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Reading ‘The Children Act’ in Lamu

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The book: The Children Act, Ian McEwan

The place: Lamu, Kenya

I’ve recently become a believer in the importance of small holidays. I used to think that you needed at least a week to properly get away, but two or three days, provided that the location is sufficiently different, can be enough to bring about full body-and-soul relaxation.

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I’ve been wanting to visit Lamu for a long time. The whole Swahili Coast is fascinating to me: I’m always attracted to places of cultural contact and collision, and here’s where the Arabian Peninsula meets the Indian Subcontinent meets the vast continent of Africa, with a sprinkling of Portuguese influence thrown in. This great seam runs from Somalia down to Mozambique, and is palpable in the architecture and the language and the culture and the people. I love it.

Lamu is suffering these days. Like much of the Kenyan coast, it’s dependent on tourism, but the terrorist attacks in Kenya over the past year, and particularly the Mpeketoni massacre in June have done serious damage. The locals are friendly but there’s an undertone of desperation. “Pray for us,” a man told me today, “pray that god will send us some tourists.” I’d say god probably has bigger fish to fry at the moment, but I do hope that things get better here.

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Of course, from a selfish point of view, a paucity of other tourists can be a blessing. In August 2006 I backpacked through the Middle East during an outbreak of hostilities in Lebanon, and as a result was one of a handful of tourists at Petra on the day I visited. It was eerie and beautiful. Things were similar when I was living in Cairo last year: on one hand, the Pyramids deserted allowing you to make believe that you’d just trekked across the desert to find them half-drifted in sand and undiscovered; on the other, every second taxi driver with a story about how he’d used to drive buses for tourists or he’d been a tourist guide or he’d run a hotel, but no one was coming any more.

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Also read Tim Parks’s Teach Us to Sit Still. Early dusk, call to prayer, three-quarter moon burning with a sharp white light and an endless tumble of clouds racing in from north to south: I sat as still as perhaps I ever have, just watching.

(I stayed here. It was glorious.)

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Written by Jess

October 4, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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