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Catherine Bush Kenya Lamu Summer Literary Seminars

The White Rabbit of Lamu and Time Marches On

I originally wrote this as a meandering Facebook post a year ago. When it came up in my Facebook memories, I wanted to save it and elaborate. Because there are always these little moments in your life that you keep returning to, little nuggets of time that are nothing more than freeze-dried moments that, if you blink, you miss. And yet, for some reason they stay with you forever and keep drifting back in the most unlikely of moments.

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Whispers Cafe, Lamu, Kenya

I was just falling asleep when I thought again of the white rabbit.

Not the one from the song or the one who was friends with Alice. I thought of my white rabbit, the one who appeared from nowhere to join us at a reading by Catherine Bush on Lamu Island off the coast of Kenya.

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The White Rabbit of Lamu

There’s a tiny bistro on the island of Lamu called Whispers. Its name is as silent as its seeming unassumingness. I say seeming because until you dig a little deeper and discover it’s a series of tiny buildings and outbuildings and breezeways and gardens, you really do think it’s just a tiny bistro.

Some of the hidden treasure of Whispers – Beyond the Cafe

When you walk through the labyrinthine part of the cafe for the first time, after spending several days in the un-secreted tiny dining space, you can’t believe your eyes. Fountains and porticoes and statuary and gardens and alcoves…yes, the alcoves. And then, after the last archway, the prettiest of gardens. And when you all gather there to hear the words of a great writer, and you sit in the grass, and on the steps, and in the chairs, and on the blankets, the world outside of Whispers dissipates and there are only words and listening. And then, out of the ethereal moment in which you find yourself, enters the white rabbit.

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Catherine Bush, Canadian Writer and Summer Literary Seminars Writing Instructor – Kenya, 2009

And you know now, after nine years and more, that the poor white thing has long since passed. But that white rabbit will never die, because in the silence of the words and the listening, in your memory, it’ll scurry in… and perhaps you alone will notice the moment it stops chomping away at the grass and flowers because it hears a voice. Only you will remember the way it looked up at the reader in awe and listened. Only you will hear the Whispers it sends back up to the reader who has so enthralled it and made it pause from its nightly moonlight meal. Memory has a way of always bringing back that white rabbit. I so look forward to those future moments of silence into which it slithers…a gift, an oasis, an elegy of itself, whispering, “REMEMBER ME, REMEMBER ME, I’M THE WHITE RABBIT. I EXISTED. I LIVED. I LOVED!”

It’s been almost nine years since Kenya. Hard to believe it was so long ago. I look forward to a future with many visits from that white rabbit. His visitation gifts bring me back to the smells and the colors and vibes and textures and light of that beautiful island. Madonna was wrong. Time doesn’t go by so slowly. It marches on like a freight train. Hold on to your white rabbits…

“And if you go chasing rabbits…”

 

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Kenya Lamu Maasai Masai Mara Nairobi

Masai Dance at the Masai Market – Lamu, Kenya – Dec. 24, 2009

Masai Dance at the Masai Market – Lamu, Kenya – Dec. 24, 2009.

Today, I just wanted to share an old post from my Kenya blog. Every time I think of the Maasai of Kenya it makes my heart hurt a bit. Seeing them dance was a euphoric experience that will stay with me forever. I WILL GO BACK TO KENYA!

No ranting today. No talk of writing. Just the sweet sound of Maasais dancing to the beat of their own music…under the beautiful African sun on the most gorgeous island on the planet.

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Kenya Lamu Uncategorized WCDR Writing

Lamu Town

(Originally appeared as PART THREE in a THREE PART SERIES in the WORDWEAVER.)

As our plane landed at the Manda Island airstrip, I was crazy with anticipation. Out the window, I had glimpses of the Indian Ocean and the tiny Arabic/Swahili island of Lamu!

Our first dhow (a traditional Arab sailing vessel) ride took us to Lamu Island. I didn’t know then that I would spend much of the upcoming week aboard these beautiful boats. We climbed from the dhow onto cement stairs that ascended right up out of the water. Lamu Town!

We arrived on a very special day: Islamic New Year, 1430—a day of festivities: donkey races, dhow races, dancing in the streets and vibrant reverent prayer. I was enamoured with everything I saw. Fellow traveller Venus Thrash was
offered a donkey ride upon our arrival. We followed her through the narrow streets of Lamu Town as she was escorted, like visiting royalty, to Lamu Fort and the town square. We were swept up and fully embraced in their celebration!

I woke the next morning at 4 a.m. to the gorgeous sound of Muslim prayer. It was so beautiful, I didn’t care about the early hour. I had too much to take in to waste time sleeping. The weekend was free time and only half of our group had arrived in Lamu. Eight of us had arranged for a special day trip with one of the dhow captains.

The dhow crew took us to Manda Beach, where we swam in the ocean while they made us a meal of fresh fish, coconut rice and tantalizing curry. After the meal, which was served under the shade of an acacia tree on beach sand-raked smooth by the crew, we lazed around while the crew cleaned up. Later, we piled into the dhow and made our way through an intricate mangrove forest waterway. As the path narrowed, we had to step out into the black waters and walk among the ancient mangroves to the entrance of the 15th-century Swahili trading town of Takwa. We walked the ruins with mouths agape. Crumbling walls of an ancient mosque, dinosaur baobab trees, wells, homes, a withering school and the burial site of a revered Imam…it all fascinated us. The air of Takwa was alive, abuzz—either with the voices of long dead ghosts or a mass of unseen insects. We didn’t know which. We only knew the peace of being there…the sacredness of the island.

Unfortunately, we only had half an hour in Takwa. Any longer and the waterway leading to the island would vanish. We’d be forced to spend the night within the island’s sacred hum. As much as we loved the ruins, we didn’t have to be told twice when it was time to leave.

One last surprise for the day… we emerged from the mangrove forest at the precise moment the sun touched the horizon and melted into the Indian Ocean. Perfect timing! We watched the sun melt into the ocean as we ate freshly cut fruit served to us by the crew.

That was just the first full day on Lamu. Every day was the same: perfection. We had our writing classes on the rooftop terrace of a hotel in the centre of town—a terrace with a 360 degree view of Lamu Town and the ocean surrounding it. We had sun, donkeys, dhows, sharks, weddings, Masai dancers, poetry readings on the beach, Imams, absolute joy in the face of abject poverty, a dancing/singing festive Kiswahili Christmas Eve mass in a tiny Catholic church, Rastafarians, children playing soccer, hennaed hands and so much more.

What a perfect place to end our Kenyan trip. I will never forget the people of Lamu. Their joy has changed me. Their remarkable radiance is something we could all aspire to. And writing. Ah, yes. I was there for the love of writing. My passion for words has never been stronger. The beauty of the world classroom…what a perfect place to dance with one’s muse!