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Henna in Lamu: A Chance Encounter Connecting Two Worlds

Picture of Old Lamu townLamu is a small island off the Kenyan coast and the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Not as well known as Zanzibar or Mombasa, it’s smaller in population but has an equally energetic atmosphere, especially Old Lamu Town. The main religion is Islam, so you’ll see many mosques and hear the call to prayer throughout the day. As a result of this prevalence of Islam, getting henna in Lamu is popular.

Getting to Lamu: The Adventure Begins

Getting to Lamu can be an adventure in itself, but the journey is well worth it. The easiest and most convenient way to get to Lamu is by air. There are daily flights to Manda Airport from Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi. Then Lamu town is just a short boat ride away. Several airlines, including Skyward Express and JamboJet, operate flights. There are also private charter flights that you can book.

If you are uncomfortable with flying or prefer a more scenic and adventurous route, you can also get to Lamu by road. The drive can take up to 8 hours from Mombasa or Malinda. Get ready to understand the meaning of “pole pole”!

Henna in Lamu: The Chance Encounter 

As I stepped off the boat onto the shores of Lamu, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the prospect of getting henna. It is something I really love, and therefore try to get it whenever possible during my travels. I wanted to see what a Lamu-style henna would look like and how it differed from other styles I’ve seen.

While preparing to leave for Kenya, I looked for someone who could do henna in Lamu—but found no one. So, I decided to wait until getting there and ask around on the ground.

As I was settling into my Airbnb, I struck up a conversation with Safari the caretaker. We spoke about life on the island and I mentioned my disappointment at not finding someone to do henna. To my surprise, he said he knew of a woman close by who could help me. Without hesitation, I asked Safari to reach out to Halima and see if she was willing for me to visit her at home. He mentioned she was a bit surprised as most guests prefer her working in their rooms. Feeling both excited and nervous, I made my way to Halima’s house with his help. 

Getting Henna in Lamu: My Experience 

A woman applying henna to another womans hand
picture of henna done in lamu
As soon as I arrived, she greeted me with a warm smile and welcomed me into her humble abode. We discussed prices and designs, and after finalizing the details, she gathered her tools and went to work. As she drew the intricate patterns on my skin, we began to talk about our lives. We shared stories of our childhood, our dreams, and our struggles. Throughout the short time that I was there, Halima made me feel like family.
While there, her prized chicken, Faraasi, strutted into the room. Halima beamed with pride as she introduced me to her beloved bird, who she treated like family. She explained that she was eagerly waiting for Faraasi to start laying eggs so that her family could have them to eat and sell. But what struck me the most was Halima’s relationship and kindness towards the chicken. Faraasi sleeps under the roof of the home and at around 6 pm each day, she jumps on the table so that Halima can lift her to reach the top of the house. It was heartwarming to see the bond between Halima and Faraasi, it spoke volumes about her kind and caring nature.
Beyond Henna: Discovering Lamu’s Flavors with Halima
After the henna was done, she invited me to stay for dinner. I of course couldn’t refuse the offer and before I knew it, was enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal of beef pelau. She then offered to cook me cuisine from Farza island the next day.  This is an island near Somalia and where her mother is from. She prepared Samaki Wanazi, a fish dish cooked in a sauce made with tomatoes, onions, spices, coconut, and green mangoes. Alongside it was Mteleu Aburu, a type of maize rice that I had never heard of before. I was initially hesitant about the dishes, but my curiosity got the better of me.
It was delicious! The combination of flavours was unique and unlike anything I had tasted before. Intrigued, I asked Halima about the rice, and she showed me the packaging, which listed it as corn grits. I found it interesting that I didn’t taste the mango at all in the fish dish.  The diversity of ingredients and flavours in the local cuisine fascinated me. I felt grateful for the opportunity to experience it firsthand. After the main course, Halima surprised me with a local sweet treat called Mabuyu. It is made with the fruit from the baobab tree and coloured sugar and had a tangy yet sweet taste that was truly unique.
A Lasting Impression of Lamu’s Hospitality
As I said my goodbyes, I knew I had made a friend for life. Halima not only gave me beautiful henna but also embraced me with open arms into her home and life. This encounter marked yet another instance of experiencing the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people of Lamu. Initially, I had approached Halima with the sole intention of getting henna in Lamu, but I ended up receiving much more than that. This chance encounter reminded me that sometimes, the most meaningful connections are found in the most unexpected places.
This unforgettable encounter will always hold a special place in my heart.
Contact Info for getting henna in Lamu
If you are ever visiting Lamu and need henna, local meals, or hand-sewn kofirs, please reach out to Halima. Her number is (254) 0714011828. She doesn’t have WhatsApp, however, her sons Mohammed and Twalib do. So you could also try reaching her through them.
Tell her Kim sent you!!!
Here are their numbers: 
Mohammed (254) 0112313046
Twalib (254) 0741095318
Here is an Instagram reel I made from this experience. 

Suggested Further Readings:

Want to use  Uganda Airlines to fly to Kenya? Read my recent review.

See how I go about Planning My Vacations for tips and tricks.

2 thoughts on “Henna in Lamu: A Chance Encounter Connecting Two Worlds”

  1. Pingback: Instagram Links

  2. Oswald Hall

    This is priceless, I truly enjoyed this. You drew me right into the story. I felt like I was there.

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