Monday, August 16, 2010

Adventuring for alcohol

The unemployment boredom has taken hold (for you readers out there, not for me! Did you notice the new title??); there's not a whole lot to report. I promised you a story from mine and Em's stay on Lamu Island a while ago, so here it is.

Emma and I had almost polished off the bottle of duty free Bomboy Sapphire I'd brought, over the course of a few lazy evenings on safari. For some crazy reason, I'd always leave Em in charge of pouring the drinks, and would end up with a drink that was more gin than tonic. By the time we got to Shela village on Lamu Island, there remained enough gin for two small glasses each. So we spent our first evening on a balcony overlooking a pool, beside which sat a group of men piously reading the Koran to each other, and quietly finished our last remnants of gin.

The next morning, after deciding to move to Sunset House, which was more secluded and had a large terrace overlooking the water instead of the Muslim men, we headed off on a stroll to Lamu town. The sun was hot against our sunscreen-covered (50+ of course) skin, but my face was protected further by my floppy orange hat. We alternated between walking along the shore, with the waves lapping at our feet, and a concrete path on higher ground, where we had to give way to numerous donkeys, laden with heavy loads of concrete blocks and groceries.

An hour had passed by the time we reached the town, and we sough refuge from the sun and the touts offering tours in a juice bar overlooking the bustling harbour dock. We sucked down the refreshing nectar and carried on reading our books. When it came time to leave, the only thing we wanted to do was get some wine and assume what would be our standard positions for the rest of the week: stretched our on the sun lounges musing about life and love. We asked the waiter where we could purchase what we sought; "you can go next door to the bar, they have a shop but it is very expensive. Or you can go to the PAC, which is just up the street." We asked for more directions and he decided that one of his staff, Dennis, would take us to the mysterious PAC.

So off the three of us set, wandering through the tiny alleys, stepping into doorways to allow men pushing heavy carts or the ever-present donkeys to pass. On and on we walked, past windows with gospel songs blaring, past mosques with sandals neatly lined up on the doorstep, and through a small graveyard, littered with plastic bags. Just as we were beginning to wonder if there was really a bottle shop to be found, Dennis pointed. The sign read "Police Association Canteen". Not knowing what to expect when we walked in, we were almost knocked off our feet to see a bunch of Maasai men lazing in the courtyard necking their Tuskers. The barman approached us and told us he only sold beer. "Is there anywhere we can get wine?" "Of course, it's just around the corner." Knowing how far "just up the street" had been, we bought a couple of bottles of Tusker, in case we never actually found the wine shop. We pocketed the receipt for our deposit, 100 shillings would be ours again when we returned the empty bottles, and followed Dennis out. "Just around the corner" turned out to be exactly that, and the little store was overflowing with wine bottles and spirits. Our choice of one white and one red was made on the availability of screw top lids, and we threw in a small bottle of Gordon's (or was it Gilbey's?) gin for good measure. Dennis led the way back through a shortcut, and with our bag clinking with glass, we bade him farewell with a small tip.

We hopped on a boat, stopping abruptly to let on another passenger, a young woman named Nasra, who was struggling to keep the black chiffon scarf settled on her hair. She was excited to spend the fifteen minute trip with foreigners and told us extraordinary tales of siblings sharing children if women weren't able to conceive. We struggled to keep up with her tale of such an occurrence, but managed to nod or shake our heads at the appropriate moments.
(After this boat ride I was slight less white and slightly more pink...)

We said our goodbyes at the dock outside the Peponi Hotel and wound our way through the maze of sandy streets, past souvenir shops, the tiny grocery store, and the madrasa and stopped in front of an old man who had waved us over. His younger companion told us he was 97 years old and was selling perfume. "97 right?" he yelled in the old man's ear in Arabic. "95. 95!" he replied in English. Emma handed over 120 shillings and he presented her with a tiny bottle of rose scent.

We finished our walk home, happily greeting the women downstairs with an exuberant "jambo!", who took one look at our pink faces and burst out laughing. I would spend more time with them over the following nights, watching them braid each other's hair in tight plaits, and holding their chubby cheeked babies, but on this evening, we headed straight upstairs and poured ourselves some wine. The night was still young when the bottle was drained. "How about a gin," Emma asked. We asked the houseboy to go and buy us some tonic, with enough change for five bottles. I naively thought that would carry us through to the following night, momentarily forgetting how much gin Em and I had consumed over the years. Before we knew it, the last of the tonic was poured and the Gordon's (or was it the Gilbey's?) was empty. We crawled into our four-posted beds, through the cavernous mosquito nets that encompassed them, and slept soundly.

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