It’s Friday in Watamu, a day on which I rarely have scheduled engagements and am thus content to devote it to things like Peace Corps paperwork and grad school research. On this particular day, though, I feel restless and needy – after watering my Moringa seedlings, I pace the smooth concrete floor of my living room for a while, writing letters in my head, before deciding to change out of my yoga shorts and leave the house. It’s not raining, at least not yet.

My destination is a little bistro near my clinic, although “bistro” is perhaps a bit optimistic: it’s three couches and an awning on a patch of cobblestones, but it has good juice and fresh pastries, as well as providing a quiet place to sit and reflect. I take my GRE Vocab Flashcards with me so I can pretend to do work, but they’re more a prop than anything else. Horrible though my English has gotten over the past 11 months, I know the vast majority of the words in the set, and I tend not to get much done here anyway. It’s too easy to pull my feet up on the couch (curled modestly under my skirt, of course) and watch the steady stream of people cross the gravel clearing nearby.

The bistro is adjacent to a basket seller and a modest supermarket, the latter of which is where I buy most of my own supplies (excepting produce, which mostly comes from a mama near the bicycle tree). Dusty and dimly lit, smaller than your average 7-11, it’s still a wondrous place of uncommon items (women’s razors! fresh cheese! nail polish remover!) and friendly people. One of my greatest integration victories came when the cashiers started greeting me in warm Swahili rather than indifferent Italian. Today, oodles of people are taking advantage of the few sunny hours and passing by to stock up on things. Tourists, mostly, along with distracted-looking Kenyan service industry professionals in pleated skirts and monogrammed polos. A smattering of mamas in bright lesos drift in and out, mostly in search of specialty items not carried by their more convenient dukas (kiosks): Dettol disinfectant, flashlight batteries, rat poison. My village chief wanders by, purchases a Fanta, and spends twenty minutes talking with the man who sells sausages and samosas from a plastic cooler outside the store. From afar, he offers me a jaunty wave. I wave back.

After I settle in with my mango juice and overly large cookie (the combination of which will set me back the princely sum of $3 USD, or roughly the same price as a matatu fare from Gede to Mombasa, 2.5 hours away) a new waitress arrives. I know her; she’s an acquaintance, if not quite a friend. She touches my head in recognition as she passes, then ducks into the back to speak in soft Kigiriama to the woman about to go off-shift. When she reemerges with a broom, I turn to her and ask, “Dada, brownies ngapi leo?” Sister, how many brownies are there today? The corners of her mouth twitch in an almost-smile; it’s an inside joke. She uses the broom to shoo away a small herd of goats nibbling at the grass border around the cobblestones, then commences a battle against the endless supply of sand finding its way to the seating area. (God, I hate sand. Hata mimi, even me.)

In the parking lot, a woman in a pink sunhat with bracelets up her arms is shouting at the bag-carrier in high-pitched, operatic Italian. Apparently, he was stacking the crates of soda she had purchased wrong as he placed them in her trunk: they should be parallel to the back seat, not perpendicular. She jingles extravagantly as she gesticulates about it, and he rushes to remedy his dire error. He’s a friend of mine, and doesn’t speak a word of Italian, but she doesn’t seem to register this (or perhaps she doesn’t care). She slams her driver’s side door with unnecessary ferocity and roars away while he slowly pushes his cart back towards the store. Our eyes meet and he gives me a subtle eyeroll. I smile surreptitiously into my juice.

A gaggle of tourists crashes in, swarming over the other two couches, pulling them together so they can have their touristy tourist pow-wow. The low wicker table nearest them is instantly covered in pamphlets, brochures, and flyers for houses on the island of Lamu. The women carry oversized tribal print beach bags and wear short, gauzy sundresses. The men are in board shorts and flip-flops. Shirtless. They anxiously study the brochures, comparing prices and amenities. “Twiga House comes with a pool, but Tembo Cottage has an on-site valet. Which is better?”

“Pool, definitely,” says a girl whose hair is held back by glittering designer sunglasses. “What about this one? Five bedrooms, pool, hot tub, daily cleaning service available for an extra fee, 100 meters from the beach – Kazi Ngumu House. I wonder what that is?”

It means “hard work,” I think silently to myself. In Swahili. Direct translation.

My general reaction to tourists is to yell “GNARRGGH!!!” and grind my teeth like an enraged honey badger. They make my life exponentially harder, from driving up the prices of transportation to reinforcing donor syndrome to sexually exploiting school children. But they’re also one of Kenya’s biggest industries. I know plenty of people who wouldn’t have jobs if it weren’t for the tourist industry here, and not just beach boys or boda drivers. So I have to be gracious for that reason, at least.

But this group is hard to glare at, so earnest and excited are they in their quest to plan the perfect getaway. They were probably backpackers, perhaps Gap Year kids, just trying to explore the world a bit before being a grown-up intervened to spoil their fun. I looked glumly at my GRE flashcards. At 23, I was becoming the grizzled aid-worker equivalent of an old man waving his cane and telling kids to GET OFFA MAH LAWN! When did that happen? And why?

I shuffle my cards and return them to my shoulder bag. I request a second cookie for takeaway. I pay for my juice. I trek out across the gravel clearing pull of parked cars and exasperated shoppers, but I skip the path that would take me back to my home, or back to my clinic, or back to my schools.

Instead, I go to the beach.

It’s Friday, after all.

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