Thursday, August 18, 2011
The week leading up to twenty five women dressed in colorful attire addressing me by my new name in this idyllic village has been anything but that.
After putting in my hour at the shamba, I leave for the closest ‘big city’ Kisumu on Friday. That evening, I make ample use of the free wi-fi at the rooftop bar, Duke of Breeze, over alternating glasses of red wine and French press coffee. I smirk at the forlorn tilapia platter with vegetables at dinner and the milky tea at breakfast - they don’t even come close to the ones at ‘home’ in Uhundha.
Funny how a couple weeks in a foreign land can begin to feel so homely- I have to attribute it to the community, who has made me feel so welcome here, to Charles and Priscah for opening their home to me, for checking up on me every so often, to Maureen for every little awesome thing she does to make sure I am more than comfortable and most of all to Alison, to AVIF, for giving me this great opportunity.
Sunday morning I finally touch the waters of Lake Victoria. I am on a boat with Joseph, George, Nicolas and Jesus, who calls himself God. Joseph, George and Jesus work on casting a net for the next two hours for tilapia, which they will collect in the evening.
Boats pass us by often- there are 400 fishermen in this village, a couple have radios blaring, some pose for me, others laugh at the ‘mzungu’ (foreigner) on the boat- women don’t fish. Two old men stop and show me their loot- I buy 6 little fish, 2 of them still gasping for breath. When I propose to throw them back, Joseph quietly disagrees indicating they wont live in the water anyway.
While the tilapias are making their way to the net, the youth group puts on a great show of dramas for me- I don’t comprehend a word, but the gallery of children do. They squeal and giggle with delight at George’s and SosPeter’s antics. We return home, Maureen and I, exhausted and ready for a hectic week ahead.
Monday is one of the more social days. As I approach the dilapidated mud building of the orphanage, I am welcomed by 40 kids clapping to a rhythmic ‘mzungu’. The volunteer teachers, Pamela and Phoebe, usher them in hurriedly. Once inside, they sing and clap to numerous other songs, one specifically to welcome the ‘visitor’. They mock my Luo with affectionate gusto. Some have never seen brown skin before, least of all speaking Luo.
(By now, I know the basic phrases including “How much is it?”, “Its too expensive.”, and the numbers. I practice them everyday with the motorcycle drivers on my ride to Usenge, everyday I learn something new (today it was ‘Akinyi’) )
This is followed by a meeting with the orphanage committee and some guardians, where we strategize on the future maintenance of the orphanage garden. A “community shamba day” is decided upon to formally let the community take responsibility.
I leave the orphanage with fresh tilapia for lunch, which Maureen quickly fries with spicy fish masala. Yum..
In the afternoon I go to the primary school with 2 posters I made for composting over the weekend. Mr Polycarp excitedly talks to the monitors of the four classes in session about composting, while holding buckets with “Little Rotters Composting Club” written on them! Internet is a great resource, indeed ☺ The children accept the responsibilities listed on the poster happily… The school closes with a prayer in a dense semi circle in the yard as the sky gets woollier with dark clouds and it starts to rain.
Early Tuesday morning, I get a call I have been waiting for- the local NGO is indeed paying us a visit that afternoon to discuss a safe water system. Joshua stops by, as promised, and has a prolonged chat with Henry, the beach chairman and some other beach leaders. Another meeting is scheduled for next week with more community members and village leaders to decide on the best solution of the alternatives we have. That evening Henry and me follow fishermen returning from the lake for fresh fish- another 'small' celebration.
Wednesday, Henry promises to take me fishing- “OMena”(Sardine) fishing.
Henry is Charles’ uncle- very polite, serious but often breaks into an instant smile, says Thank you too often and insists on calling me Madam at times (which makes me very uncomfortable and I tell him so). As I follow Henry to the boat with a kerosene lantern in hand, the news has spread in the village. Apparently no woman has been OMena fishing before in this village. In whispers freighted with laughter and disbelief, as we get ready to go on board, the neighboring fishermen wonder how I will fare in the cold waters of the lake.
And I soon discover, not so well ;) Sardine fishing is nothing like the relaxing, quiet sport of fishing is advertised to be in the West. It is 6-7 hours of laborious work in cold, dark, sometimes turbulent waters.
Four fishermen, with four lanterns mounted on floating “platforms” leave as night falls. A kilometer or two from the shore, they anchor those lanterns one-by-one a good distance away from each other at the corners of an imaginary square.
Then they wait for 15 minutes for the fish to be attracted to the light - David chews on a slice of bread and gulps down milk, Henry reassures me they wont be on the Lake till 2 AM tonight! My stomach growls, Its 8 PM.
Then the pace quickens accelerating to a frenzy. They approach the first lantern surrounding it with a net as they close in. As the boat rocks and veers dangerously on one side, they pull in the net, leaving the lantern behind. A few pounds of struggling sardines are emptied into the boat.
It takes about 10 minutes for one lantern. Then it’s on to the next one, and the next… for the next 6-7 hours till the moon appears on the horizon.
But tonight is different. The crew is very sensitive to my presence. Gauging the discomfort from my silence as it starts drizzling, they decide to return after 3 hours. Guided by my phone flashlight, Henry escorts me back home, a bucket of fresh sardines tucked under his arm for my lunch tomorrow, keeping his promise of getting me home by 11 PM.
It’s been a long, and enlightening day into the daily struggles of life here, and I bow to them for their resilience, their patience and their generosity. The trip to the lake tomorrow is dependent on the value of the catch today; it should cover the cost of the kerosene and the crew. The average they make from a trip is about 150 Kshs- less than $2.
My faith in unshaken, if not more validated: what the community needs is not charity or aid, but better resources for income-generating activities- current and future. I quietly resolve to follow up with another NGO I visited earlier in the week with a request for collaboration with the youth group and the orphanage.
And as the heavens pour down this morning, I get a call from them- they are stopping by to meet the youth group and check out the orphanage tomorrow morning.
In Africa, the rains do bring good luck perhaps…