By Tim Anderson


In Kenya, the most common and most useful piece of furniture is the rot- and bedbug-resistant Swahili bed.

Small islands dot the coast of Kenya near the Somali border. Once there were powerful city-states on these islands. They traded as far as China. They were centers of Islamic learning, and scholars came from far and wide to study here. Now they’re mostly villages surrounded by fortified ruins, located far up winding channels through mangrove swamps.

In most houses, you find only one type of furniture: the Swahili bed. It’s used as a couch, bed, table, and everything else. It’s comfortable ...

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