Snapshot of Lamu: Peponi Hotel, Shela, Midday

"It must be nice to be like that girl," says the woman in the purple muumuu. "To have that…that middle class sense of security." She's exhausted her extensive list of complaints against The Americans--we're a horrid lot, unbearably arrogant, universally ignorant, though one of her primary objections seems to be that she likes to be able to ridicule them in Spanish, only some of them, it turns out, know Spanish, and that makes things difficult--and moved on to a gentler tirade against the middle classes. She is leathery, bordering on elderly, her hair bleached yellow-grey by sun and age; her voice is deep and stained by decades of cigarette smoke. She is loud, proud, angry, as if she has lost the ability to feel shame or humility or empathy.

"I was on the street until I was sixteen, of course," she says, in an accent that would make the landed gentry proud indeed; Henry Higgins, I can't help thinking, would approve wholeheartedly. And yet I can't say I don't, to a degree, admire her ferocity. I'm impressed by her vitriol, and the purity of her dislike of Americans and secure middle class girls. Her opinions are undiluted by ordinary human emotion; she does not think things, she knows them. An old purple tyrant on her wicker throne.

"I was wondering. You know that Indian girl?" she says presently to her companion. "Has she ever tried to convert you to Christianity?"

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