Thursday, June 7, 2012

Funzi fishing village

My first day at the Kenyan coast and first close encounter with the Indian Ocean also took me to the Funzi fishing village. A 700 yard, 1200 inhabitant settlement in the middle of the mangroves of Funzi Island (which by the way looks more like a peninsula on the map, but who am I to dispute proper location names). 

Our group was greeted by our tour guide Jamal, a native of the village. At the beach, he told us the history of the village and how the first settlers came from Iran. Because of Indian Ocean winds they had to stay for 6 months at a time and wait for the winds to turn so they could go back to Iran. It would take the many geography classes I skipped in high school to say more about ocean winds here or to replicate the story completely. Anyhow, eventually, as history and live go, the Iranians hooked up with the locals and decided to stay. (I’m really hoping Evelyn does send us the article she’s going to write about this village. With a voice recorder in hand, she’ll be able to write something a lot more decent than this.)

The path from the beach took us to the local Muslim school. Kids of all ages learn to read the Koran here. Clearly, the word “school” is an exaggeration, but that’s as good as it gets here and of course thanks to foreign help. More about that later.

IMG_0049Jamal leads the way

You’d think school is out for the public holiday (Madaraka Day, something like half or full independence, unclear despite all my questions), but it’s not. All the kids aligned waiting for us. And what’s that, they want to sing us songs. Sure, that would be fun. They go through three song, more yelling rather than actual singing, but it was fun nonetheless, before our kind hosts informed us that now we either have to sing them a song (with five nationalities in the group it’s obviously impossible to all know the same song) or give them a gift. But it’s fine if we don’t have anything. It’s not necessary or expected. Well, yeah, but it’s damn awkward with all the bulging eyes staring at you in expectation (no, but really, it’s not expected). Lucky for us, and as we all know luck always plays a huge role in such situations, a guy was selling crappy overpriced notebooks that probably get taken away and repackaged the second we step off the island. Regardless, giving the kids notebooks made them happy.


On we go to the only/oldest baobab tree on the island. Details here escape me as I not only saw a cute African kid (I know it’s strange when out of all people I say kids are cute, but these were quiet and not annoying, hence cute) lying on half-buried-in-the-sand car tires and I had to take multiple pictures,

IMG_0063 2

but also a kitten (nothing special, so skipping the photo shoot of the cat). So apparently the baobab trees are quite awesome and useful in sooo many ways. Their fruit is used to make different types of things one of which is pretty good hair moisturizer or something like that. African hair is tricksy. Especially, Kenyan hair which is like nothing as I heard one of the girls complain. Another use is to make candy:


which I tried and later purchased from Nakumat at a rather acceptable price. They are also called upside down trees, and a number of variations of this, because they don’t have their leaves for most of the year and their branches look like roots.

Continuing to the market, which is at like the main square?/plaza?/clearing? and which also holds the only water source in the village:


Until recently, the well had no pump and was just an open whole in the ground, clearly an occasional problem. Thanks to a British journalist who goes by the name of Ashley Peatfield this changed (he also helped with setting up a clinic on the island and the school as well as a foundation for donations Kids and women are the ones carrying water to the houses. There is no running water system. On top of that, the water in the well is saline. Don’t know how it was done back in the day, but now they add various water cleansing tablets to make the water more drinkable.


The market is also run by women. The sarongs are brought from Mombasa and resold to tourists. The village is quite the tourist destination as one of the most expensive hotels, if not the most expensive hotel, in Kenya is here (KES 40,000 per night, i.e. $450-500 and that ain’t all-inclusive). The women from the village also weave a variety of hats, bags, baskets and table coasters. None of them were too fabulous to be worth the time it would take to bargain a price that’s not a complete rip off.

Hurry through the pagan sanctuary, we are wanted at the sandbar. I couldn’t tell you much about the sanctuary any way because I was too busy justifying why anyone in their right mind would call that place a cave rather than listening about human sacrifice and stuff. Nothing excessive though, no voodoo in East Africa. Now everyone in the village is Muslim and we all know how successful Islamic communities have been in eradicating other existing religions (read, very successful, I’m not being sarcastic).

Thus, our visit concludes. We awkwardly scramble some small bills and coins to tip Jamal and thank him for the visit. He did tell us a lot after all.

Boat, short ride, sandbar = beautiful ending of a long day.


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