What do you do with an image that you think is great but has a
fatal flaw? Well, nothing, it floats around your archive like an orphan.
This is one of my favorite ‘orphans’, a image of the charismatic man
who calls himself Sinbad, taken on Lamu island, Kenya. There is no
remedy for the amputated hand.
Sinbad, his tourist name, was all about attracting business, hence the shades, the hat and his little dhow.
Sinbad’s technique was to unrelentingly hassle you the moment you set foot upon the island until you limply complied to whatever he had for sale. This was the preferred method of extracting off traveller types. But once you had paid your dues, well, the rest of your stay was hassle free.
I bear no grudge – Islanders need to make a living – but there was a time when you could go to Lamu without the tourist persona hanging on you, buy at local prices, meet people on equal terms. A steady flow of visitors, caught by the romance of open roofed nights and warm monsoon breezes, have set the tourist trap forever.
I love the Coast bus, the diversity of life experience along the way. We stopped for a break along the Nairobi/Mombasa road and I watched the misfortune of tavellers beside a clapped out matatu with a flat tyre.
Somewhere between 1987-89 I took the picture on the left of Lamu fort (built between 1813 and 1821) . For Xmas 1990 I was given the book “Visions of Nomads” by Wilfred Thesiger and in it found the image on the right. I’m not precisely sure of the date for the Thesiger image – minus however long it takes for a coconut tree to double in height!
The Daily Nation newspaper: “Tyson began the third round with a furious attack. With forty second remaining in the round Holyfield got Tyson in a clinch. Tyson rolled his head above Holyfield’s shoulder and bit Holyfield on his right ear, avulsing a one-inch piece of cartilage from the top before spitting it out onto the ring floor.”
Despite a “No photography” sign at the gates of the old port, I was granted permission to enter with my camera. I found labourers loading boxes onto a destitute looking motorised dhow and a khaki clad customs officer lording over the scene with his bendy stick. I flagged down a fisherman with his dugout to take me out for a better angle and I found myself amongst a sorry selection of rusty ships.
“At high tide, when the seawater level is almost as high as that of the drains, rats are forced through the drains. Little boys enjoy catching them and showing them to little old ladies from Chicago. After such displays of doubtful goodwill, it’s highly unlikely that the ladies will make another visit to Lamu. Attempts have been made to eliminate the rats, many of which are larger than the Lamu cats. The last real effort was made in the 1950s. In 1959 the district commissioner proudly reported that 949 rats were caught, but a little later he laments, ‘Again the courage and stamina of the Lamu cats failed them and it is believed that rats actually eat cats here.’ – Lamu district annual report, Kenya 1959” ~ excerpt from ‘Cargoes of the East’ Esmond Bradley Martin.
Tony created the perfect situation. He became the ‘yachties’ marine SSB radio connection within the western Indian Ocean, guiding boats into the protected Kilifi creek. Care was required for yachts to pass beneath the newly built 21m high bridge but once through Tony provided anchorage and facilities below his house.
I was born in Kenya in 1968 and spent many of my school holidays at Kilifi creek on the coast of Kenya. At 16 I purchased a second-hand Nikon camera and took my first photographs. From my base in Kilifi I visited Lamu, Mombasa and Watamu and in each place took pictures. See my pictures, taken between 1987-2000, here >>