Monika Fauth was working in fashion in Holland when she took a U-turn and came to Kenya to start a wellness venture in scenic Lamu
“There is more to life than pursuing material things. That is what Yoga teaches. Yoga is not a religion,” says Monika Fauth, owner of Banana House and Wellness Centre and founder of the Lamu Yoga Festival.
In 1997, Fauth, made a tough decision to leave everything behind and settle in Lamu. She was a fashion buyer in Holland who designed her own collections and also bought famous brand names and fashion labels when the quest to do something greater came knocking.But she had to prepare herself to settle in Kenya and to start a Yoga centre in Lamu Island. “I felt at home when I came to Lamu Island.
I knew that I belonged to this place and it was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life,” she says, as we begin our interview at her manicured garden in her guesthouse, which is a renowned Yoga Centre in Shela Village.
Monika’s job as a fashion buyer prepared her to notice trends and at that time, the idea of wellness had become popular all over the world. Since she had already identified Shela Island as the perfect destination, she pursued courses on Yoga. After travelling to beautiful places such as India and Bali for a year-and-a-half, she found a home in Kenya. Her travels for the Bali Festival and other Yoga events also made her knowledgeable.
“Lamu is a beautiful island. There are no cars, no stress, the beach is lovely, and the Swahili people are welcoming, making it a destination for relaxation. I did a 10-day personal meditation in India. I did yoga studies and when I came here, I felt ‘this is the place”, she explains.
Her first job was being a hostess at Fatuma Towers where she was also a Yoga instructor. The guesthouse had aYoga studio, which inspired her to open her own dubbed the Banana House and Banana Wellness and Yoga Centre in the year 2000. Her husband Mohamed Ali Mbarak (alias Banana) assisted her in designing as well as building the bed and breakfast guest house, which is a culmination of their combined creativity and craftsmanship.
“I wanted travellers to come to this place and feel like it’s home away from home,” she says as she walks me round the rooms. The guest house comprises of three private houses, which are spacious, with an atmosphere that is warm and homely. It’s rooms are tastefully furnished in the classic Lamu Swahili style with a touch of Arabic designs and has numerous lounging areas, hammocks, and day beds where guests can relax.
You can either rent a room, a floor or the whole house. The guest house is a place to recharge and if you are a yoga lover, there are classes twice a day with mats and expert tuition offered to guests at all levels.
Things were going on well until the terrorism attacks in Lamu resulted in the shutdown of many hotels. It was during this time that Monika had the idea of starting the Lamu Yoga Festival to make Lamu Island a wellness destination.
The festival brings people from all cultures and religion to experience Yoga under the guidance of well-trained teachers. This year will be its fifth festival and the four days festival comprises dhow sailing, meditating under the moon and various workshops that train on yoga.
“This unique festival blends Yoga and meditation with the various elements that make the island be great for wellness. It is immersed in its people, culture, tradition and natural beauty,’’ she said.
Monika, a Christian by faith, attributes her love for yoga as something that has kept her together and assisted her to balance her family and work and also see positivity in every negative event. I join her in her meditation class with one of her guests as the interview closes. To her, Yoga is not a religion, but a means through which one minimises stress and finds union between their breath, body and mind.
“All the religions of the world are based on the same principles. I am a Christian, but I find some of the things I learn from Yoga to be helpful in life. Just because Yoga is an Asian knowledge doesn’t mean that it should be pushed away,” she says. They have three Yoga teachers and they have an average of 10 people in a class. Charges are Sh1,000 per class.