Eid al Hajj celebration in Lamu, Kenya

Seems only fitting that an ancient Muslim tradition was celebrated today with  a race between ancient Arab fishing dhows. This part of Eid is less about fasting (Ramadan,  a word that reminds me of Papadam) than it is about the journey to Mecca in November.

Who goes to Mecca anyway?

A successful, middle-aged acquaintance, Hamid, left for Riyadh two weeks ago. Another friend of mine, Salim, tells me the rich at heart  – and wallet – get to go to Mecca, since he can prove to Allah and his peers that he can leave home for an entire month and still provide for his family. Maybe it’s a maccho thing, but this show of stamina reminds me a little of my Montana peers who abstain from alcohol for the month of February (perhaps not coincidentally the shortest month) to pr
ove to themselves and friends they are not alcoholics.

Today, as with every Friday, men wear kanzus (long white robes) and white Kofias (Swahili for hats). Women with henna-painted hands and wrists are linked with their best friends and sisters. Salim says the celebration is not unlike Christmas – family and friend-focused.  Here in Lamu, though,  the men give each other fresh new kanzus; the women exchange food and Oud (perfume). Little girls are dressed up in frills and khol eye make-up and little boys scuffle on the beach playing football (soccer).

I look over to where the “Heckling Hyenas” are usually draped over the Peponi wall eyes blazing red. But today they are supplanted by mirth –  people participating in life.  Little doubt they’re cloistered behind coral walls sucking on bangi, poor things.

I have never seen so many Swahilis in one big family outing. It’s slowly becoming a tourist attraction. Some twenty meters away around a corner, just past a mosque and gleaming new white house built for Europeans, local Swahilis are festooning a newly-constructed public area on the sea front with pink bougainvillea for this evening’s Eid festival. I’d never seen it so beautiful and bright, especially as this spot was ground zero for a recent clash between locals and Europeans. When I raised my hands to capture the scene with my camera phone, I was ordered not to take photographs. “Don’t make trouble around here”, said a frowning man with a kofia.

Who, me?

Categories: PassportTags: , , , ,

Margot Kiser | Conflict in Context

I am a Kenya-based American correspondent, focusing on conflict in East Africa. I have contributed to Newsweek, Al Jazeera, The Daily Beast, among others.

Follow me on Twitter: @margotkiser1

Best long read ByLiner 2011 for my Newsweek feature, 'Pirates in Paradise' http://byliner.com/margot-kiser/stories
http://www.newsweek.com/authors/margot-kiser

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