What can be done to preserve and enhance indigenous communities [anecdote of magical creek in Watamu, Kilifi]?
Whenever I travel I always try to discover places tourists don’t know about and, to do this, one must understand that the best people to befriend are the local community. This time round we discovered a creek (though to me it seemed more like a lagoon) thanks to a local youngster called Charra. The creek is the primary source of livelihood for the communities (Giriama ethnic community) that reside on the mainland and islands nearby who use it for fishing. According to Charra, “Hata wazungu wengi hawajui hapa, pia kampuni za tours na hotel hawajui hapa [Even white people don’t know this spot nor do tours and travel agents and hotel staffers].” It makes sense because, other than being topographically concealed, the only way one can get to the creek’s beach is through the community which was a 30 minute motorbike ride one which half the time followed no clear path, sweeping through the low acacia and mangrove swamps. In short, only a local can get you there. Furthermore, once at the beach you need to take a canoe to the water and only the local fishermen own them (which they carve themselves then mask with fibre-glass to improve longevity & bouyancy). Should you convince the fisherman to lend you a canoe you’ll need to get someone to navigate it unless of course you’re a professional coxswain!
Charra mentioned that children in this area learn swimming from a very early age by watching their parents and older siblings. The water, like any sea-salt water, is medicinal and the children here seldom, if ever, get ill – flus, skin & eye diseases are almost unheard of. As one nears the shore from the mainland they experience 9 species of mangrove – the last strain found in the water (for images visit my Facebook page via this link – https://www.facebook.com/robertmunuku/posts/1000791106988758?__tn__=K-R) with its characteristic edgy white carapace on its roots which, according to Charra, “Ni ngumu kuliko kisu [It’s harder than a knife],” and is used as a tool by the fishermen. The mangrove also contains a particular seed that is used by the Italian restaurants as a garnish. The lagoon is approximately 2 miles squared give or take, punctuated with beautiful mangrove and natural silence that can allow you to hear insects moving! We also spotted some indigenous wildlife in the marsh e.g. a huge hawk-like bird that I had never seen before but was definitely unlike those I see in Nairobi. The creek and its surrounding inhabitants are almost 100% self-sufficient and only need to leave the village for critical medical care – a thing Charra says has been the greatest shortcoming of the governor whom, according to him, ‘does nothing but steal’. I then asked him why they vote for a thief he said, “Hapa watu huangalia chama, kama ni chungwa sawa, watu huwa hawachagui mtu [Here people consider the political party, if its ‘orange’ then fine, people do not vote based on a person’s merit.” Charra speaks fluent Italian but very little English – a phenomenon common to most youth in Malindi sub-county and Kilifi county in general who make their livelihood from interacting with foreigners at the shoreline. Italians have a strong presence in Malindi and Watamu and, again according to Charra, are ‘rivals’ with the British residing in the same area, “Wajua Muitaliano ni mtu wa kelele, na Muingereza hapendi kelele [Italians are loud and outgoing and the British here are reserved and like their peace].”
This is definitely a place I will visit again, this time slooooooolwy.