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Life on an African island can be great when you’re part of the gig economy – just ask this woman photographer

MONICA Marura spent several years managing her family’s cyber café in Mombasa, along the coast of Kenya. All the while she knew she wanted more out of life.

In 2020, Marura met her husband, Robert Mwangi, a professional photographer. This meeting helped Marura discover a talent and passion for telling stories through the camera.

Her life changed when the couple was given the chance to move to Lamu Island. Although her first thought was, “Wait, what part of Kenya is Lamu?”

Not long after arriving, Mwangi heard about clients seeking a woman to photograph a Muslim bridal celebration. As per many traditional Islamic weddings, no men are permitted to attend the all female ceremony.

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”There is a big gap in terms of female photo and video journalists here in Lamu, that is what has really motivated me to continue working in this field,” she said.

Following that first job, the community on Lamu Island began to take notice of her work. She began to get recommendations from everywhere.

She founded a separate business from her husband, Infernal Photography, and the county offered her a space from which to run it.

Her studio is located in the centre of Lamu Town, a Swahili trading town that dates back to at least the 14th Century. It is one of Africa’s oldest and finest preserved Swahili towns, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It offers a stunning 12 km stretch of unspoiled coastline and a laid-back atmosphere.

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Marura says she makes every effort to show respect for Lamu’s strong cultural and religious traditions, often wearing a hijab and a niqab, traditional garments which cover everything but her hands and eyes, while at work.

She has also had to patiently prove the value of her creative efforts.

“The challenges I face are (that) sometimes you will quote a fee and people will not take it seriously since they do not view this as an important job,” she added.

But Marura has exceeded her own expectations and firmly established herself as the only woman working as a professional videographer and photographer on the island.u

”Apart from shooting weddings, I also work with organisations, covering their events and posting on their social media pages. So I act as their communications person,” Marura told the bird story agency.

Mohammed Scanda, the speaker of the youth parliament in Lamu county and coordinator of Muslim human rights in Lamu county, now works closely with Marura on some of his social initiatives.

“With a female photographer, we are able to reach the women in Lamu, and give them an opportunity to speak out and air their grievances. Through photography, women have been given a voice, because due to our culture women are not able to express themselves to male journalists. But since she is a woman she has been able to reach out to the women and now they have a platform to air their concerns,” he explained.

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Marura plans to set up a facility where she can share her creative and entrepreneurial expertise.

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”I would like to urge the youth to embrace this career. My plans are to start training more women in this field of work,” she said.

Lamu residents nominated Marura for the Pwani Women’s Award – an event that celebrates the outstanding achievements of women in the coastal region of Kenya, which she won.

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By The African Mirror

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