A Jellyfish in Lamu
I leaned against the back of the sailboat so that the only thing in my view was the curving sail and an infinite sky. It was just after sunset so the sky was still glowing a soft purple from all the light absorbed through the day. The sail swelled fully as the wind pushed the wooden Sailboat along. A worn french flag hung against the mast, ripping in the wind. I sank into the pillow and reflected on the symbolism. The flag’s edges were frayed and snaked along the sky, only adding to the romanticism. The scars served as a reminder of all her voyages and of all her conquests. I would like to age like that, I thought.
I had been swimming in the Indian Ocean. This beach is nearly enclosed by the mangrove islands that encircle Lamu. Still, all the strength of the ocean was there. Whenever I step into the ocean I am immediately faced with the vastness of nature. It’s always a bit terrifying. What consoles me is an idea I heard somewhere of always making sure to pay respect to the ocean. So I stepped into the sea and gave myself to her as a child does to his elder. The water was warm. The sun on the coast is unrelenting throughout the day. The water was the warmest I had ever felt from an ocean. It was so inviting to be in. I was swimming with Gigi. We were going to race back to the shore to see who would get to our base of clothes first. I swam back in an effort to create a longer race. And then all of a sudden there was this feeling. The pain of gelatinous needles pierced across my armpit one at a time but in quick succession. Getting stung by a jellyfish is such an uncomfortable experience. The pain is clear, but it’s almost as if there is nothing to attribute it to. It’s almost as if it isn’t there. In the fluidness of the ocean, in the thickness of the seawater, how do you escape the creature? My immediate reaction was to rub that part of my skin in effort to get whatever it was off of me. But this just spread the problem. I had to escape the sea. I stumbled out of the water, in an effort to get the breeze to address my wound.
Who bit me? What were the implications of this poison? I immediately thought of the box jellyfish. Is death here? I don’t want to die. I want to be with my family. Why the fuck did I go off doing these things. Why didn’t I just stay with my family next to ami, with my head in her lap as she played with my hair. No, I will not die. Death is a choice. I will fight this. I felt the expansion of the pain. Because whatever had bitten me was unknown, the fear exasperated the pain. My mind began to imagine the poison coursing through my arteries making its way into my chest and into my heart.
I was on an isolated beach stumbling my way back to an area with people. I thought about my family a lot. I imagined the devastation that I would bring to my mother. I felt sorrow that I was the one who had created such pain for her. There is a curious thing that happens when one faces death. There is the struggle of both making acceptance with it and fighting it for life’s sake. Acceptance of death, of one’s inevitable demise, is honest. How else could one face this? Death lurks everywhere; it doesn’t wait for our convenience. To live with the acceptance of death is to be free. But when it comes, the test becomes real. This is when life’s vitality and all of it’s creations become clear. I don’t want to leave this. Not yet, at least. This tug of war played out in my mind so viciously that it made it difficult to think. What am I? Why will they be sad? Because my body has went out and they’ll no longer experience my growth. I thought of Amina a lot. I thought about what it would be like to be here with her. I thought about how she enjoys life. I kept walking.
Lamu is paradise. I am so envious of someone who who was raised here. There are no cars present on the island. The buildings are of Arabic influence made with white stone that drip with antiquity. The alleyways are narrow and lined with locals and their mules. It’s clear that everyone knows everyone here. The mornings are so hot it is weary.
There is no escape from it; it drains your energy and motivation. As the sun settles into the West, life seeps back into the town. There are forts on the island. Resembling castles, they are relics from when the town was a major trading post. The smell in the air speaks of so many things: the salt from the sea, the donkey shit that lays baking in the sun, the Arabic oil that perfumes from the locals, the burning tobacco. The women here are dressed in gorgeous Niqabs. The outer layers are black but the layers underneath are as unique as I’m sure they are. Daffodil yellow, royal purple, and blood red all pair perfectly with the black robes that adorns their bodies. I watch them as they pass and they watch me, saying as much, or as little, as they want with their eyes.
In the nighttime, the town comes alive. As the sun settles behind the dunes, the coastal wind becomes noticeable. The moon begins on the horizon and climbs through the sky as the night wears on. The clouds are much larger in size, here. At night the breeze picks up and pushes them along. Under the moonlight, these massive clouds move like legions through the night sky. It seems like everyone is out and about during the nighttime. There are stone benches that line the streets. Here, the men sit and talk.
I lied on the sailboat with my feet leaning against the mast of the sail. I was alive. The jellyfish sting was now a memory. I had walked down the beach and found a local to confirm the seriousness of the situation. He laughed at me. There’s no need to go to the hospital, he said. I rubbed my foot against the warm wood near the center of the boat. The darkness in the sky was enough to make out the stars. The sail ballooned in the wind. I wanted my family to see this.