Maseno, Homma Bay and Local Trade

May 8, 2012

In my netted cocoon I wait for the alarm to go off – as if I needed an alarm. My mind is turbo charged with anticipation, I’ve heard so much about Lake Victoria and their communities and now the day has arrived. The hotel kitchen porter has kindly packed a little breakfast for us as the kitchen is not open yet. Sausages and hard boiled eggs with bread and coffee – I’m ready, I’m ready.

The morning mist is lifting as we wait outside Maseno for the Oscienala bus. It seems the city has not slept as activity builds and students arrive for college. A big blue and white bus lurches to a halt, all aboard and off we go. One short stop for our last passenger and as he boards my eyes are already on sticks. It’s frenetic, it’s crazy, it’s manic….Matatu’s, Boda Boda’s, Cars, Buses, Bicycles and people with carts laden with sugar cane or fruit all fight for their space. How do some emerge from this chaos in their shirt and tie looking perfectly manicured I wonder…..but they do.

It’s not long before we’ve left the city behind; strangely I find it difficult to call it a city. We’re on the open highway courtesy of the Japanese, Pastor Gilbert tells me. They’ve constructed a huge Hydro Electric Dam further out and this is part of their contribution to the area. No matter how remote the countryside is you can always see someone walking; a woman carrying a huge load balanced on her head; children in their school uniforms carrying water or guys with huge loads carefully balanced on motorbikes.

At our first lakeside stop we get a glimpse of farming practices, Kenya style. Under the baking sun, six Oxen struggle to create a furrow in what seems to be quiet stony soil. The local councillor is our guide and he explains the meagre existence that most people have in this area. We hear stories of exploitation that are to be repeated many times in the coming days. Sand is taken away in truck loads from the farmers fields and the locals that load it and the farmer get a pittance. One local seems to be making better use of this natural resource as his rather crude bricks are lined in the sun to harden off.

As we emerge onto the highway it’s hard to imagine we’re in Africa as the traffic whizzes past the window, seemingly oblivious to the poverty that nestles in the mud huts and tin shacks in the adjacent fields. There are some promising signs of government intervention as we stop to view the roadside irrigation drains. These have yet to spring into action but have been assembled with long pre cast sections, sign of another industry nearby, one with an enormous thirst for electricity.

The signs for Homma Bay welcome us to a village that boasts a satellite campus of Maseno University. Pastor Gilbert, who is well used to travelling this route, has pre selected our breakfast stop and the waiters scurry to rearrange the furniture when we arrive. We’re in….wait for it…. Hotel Twin Tower and no, we didn’t ask! A quick bite to eat and it’s out to explore the Jua Kali in action down the back lane. This little hive of industry is incredible, as self taught carpenters share the public thoroughfare with their craft; sawing, hammering and painting, oblivious to the passers – by. I spin around in awe, genuinely incredulous at the scale of activity and it’s not restricted to manufacturing as somehow people have trading stalls perched among all of this too.

‘Come on we’ve a long way to travel’, calls Gilbert, as I reluctantly depart. I have so many questions for him as he smiles at my amazement but answers willingly in his gentle manner. We’re back at the lakeshore in moments and we arrive just as the catch is being landed. This is a chaotic market scene, although ordered in its own strange way. Live chickens are being traded among the basins of Omena, Talapia and Perch. A woman hands out tickets as some guys come back from the shoreline with basins laden with Omena. What on earth is the pecking order we wonder? Sam and I approach a local called George and he willingly tries to explain, not before we hear how he has lost everyone belonging to him and he laughs when he sees us smile. He quickly ushers a guy selling a live hen into our company but we decline gracefully saying she’d never be allowed on the bus. Briefly we survey the area for potential sites for a wind turbine but the proximity of electricity poles indicates this may not be the ultimate location – based on the criteria we had set in the workshop.


Chickens and Omena fish are on sale in the market in Homma Bay

It’s barely 11am when we climb back on the bus and wow but we had no idea how long this day was going to be.