Lots of Kenyans visit Lamu as tourists and some consider it as a home away from home buy few invest on the island.
Wamuhu Waweru, who has been visiting for eight years, is among the few bar investors on the island.
What she had in mind was a lounge, open space where tourists can enjoy a drink as they work up an appetite in the sun.
The idea was spawned out of necessity and a dream. Ms Waweru was stranded in Lamu just as the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world. Before then, she was based in Los Angeles, US, where she worked as an event organiser for the past 18 years.
“I first came to Lamu by bus from Mombasa about eight years ago and completely fell in love with the place,” she told BDLife.
While there, she visited Anidan Children’s Home and became a godmother to the orphaned children, prompting regular trips to the island whenever she could. It was during one of these visits that the number of coronavirus infections in the US began to rise, prompting bans on air travel and eventual lockdowns.
Ms Wamuhu was in Lamu for an indefinite time. She would turn 40 there, gifting herself land as a long-term investment. The search for the land would lead her to Mararani Village, a settlement in the Lamu mainland with people she describes as being “more tolerant and real.”
“I fell in love with them, there was just this joyfulness in them…I knew that I wanted to be a part of this community,”she says.
Once the lockdown was lifted, a few of her friends from Nairobi visited the plot and commented on how great a spot it would be for a lounge. She agreed. Now all she needed was money and a plan. She managed to put the money together in September after setting up a GoFundMe to supplement her own out-of-pocket starting capital. She hoped to have completed the construction process in time for high season in December.
“The community would sit on-site day in day out, coming up with ideas on how to make it better,” she says. “I would also look on Pinterest and research on where I could get the materials then tell my fundi what I would like,” she adds.
Built with ethically-sourced mangroves, palm-leaf fronds or makanja, to create an aerated wall, the structure with contemporary finish was completed in November.
Mara Raha became the first bar and lounge owned by a Kenyan woman in Lamu.
“We needed a name that pays homage to the original name of Mararani. We had been brainstorming for a while, then I jumped up and said ‘Mara Raha,’’ she says.
She sourced her bamboo straws from Tiriki Tropical Gardens’ bamboo centre and hopes to power the lounge using solar energy once its supply in Lamu is stable.
The crown jewel of the establishment is its rooftop area. From it, you can see Manda Island.
“On one end you can see the sunset, on the other you see the moon rise from the ocean,” she says, adding that despite high temperatures, the nights can get quite chilly.
Ms Wamuhu also established community gardens in Lamu Town, to promote permaculture.
“Sustainability is sexier than charity,” she says, adding that the gardens are a source of organic food that the locals can both eat and sell.
The bar owner has learned some lessons on making the most out of a situation.
“If you have a dream and you want to make it but you aren’t sure how it will turn out, dip one toe in; you never know what might happen,” she says.
“I would also love to encourage business people to invest in teaching others how to grow as entrepreneurs. We will grow into a better and greater society.”