What happens when tourism dies?
When tragedy strikes and area?
When the Media and Government websites hype it up?
When unnecessary risks are publicised?
When warnings go out and scare the public away?
Obviously the tourists stay away. Most heed these warnings (which are often blown way out of proportion) and don’t even consider coming to that area. They book their vacations elsewhere. And the once thriving tourist trade dies.
But it is more than hotels, resorts and hostels that close their doors and lose trade. Their staff lose their jobs. The local artists and craftsmen have no-one to sell their wares to. The food vendors and restaurants close their doors. Then the farmers have no-one to sell their crops to. No-one comes to build holiday homes, and so many locals lose their jobs as there is no trade. And the list goes on.
And the result?
LOCALS GO HUNGRY. They cannot feed themselves or their families.
And then families fall apart. New born babies are dumped as mothers can’t afford to care for them – and the list goes on.
So here is how we arrived, and what we learnt.
We left Mombasa and spent a few nights in Watamu. From there we rode in a tuk-tuk further north to Malindi, where thanks to Explorason and his on-line searching, we found a great hotel called Silversands Residence to stay and relax in for several nights. We simply arrived and I organised the room rate at reception – looked at a few rooms and selected what was right for us.
I needed a place where I could do some writing and planning in peace and quiet. A place not too far from the centre of town, and most importantly, a place where I can take my walks on the beach.
So as soon as we had unpacked I was keen to go down and explore the sands of Malindi.
A few touts and street sellers ‘hassled’ us on the way crossing the road, and I confess it does get annoying when they are always wanting us to buy from them, when all we want to do is walk and enjoy the coastline.
But we hadn’t walked far and I began to understand why. The beach was virtually empty of any tourists. We were it. A few locals were dotted along the shoreline, but other than that the rest were beach sellers.
These beach sellers (or touts as they are commonly known as) had no-one to sell their wares to.
Before I knew it, I was talking to one of the ladies (named Betty) who was trying to sell some beach cotton wraps to us. She was a positive and happy lady, and I really liked her. I noticed she was the only female seller, and the rest were men. She talked to me about her life; about what had happened in the area; and why she was selling.
Betty shared her story as we walked, and as the sun lowered in the sky, about how a kidnapping incident quite a distance away about 2 years ago had caused the area to be listed as high risk, and now tourism was at an all time low. I was shocked at this. Even though crime and kidnapping occurs frequently in many western countries at a far greater rate, this event along with war in neighbouring countries has caused tourism to reach an all time low. Not to mention the USA media hype about Ebola in Africa – even though there is no Ebola in Kenya. How these stories had damaged this once thriving tourist area.
Now the beach sellers try desperately to ‘pounce’ on any tourist that is brave enough to visit, in the hope they might be the person whom can extract some money from, so they may feed their family.
Betty introduced us to her group of beach selling friends. I explained we did not have a lot of money with us but to show us their wares, and that we would try to buy a small item off each of them. A few of our Facebook friends have started the Small Random Acts of Kindness inspired by Heather On Her Travels who wrote to me and asked if she could help us to help the sellers. Then a few other friends also gave us small donations, so we have a bit of a kitty where we will offer to buy something from them but then pay too much thanks to the donations of friends. After all, we just can’t go handing money out on the beach, but we can look for opportunities to assist the needy.
Then we met the man in the photo below – another of Betty’s beach selling friends. His daughter has epilepsy, and an epileptic fit caused her to burn her arm through to the bone back in August as she fell in a fire. One seller friend of his also told me the story, and how he needed to sell some wares so he could buy milk to take his daughter at the hospital.
It just so happens I had bought milk earlier in the day. So I asked him to follow me back to the Silversands Residence and I would get him some packets to take to the hospital for his daughter. I wondered why I had bought extra milk that day, and now I know why.
Betty and her beach selling friends are lovely, and Betty had joy in the hard times of her life.
Betty asked if I could pray for her, and so I placed my arm around her shoulder and we walked and talked to God about Betty’s needs. She needed to make sales of her cotton beach wraps, so we purchased a lovely one for ourselves (as Betty raises her sons children since the mother died in a car accident). We asked God to provide for her needs and to give her the ‘best week ever’.
When I stopped and looked up, six of the beach sellers were waiting – all asking us to pray with them.
One beach seller even asked Explorason if he would say a prayer for him, so I watched as my ten year old took him over to the side wall and they sat and talked to God together.
Another said to me that we had given them more than money could buy. This really touched me.
Something happened to me that night on the beach. I realised how much I care for these people. I looked at the love and joy that Betty had, and the kindness these people had towards each other in the hard times.
As we walked back to the hotel room, I felt complete peace and happiness that we had chosen Malindi as our upcoming next few days base. There was something special about this town. Something that made it feel like home for me. I felt overwhelming peace. We came back, and that evening and the following morning I loved the peace of sitting out on our balcony looking out over the swimming pool area.
We headed out that day and we met a lovely tuk-tuk driver named Charles, and he really assisted us in all we had to do throughout the day.
He showed us several wholesale places to shop, and the cheapest places to buy the cotton beach wraps.
I was on a mission to help my new friend Betty.
Charles became our regular driver. I liked Charles, and he talked to us about his family as he drove us.
That afternoon I organised Betty to give me a 1 hour massage. She was amazing. She worked massaging me for 1 hour, and I fell asleep about half way though. What a gifted lady.
When we drove back to Silversands Residence there lay a young lady in her wheelbarrow. She had chalked ‘KARIBU’ or (welcome) on the side of her wheelbarrow. This barrow normally would hold the plastic barrels for the street food she sells to the builders, but with tourism down, there are hardly any houses being built, so her trade is dead.
She looked so sad. Look into her eyes.
Betty invited us to her church. So on our last day we packed up and met her there. I’d given her some clothes, and she was proudly wearing my sweater / jumper I had given her and a bracelet. She looked a million dollars all dressed up, and what a smile! I just love her.
Oasis Church in Malindi was alive. Everyone was dancing and the children performed. It was a house of joy.
I was asked to introduce myself, and as I stood in front of the Oasis Church congregation I started to cry. I shared how I loved and cared for the Kenyan people, and how much I wanted to do, and what I could do to help them.
As we went to leave Oasis Church we offered Betty a ride back to the beach. In the tuk-tuk, I was able to give Betty some money to go and buy a new style of more upmarket Kikoi cotton beach wraps wholesale, and I taught her some business principals.
That week, the beach sellers of Malindi opened their hearts to me as they shared about their lives and the hard times they endure.
One beach seller said to me that ‘Muzungu’s’ (or white people) are complainers. If we don’t get food for a day we complain how hungry we are, and how we can’t cope. He said he had not eaten for 3 days. Can you imagine not eating for three whole days?
Innocent people suffer.
Folks, Kenya coastline is suffering. If you want to visit somewhere amazing, can I encourage you to visit Kenya.
They are the loveliest of people, and they need tourism to return to the area.
Because it is time to end their suffering – and this is what happens when tourism dies.