6 Months in Africa

Volunteering with AIDS orphans and refugees in rural Uganda

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Ali Hippy

There is a man in Lamu who has been entertaining tourists in his home for 33 years. He is listed in both the Lonely Planet East Africa and the Rough Guide to Kenya, and his name is Ali Hippy.

Lamu is a tiny town, you can walk end to end in less than ten minutes, so it wasn't long before I ran into Mr. Hippy. He is a small round man with a big smile and a high voice, a cross between Mike Tyson and Santa Claus in traditional muslim dress. He invited me to his home that evening, where for 300 shillings (about $6) his family would cook me dinner and play us some music. Tim, the mzungu from the ferry, joined us with two other English girls.

Ali Hippy is a better salesman than he is a chef, and the food was a long way from what it had sounded like at the waterfront. The "prawns", technically speaking, should have been referred to as "a prawn", and the crab samosas were barely larger than my thumbnail. I was eating vegetarian however and I was satisfied by the end of the meal. We sat on the floor of the stone courtyard and talked for a few hours, and the Hippy family performed some traditional Swahili music, with Ali playing lead on casio keyboard.

Tim is a medical student from the UK, and when Ali discovered this he asked Tim for advice on a problem he'd had a few weeks ago. As Ali distributed the samosas, he told us how he had taken painkillers for a pain in his arm, and had started to get stomach pain shortly afterwards. He decided to shit in a bowl, and as we ate our vegetable stew he told us how there was a lot of blood in his shit. Then he started vomiting regularly, and as we helped ourselves to more rice he explained that after several days of shitting blood and vomiting he eventually collapsed in his home and was taken to hospital. He recovered a few weeks ago and has since tried various medications but still gets heartburn and the occassional pains in his stomach. Tim got mad at me later because while Ali was telling Tim all this he had to keep a straight face, while I was wetting myself in the corner.

The following day Tim and I hired a dhow for a day. Dhows are traditional Arabic sailboats that are still in regular use along the coast. A captain and two crewmen did the legwork while Tim and I worked hard reapplying our sunblock. We stopped for a while near an island of mangrove trees to try to catch some lunch.

I've been vegetarian for five years now, but for the last six months or so my opinions have been more moderate than they've been in the past. For a long time now I haven't had a problem with killing animals for food; humans have been doing this for hundreds of thousands of years, and plenty of other animals kill for food too. It's natural. But I am not a full blown carnivore all of a sudden, I still have a problem with animal welfare being undermined for the sake of economic efficiency, and I still don't want to support that. So I've moved from no killing, to no factory farming. So when we stopped to fish, I threw a line out too.

I must have still looked vegetarian to the fish, because they seemed to trust my line a lot more than Tim's. I only caught one small fish however, and I threw it back, and the larger bites got away. The dhow crew used nets and I ate a barbecued fish for lunch, my first since 1999. I don't like the way the animals are treated in Africa and don't plan to eat meat here, but when I get home I think I'll start buying from local farms and cooking my own.

Lamu isn't exactly Vegas, and the nightlife is non-existant, so the evenings have become mzungu parties on our hotel roof, with the guitar being passed around the small and rotating group that shows up each night. Today is a lazy day, but tomorrow will be hard work. I've signed myself up as a crew member on a two day dhow journey to the neighbouring islands, so I'll be learning to sail and cook some traditional food. I feel sorry for the other mzungus paying full price, I hope I don't sink their boat.


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