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Kenya’s ‘Little Italy’

by Natalia Echeverri

Source: Natalia Echeverri

On the red dirt roads of southern Kenya, a few hours from Malindi, kids chase and hail streams of Jeeps and Land Rovers hauling tourists to and from Tsavo, one of the country's largest safari parks. Most of the children gather along the road, so their shouts are clear. Surprisingly, they are often in Italian: "Ciao, ciao" or an occasional "aqua" or "dolce."

Source: My World Travel Guides

Approaching Malindi's city center, Italian becomes even more conspicuous. Signs on a supermarket storefront and a few restaurants are in Italian. Sambucca sits on a local bar's meager top shelf. A local man shouts Italian into his cellphone next to a group of Swahili women in black burqas who don't seem to notice.

Source: Sunday Nation

Malindi, it turns out, is Kenya's "Little Italy." Italians arrived in the historic coastal city more than 30 years ago, attracted by its climate and beaches. Since then, the Italian population has risen rapidly. Today around 4,000 Italians are permanent residents, while 30,000 tourists visit each year from the motherland. There are more than 2,500 Italian-owned properties in the city, including residences, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and small businesses. There is only one foreign consulate in Malindi — it represents Italy.

Although the Italian culture is strong at the moment, Malindi is a multicultural city of more than 150,000 inhabitants. A Swahili trading settlement since the 14th century, it has been variously visited by Arabs, Asians, Portuguese, English and Germans. Their influence is also embedded in the city and its culture. Because of these layers, the city has a depth and sophistication that peeks through despite the dilapidation. The next round of tourists and traders will only add to this patina, and the kids will surely be shouting "Ni hao" or "Zdravstvuyte!"

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