An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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A Different Life

From Kisumu, Mbita it doesn’t look very far on a map, and really it wouldn’t be if traveling by private car on paved road. Unfortunately neither were available. My trip began early in the morning, making my way through Kisumu’s largest market. The smell of dried fish swam through the muggy air. Each booth beckoned offering a different product, from spices to colorful fabrics to cheap plastic flip flops which adorn the soles of many.

At the opposite end sits a large lot, where dust rises like smoke from the shuffling feet of bodies bound for different destinations. I find the bus, toss the bags on top, and fill the first available seat. Within minutes every space was occupied both sitting and standing. Cramped, smelly, hot, the bus starts down a road that would get progressively worse over the next several hours. The ride was not too eventful. An occasional stop, wherein a few people would shuffle off, a few on, a kind old lady or young man would approach the window offering a cob of corn while I reminisced the days of air conditioning and deodorant.

Hours later the bus pulls to its final stop. Following the queue of passengers, I exit, collect and dust off my bag, then wander to the edge of Lake Victoria for the final leg of my trip. The water taxi is little more than a long slender canoe with a motor. You can get to Mbita by bus but to do so would add several additional hours, so I joined about 30 others in the rickety boat sitting inches from the wet murky cloud looking for hippos.

Mbita is a fishing community dependant like so many others on Africa’s largest lake. Resting on the equator it is the second widest lake in the world and the source of the world’s longest river-the mighty Nile, which stretches 4,132 miles before losing itself into the Mediterranean Sea. Millions of Africans from the three bordering countries depend on it to exist and as such it has been over fished and polluted.

Mbita is just one of those villages. I walked with my old friends who had relocated from comfortable Flagstaff, Arizona years ago, through the small dirty streets of the village. “This is where you can check your email…This is where we usually buy our vegetables…We can buy bread from our neighbors.” They pointed out shack after shack on the way to their house.

Their house was made of brick with a tin roof, making it one of the nicest in the neighborhood. They were some of the few fortunate to have a shower that trickled water, and a single outlet offering power inconsistently throughout the day. There was no refrigerator, no oven, no toilet. To cook they use a propane tank fueling a single burner. When nature calls there is set of covered holes, shared by several houses, sitting 40 yards away. It is a different life, where in America the living situation would be considered impoverished, unlivable even. But here in Mbita, you look around and consider yourself blessed.

That night with a cool breeze caressing my face, I stood outside the door looking into the dark peaceful distance. Lights sparkled across the horizon. “Do like our view of the city lights?” My friend J.P. asked. “It’s really cool,” I replied not realizing he was joking. The sparkling lights were from lanterns but not from the city. It was the lake. Hundreds and hundreds of fishermen scattered across the darkness like fallen stars. Floating lanterns beckoned bugs that lured the fish that would feed their families. This was life. And it was different life than any I’d seen before.


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