Pate, Kenya

Continuing my challenge on nature photography inspired journey of the seven continents of the world, we spend one more week in Africa for another tale from the semester I spent in Kenya as an Earlham College student. As before, please excuse the photo quality as this was before I owned a decent camera.

1995_Kenya-3-2The boatmen had certainly stressed the importance of leaving on time. The sun hadn’t even been a hint on the horizon when we’d stumbled to the dock, rubbing sleepiness from our eyes whilst wishing for coffee. Yet there were delays. Lamu was just a place that took its time. A waiter had taught me the Swahili phrase haraka haraka hana baraka, polepole ni muundo (to hurry has no blessings, slowly is the way) as he had delivered my dinner two hours after I’d placed my order. Life moved slowly here. So we’d left a little later than desired and now we stood, knee-deep in water and baking under the mid-morning sun with our sailboat firmly lodged in a sandbar.

We desperately pushed and tugged at our vessel, flushing our faces and erupting in sweat in our efforts to go somewhere. The boatmen chuckled and laid back in shade scavenged around the boat.

“The water will move us in time,” one of them reassured us.

“When will that be?”

The boatman shrugged, “When the tide returns. Pate is just around the bend. You can walk if you like.”

They were just going to wait for the next high tide? We only had one day in Pate. We wouldn’t waste it here waiting for water to rise. There were places to see, things to do! We grabbed our bags and shuffled across the shallow flats.

1995_Kenya-2A maze of high-walled, crumbling buildings greeted us in town. It was a smaller, more rural version of Lamu. There were no hotels nor restaurants here. We were led to the flat top of a home that was shaded by a thatch roof and felt cool in the ocean breezes. They had straw mats we could sleep on and for an extra fee, they’d provide food and a tour of the surrounding ruins. We nodded our agreement, bought coconuts from a passing vendor to quench our thirst and awaited our tour.

1995_Kenya-1The ruins emerged from agricultural fields and forested edge as if part of the landscape. Roots infiltrated ancient limestone walls and doorways led to caverns that would’ve felt natural if not for the squared off corners. People had claimed their stake to the fertile fields surrounding and had clearly dominated these buildings too centuries ago, but mother nature was the current engineer. She mandated the tides, she roughened the city walls and someday she could return the town’s buildings to the earth just as these ruins were being reclaimed and enticed to provide new life. Maybe it wasn’t that life was simply slow here. Maybe these people had learned not to waste time trying to control processes that ultimately can’t be controlled. Here, mother nature still ruled supreme.

*For more stories on Kenya, check out my older blog posts Treading Carefully in Kenya and When the Colobus Man asks you to Dance that I’ve just added photos to.

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