the money they earn so that the family can survive.

Malindi is the place at the mainland where most people who work here come from. It is a very special town because many inhabitants are Italians and the language spoken is therefore Italian. To go to Malindi from here takes five hours, first by ferry from Lamu to the mainland and then on a bumpy so called road by bus.

To Mombasa from here it takes more or less eight hours by bus and it is not cheap. It costs nearly one thousand shillings one way, which is a lot for the locals, nearly 80 Swedish crowns.


We will miss Arnold at home

Now we have been here for quite some time so we have learnt how this community is functioning. We go to the beach nearly every morning but before we go Arnold comes to work in the household. He is included in the rent. He is a very nice person and we like him very much and he does a good work and when we come home at lunch time he has already left.


Polite and friendly people

On our way through the village we meet different people whom we know and we have to say good morning to everybody – also to people we do not know – and ask them how they are today. Children also say good morning or just “jambo” which is Swahili for hallo.

At the beach we meet the people who work in two villas and normally we sit together with Paul who is a security guard at one of the villas. At lunch time we go to Peponi’s restaurant to have something to drink. Sometimes we eat there if we do not want to cook at home.

It is difficult to find a place in the world with such good food as they have in this restaurant. It is international food of highest class and the prices are quite decent. The next chapter in this blog will be about the food here in Shela.



The bull thought he was a donkey

When we go through the village we often see a bull which is black walking around. Until now he has been in company with donkeys.

I thought that he believed that he is a donkey but yesterday I saw him together with a white cow and I could hardly believe my eyes. These two animals are kept in a yard outside a small stable together with a few donkeys and when I saw them there I stopped to have a photo of them.

Both the bull and the cow were begging outside a grocery shop when I saw them yesterday and they were both fed by the owner of the shop. It was quite funny to see them but today they were locked inside but maybe they were released later on because they are used to move by themselves in the village. I will check what they are up to tomorrow.



Community house

Opposite our apartment there is a small house which belongs to the whole community. It is a house where people can watch television together for a small amount of money, a kind of people’s house. The village is small and many families do not have a television of their own so this is a good solution for them to have a common place to watch what they are interested in.


Easy to furnish a home without IKEA

What I find interesting here is how homes are furnished. There is no Ikea to go to so everybody buys local furniture. All homes are furnished with the same kind of furniture, made in the special Lamu style. The beds have the same size and the same kind of decorations.  The sofas are of different kinds and models and also the chairs that you use around the dinner table. The tables are of different sizes, smaller or bigger. All the material that is used by the carpenter comes from Lamu and other islands around. There are also special carpets made here at a place called Matondoni and they are made of leaves from the coconut tree. These carpets are very beautiful and some of them have bright colours and nice patterns.


The man is responsible for the dowry

When a young couple get married at this island the man is supposed to provide his wife with everything like a home and furniture so it is the man who is responsible for the dowry. Cars do not exist here so nobody has to buy such an expensive thing. They might choose to buy a donkey instead or if they are rich a dhow.


Police not needed

It is quite interesting to live in a place like Lamu and especially in Shella which is such a small village.

There is no need of having police here for example because crimes are hardly committed at all. There is some kind of social control among the inhabitants. Many problems are solved by the inhabitants themselves.


The cleaning of the village

I have written about the donkeys before. There are also donkeys here in Shella but not so many as in Lamu town. Here they are also used for transports and we often see a long row of donkeys walking along the beach very close to the water.

The same problem occurs here as in town, that is the dung of the donkeys, but here the community has solved the problem. Every household in the village pays a certain amount monthly for the cleaning of the small alleys and other places where donkeys move around. The cleaners performing the job are all employed by the local and compared to town it is clean here.

Of course it could happen sometimes that there is some dung in the alleys but it is quite rare. At lunch time most of the dung is taken away by the local cleaners.

People who deal with tourism here say that it is necessary to keep the village clean otherwise the tourists will not come, and this island is really worth visiting. It is a lovely and friendly place where it is easy to live, which many Europeans have realized and therefore quite a few have chosen to move to Shella and live here permanently.







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Today we have really enjoyed and used our spacious apartment and arranged a dinner party for some of our new friends, whom we have met here at Lamu Island.  It is not so easy to know what to cook for a number of people as it has to do with what is available in our three small grocery shops here in the village of Shella. Sometimes we also take a boat trip to Lamu town to visit another grocery shop.

If one of the fishermen here has caught a lobster or a crab or a tuna fish of suitable size that could also be an option. There are also two kinds of snappers and another fish called kingfish. We have phone numbers to different fishermen from whom we can buy fresh fish. And also oysters sometimes.


During the week we have been looking for vegetables to use for a buffet and we have found big ripe avocados, iceberg salad, tomatoes, leek, potatoes, apples, cucumber, onions, garlic, capers, gherkins and of course ripe big mangos for 1.50 Swedish crowns each. Two avocados – very big – cost 4 Swedish crowns. They are very different from the ones I sometimes buy at the market place in Lund, much more juicy and the taste is also different since they grow here at the island at a shamba (Swahili for farm).


In Lamu town we usually go to a grocery shop owned by an Indian man and he has all kinds of things which we find interesting. Last week we visited this shop twice. We have bought yoghurt, black olives, saffron, vanilla, butter, cheese and many other things there.

At our local grocery shop we find Italian pasta of different kinds, avorio rice from Italy and balsamico vinegar as well as British mustard. Today Anders also found sardines in that shop. I also had a frozen lobster from last week in the freezer and our local grocery shop also sells eggs of high quality from the village. Our apartment is very well equipped with a good fridge and a freezer which is quite big and a gas stove.


We invited our friend Michael and his wife Grace and their children Elisabeth, Stephen and Philip. The other sister, Alice, was working so she could not come and the eldest sister, Tina, lives in Nairobi.  Another guest, Julius, whom we also invited, works with Michael but he has no family so he came by himself a little earlier than the others.

You can see photos of Grace and Elisabeth as well as Alice in this blog. There is also a photo of Michael and another one of Julius enclosed.


Michael, Stephen’s Father


Grace and Elisabeth - Mother and daughter


Alice who was not present at the dinner party


Julius, a guest at the dinner party


We are very lucky because in our rent there is household assistance included, which means that at nine o’clock in the morning six days per week, a young man called Arnold, opens the door with a key and goes straight to the kitchen to wash the dishes. Then he continues his work and cleans the whole place, bedrooms, bathrooms and the room at the roof top which is a living room with a view over the village and a glimpse of the Indian Ocean.

When we need something from Lamu town, like alcohol for example, Arnold also goes there by boat to buy what we ask for and need. Arnold can do anything which is needed in a normal household and he is also a very nice person, easy going.

When we told him that we were having guests he offered to work even if Sunday is his day off. We said of course that we did not want him to work on his free day but he insisted so we decided to pay him extra for his work and he came already at ten o’clock and helped us with the planning of the dinner party for eight persons.

He provided us with plates, glasses and cutlery from a hotel and went to buy soft drinks and lots of water and he laid the table upstairs and even picked beautiful flowers to put on two tables, both in the dining room and in the living room.  You can see the table in the dining room on one of the photos which I enclose.


Arnold, the boss of our household


The table in the dining room


I prepared several different kinds of salads, like for example one Caesar salad, one potato salad, one avocado salad with slices of lobster, tsatsiki, cooked green beans in tomato sauce and one egg salad with sardines. I had also bought ten mangos and they were ripe and juicy.

The guests ate with very good appetite and when almost all the salads were finished I asked if somebody wanted pasta since I had prepared a classic Italian tomato sauce for pasta. Many wanted pasta even if they already had eaten quite much. We also had some nice bread which we had ordered at Peponi’s where they sell bread, the same kind as they use in the restaurant. We bought baguettes and our guests ate all of them. They were really delicious.

After the meal – in which Arnold of course also participated – we sent the boys and their sister to buy some ice cream nearby and they were very pleased and ate a big box of ice cream in a greenish poisonous looking colour. The adults had coffee and some chocolate and not until it was getting dark in the evening the guests left but before that we looked at photos at our lap top, something that everybody likes to do. Cameras are expensive to buy and many families cannot afford to buy one. That is why they like others to take photos of them.


We decided together with the parents that the boys, Stephen and Philip 15 and 13, would come and visit us soon by themselves and that we would take them to a nice big swimming pool where they can train swimming. They are training crawl this season they say. We dare not take them to the beach because of the strong currents. Accidents have occurred here every year. There are no guards at the beach either.


In the blog we have written about Stephen before. He is the boy whose school fees we pay. We also pay for his school uniform, books and we give him his pocket money. He needs money so he can go to the Internet café to read and write mails and he also needs the Internet as a source of information for his school work.

Schools in Kenya are free for the first eight years, but when the pupils start to go to secondary school there are fees to pay. Also for the university the students pay something like 45-50000 KS per year (around 4000 Swedish crowns) which means paying for two semesters. For many young people in this country it is impossible to study because of the high costs.

Stephen’s sister Elisabeth still goes to the secondary school and has two years left there. The parents pay the fees for her but it is a heavy economic burden for them especially now, because Alice who is two years older than Elisabeth, has been admitted to the faculty of economics at the university of Mombasa.  Philip is only 13 so he has two years left until he will go to the secondary school. There are no school fees to be paid for him so far.


When the guests had left to take the boat back to Lamu the sink in the kitchen was full of plates, glasses and cutlery but that is another story. We were very pleased with the day which we had spent in nice company.


View from our roof terrace


Yellow flower on a big tree


Yellow flowers at the same tree


Flowers hanging down to give shadow over the restaurant





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Since the 24th of February, we have been back in Shella, which also is situated at Lamu Island.

If you look at the Internet, you will find many pictures from Shella there. Above all, you will see the web site of Peponi restaurant and some very expensive and luxurious apartments and houses, which are free for rent if you can afford it. Some of these places cost 1000 euro per day. Some very rich Europeans and Americans have houses here, of which many are empty and deserted most of the year.


Shella Village

Shella is a village, not small but not big either. I think that there are more or less one thousand permanent inhabitants here. It takes around half an hour by boat to reach this lovely place. The main road of Shella is the Waterfront where many hotels and restaurants are located, but behind Waterfront, is the village of Shella with many shops where one can buy everything from food to cloths and there are also many beautiful private houses and hotels of which many are built in Swahili style.


Shella is clean compared to Lamu town

The streets are very narrow like the streets in Lamu town, but here the streets are clean as each household in the village contributes with a monthly amount for cleaning the streets and this system seems to function very well. In Lamu town the cleaning is administrated by the council, people have explained to us. There are also fewer donkeys in Shella than in Lamu town so it is probably easier to keep this place clean. And it is a small place, a village.


Fish and seafood

Fish and seafood is sold directly by the fishermen who sell for example tuna fish, red snapper, oysters, lobster (only sometimes) and crabs. But lobster is expensive here like everywhere else. The price is 1200 Kenyan shillings per kilo, which is nearly one hundred Swedish crowns. However, I do not find it expensive at all. The oysters cost 250 per kilo, which is nearly twenty crowns and the crab costs forty to fifty. Tuna fish is cheaper – 250 -300 per kilo, which is less than thirty crowns and it, is very good. The snapper is probably cheaper. We have not tried it yet.


Where we stay  

On Saturday the 5th of March, we will have access to a flat that we have rented until April so just now we are staying in a hotel in the village. The place where we live is very nice, because it is a hotel where both Africans and people from different countries in Europe stay.

Close to the hotel is a lovely restaurant where they have very nice food, but they do not serve alcohol since the owner is a Muslim like most people here. The restaurant is in a palace from the beginning of the 20th century and outside there is a garden that is like the Garden of Eden. In a few days, I will go there and take photos of  it. All the tables of the restaurant are outside, next to the garden, where a fountain is situated in the middle.

The smells from some of the flowers is like a very expensive perfume. I do only know the name of these flowers in Swahili, not in English, but I shall try to find out as soon as I have unpacked our luggage and found the batteries of our camera.


A special garden at hotel Baitil Aman

Yesterday I visited the garden together with some of the people who work in the hotel. I was also showed around inside the hotel and the place was impressing, but not cheap. The price for a very big room with a huge balcony with a view to the garden was 100 USD per night in the middle season, which is now.

If we compare the price to prices in Europe, it is of course not expensive at all, but if you spend many months here, you must have another kind of budget so we cannot stay in such places. But for a week or two I find the price quite OK. But it is probably much more expensive during the high season, which is around Christmas and the New Year.


The environment and the beach

We are spending our days reading books and just below our small hotel apartment, where we are now, there is a big pool, which is very well looked after by a man whose task is only to look after the pool so that it is clean.

We swim sometimes in this pool, but we prefer the beach, which is one of the most wonderful beaches we have ever been to in any place in the world. There are no big waves in the sea like in many other places at the Indian Ocean, because Shella is situated at a strait between the island of Manda and Lamu Island. Wind surfers seem to like the place anyhow because there are quite a few of them.

It is difficult to find enough shadow at the beach but we usually stay under a frangipani tree, also called temple tree. That is a very beautiful tree with big white flowers, which seem to flourish all the time. I think you can find a photo of such a tree, which I took last year in Cape Town in Robert Stockli’s garden I Green Point.





Moving to an apartment

When writing this we have moved to a place of our own – an apartment in the village – situated on the first floor in a recently built house.

There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms, one in each bedroom, a dining room with a huge table and a nice kitchen on the first floor. On the second floor is a roof terrace of at least 50 square meters, consisting of an open room, very big, and with a traditional roof covered with coconut leaves.

That is the living room of the apartment and it is very beautiful, as it is furnished in traditional style with comfortable furniture produced here. Especially two small sofas in dark wood are very beautiful. The third sofa is like a sofa bed and furthermore there is a hammock like a big swinging bed in which we can have our afternoon nap during the heat.

 Then there is, like in many other places, a big double bed, also produced here in traditional style. In that bed one can sleep during the night if one likes to sleep under the stars outside, like we did when we were young and traveled to places like Cairo, Istanbul and Athens.

Finally, there is a big table also produced here with chairs so we can also eat upstairs. Six people can sit around the table. From the roof we have a lovely view over Shella village. We can even have a glimpse of the sea from there.


 Inside a Swahili house

 Decoration in a Swahili home

 Decoration – Swahili style

 Anders watching the sea at the balcony


Daily service included

In the rent daily service is included and the price is quite OK according to our opinion.

A young man called Arnold works in our household 12 hours per week. He cleans, goes shopping and washes our clothes. We can decide ourselves how to use these 12 hours. You are welcome to come and join us if you feel like for a week or two. We have space enough and you won’t have to bother about the practical things of daily life. 


Close to the beach and Peponi restaurant

From the apartment to the beach it takes us less than five minutes to walk and there are many grocery shops close to the place. We do not have to go to Lamu town for shopping our daily food.

In Shella there is also a bank so if you don’t feel like it you don’t have to leave the place, but if you need to do something in town you can easily take a boat to the proper center of Lamu town. The price is very decent, like a bus ride in our town at home. The locals pay almost nothing for the transport. The prices are different for the mzungu (the white man) as we are called in Swahili.


Finally …

This was all we could tell our readers about our travel and whereabouts so far but we will be coming back and then we will probably write about food and restaurants.

Just now in these days there are celebrations going on because it is Mohammed’s birthday and this event is of great importance in this Muslim society, so many people come here from the main land and bus transports are running day and night. Some people come by ferry even from Zanzibar to participate in the celebrations.

We must, however, admit that we are quite uninterested so we continue reading our books, going to the beach and spending our time at Peponi’s as always.

Sometimes we also cook in our excellent kitchen and I have got a new friend who is called Anthony. I enclose a picture of him.


He is the chef at the Baitil Aman restaurant and he loves to try new dishes so he has got a little book from me in which I write the recipes for him and he has already tried several. I would like to give him some more dessert recipes, which fit in here to what we can find in the shops and at the market in town. Crème caramel he already knows but I was thinking of different pies and maybe some simple cakes.

If you send me some recipes I would appreciate it.  Preferably in English. Instead of deciliter you can use cups like the Swedish cups for coffee.



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