Fishermen, RIP

I feel so bad that I posted the last post about fishermen being at high risk of infectious disease, and that I had not heard of them drowning. The very next day, a young man  drowned here in Matoso. He was out fishing with another man, and the waves were higher than usual. I guess the boat tipped, and they both went into the water. One survived, and one was not found. He was apparently quite young–not yet married–and from a family in this area.

I have been told that the family must stay in the village center, near the small fishing dock, for at least three days, or until the body is retrieved. So please forgive my insensitivity. Fisherman die here, in the same ways as they do all over the world.

Fishing in Lake Victoria: High Risk Occupation


Matoso is a fishing village. Because of the way things work here, being involved in the fishing industry is very high risk. Not of drowning, or having fingers and limbs cut off, but of contracting HIV. I mean, maybe fishermen drown and lose fingers and other parts here like they do in the rest of the world, but here, they are also at very high risk of contracting HIV.


It didn’t make sense to me at first, and I confess I still don’t completely understand, but here is what has been explained to me. The fishermen go out in their boats and spread their nets, and pull them in to the beach in the morning.  Then they have fish to sell, and the fishmonger women come to buy them. It turns out, the women compete for the privilege of buying the fish, and the competition involves sex. So they won’t get to select from the best fish unless they are willing to have sex with the fisherman. Then, maybe he lets them buy fish from him. Anyone who is not in on the game gets only the tiniest or poorest fish, if anything.

So maybe the fisherman has a couple of “fish wives”, as well as one or more wives back tending the farm. And I suppose the fish-monger women may have to barter with more than one fisherman in any given week. Anyone making their living fishing here is in a very hand-to-mouth existence. There is not a lot of money in fishing with nets, in wooden boats that are not even watertight. I suspect there is even less margin in buying and selling fish in the market.  The desperation is evident, and the price is the high rate of infection in fishing communities.


Can We Take a Picture?

I have been welcomed everywhere I go in Kenya–and people love to take their picture with the white lady! The pictures are just snapshots of daily life here, with friendly Kenyans, both familiar and brief acquaintances.

I need a lighthearted topic today, as we await the outcome of the election.

Here we are, in the cookhouse.

Tea with Dorothy and Valerie
Dorothy on the right, her younger sister Valerie, and me. The girls made tea the Kenya way: One liter of milk, and equal amount of water, and then they heated that to boiling and colored it with one teabag. It certainly didn’t keep anyone awake!
Michael, one of the guards, and I in front of the tuko.
Maxwell shoots the “selfie” of all of us: two friends from Migori town, me, and Tamara.


This boy let me hold him for quite a while at a friend’s house.


I took two pictures to capture all the kids hanging out at our friend Joseph’s house. One boy made sure he was in both!
On the shore at the Victoria See Lodge, our place to go have a meal or drink with friends.

Pictures of Nairobi

Tubman Lane
Several streets in Nairobi were named after famous African Americans. I assume this street was named for Harriet Tubman, but I do not know for sure.
Buildings in Nairobi
Random buildings in close proximity to each other.
The frustration of the religious poster in front of the graffiti–or is it a statement itself? The Nyayo Era (Era of Daniel Moi, second Kenya President), is sometimes called the Nyayo Error. Nyayo means “footsteps”, and reportedly Moi often said that people should follow in his footsteps. “Ni wakati” means “It’s time” in Swahili.


Sorry I have been out of touch for several days. We (Tam, the public health director, and I) had to fly to Nairobi in order to straighten out our applications for work permits. It took two days, but we have gotten them submitted! It took two full days, two visits to NyayoHouse which contains the Immigration Department, and the services of Wangari to get it done. Wangari also got my work permit, and a slightly bent clerk in Immigration extended my visa all the way to November.

Fly 540 Air Kenya’s low cost airline

Wangari (she tells us the name means Daughter of the Leopard) is Henry’s wife, and of the two I think she does all the actual work for us. She is educated, fluent in English, Swahili, and Kikuyu, her mother tongue, and a charming and cheerful lady. Henry has another job managing a drilling rig which apparently digs wells for water. Together, they have a vision of improving water and sanitation for rural Kenyans by drilling wells as sources of clean water and building good latrines for private and clean ways to take care of the calls of nature.

While in Nairobi we stay at the Flora Hostel, a lovely Catholic Guesthouse for travelers from all over the world. The price includes three meals a day (If you can get here during the thirty minute window for each meal), free wi-fi when it is working, and hot showers in the morning. And while there are mosquitoes here, there are no lake flies so it is possible to leave the lights on and work in the evening, or to read in bed. This is real luxury for us. Also, their grounds are filled with lovely gardens and plants, with manicured lawns and groupings of potted plants. I am getting ideas for plants in the ex-pat housing areas of the Matoso compound.



We met another American here, an anthropology graduate student at Michigan State doing research into the diversity and “intersectionality” of Information Technology workers here. He explained that intersectionality has to do with multiple group identities residing in a single individual. So someone could be an IT worker, for example, and a member of the ruling class, and that intersection might have profound influences on the government, especially if it is true for many in the IT field. Like Tam, he is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and truly loves Kenya. He stays at the Flora for weeks at a time.

The big city is like cities everywhere, with pockets of horrible traffic and diesel exhaust, and lovely suburbs with huge houses or apartment buildings behind big walls and hedges. The sprawling slums, among the largest in the world, were pointed out to us as notable landmarks. I have managed to buy some of the medical supplies I wanted, including tourniquets, a Doppler for fetal heart tones, and a couple of thermometers for the lab. And I have managed NOT to buy, so far, any crafts or fabrics or scarves/wraps. I am trying to save my tourist dollars to buy crafts closer to home, at the  Ochuna Craft Cooperative for instance. Ochuna Craft Coop Facebook Page And so far I gave only 100 shillings (about one dollar) each to two charming con-men—I am quite proud of this because I am such an easy mark.


Nairobi seems quite safe as long as one is reasonably alert. We are warned of robberies and to be careful with our cell phones when out on the street, and we don’t go out alone at night. People who know the city and the country feel that conditions are quite different than those that led to violence after the 2007/2008 elections. People are preparing for trouble, but are hoping there is little.

Lake Flies

They are here–clouds of them. I’ll let you find your own images. I will not honor them with a photo. They don’t hurt anything, and I heard that in the old days people made a soup out of them, but they are pesky, uncomfortable and I don’t like them!

The Camels

Arrival after ten days
The gate to the compound is on the far right, and you can see some of the school children following the Masai drover.

We have had an exciting few days here at Lalmba, Kenya. A group of Lalmba supporters from North America, both Canada and the US, walked for ten days across southern Kenya, and through the Rift Valley to raise money for the Lalmba programs. They walked just outside of the Masai Mara Reserve, seeing a great deal of wildlife, and then through rural farmland where they were greeted by hundreds of school children and villagers. This is the second, biennial “Big Walk” done as a fundraiser, and involved ten walkers, 20 camels, 5 or 6 drovers, and one of the owners of the camel farm. A huge undertaking for these folks—I am impressed that they can do it as often as they do.IMG_2028

It has been a great way to support Lalmba for people who cannot spend a year or two volunteering. I believe that people at home sponsor each walker, and one can follow their route on their Facebook page, Tembea na Mimi, which shows the yellow logo of Lalmba.

IMG_2001Camels have never been seen in this part of Kenya until Lalmba first brought them two years ago for the first “Tembea ne Mimi,” (Swahili for Walk with Me.) The children are so excited to see them that they stop, for a moment, their refrain of “Mzungu, how are you?”

Camels at the beach
They are uninterested in the fresh water of the lake, but instead chew enthusiastically at the thorny, scrubby beach plants.

Learning Dholuo

A new language is always opaque in the beginning. Other people are speaking, and you understand nothing, but clearly they are communicating. You hear emotion, and laughing, and information being exchanged, but none of it is for you. You listen, and occasionally you even hear a word that sounds familiar. But no, that cannot be—it is just a word that sounds like a Spanish word you once knew. Or a Khiswahili word you recognize from those first e-mails you got from other ex-pats: jambo, or asante.

So it is with this Dholuo, the language of the people here on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. Everyone here speaks it, and they avoid speaking Khiswahili. They have to learn Swahili in school, but if they can’t speak “mother tongue”, they would rather speak English.

The first challenge is pronunciation. I am having a difficult time wrapping my tongue around so many vowels in a row. The sounds of “w” and “y”, distinct from “u”, all run together in my mouth. To give each vowel its distinct sound, to avoid blending them, requires unnatural concentration. For example, to say “Good morning” is one word, “Oyawore”, but it is like 5 parts, with just the tiniest bit of slurring together: o-ya-w-o-ray.

I learned to count to ten, and then one hundred, fairly quickly. However, when we came to the lesson on telling time I met my second challenge. In Dholuo, one describes the time when the hour hand points to two, as 8 hours. Six o’clock is described with the word for 12. And so on: three o’clock is 9 hours (actually, hours nine), eleven o’clock uses the word for five. Adding minutes is fairly easy in that you just add the minutes that have elapsed, but first you insert the phrase “gi dakika” to mean with minutes. (Oh, and dakika is a borrowed word from Swahili.) But you only add minutes for the first half of the clock—I mean the time from 12:00 to 6:00—is it still the first half if the left side of the clock goes from 12, through 1-2-3 to 6? This makes my brain hurt. I have written down how you describe the left half of the clock, but it has not yet sunk in. Suffice it to say it is different than the right half.

The third challenge I just got yesterday. It turns out that a noun may not be a nice, stable word as most are in English. I mean yeah, we add an “s”, or an “es” to make it plural, sometimes we change a spelling or pronunciation from male to female, and there are all those irregular plurals like feet from foot. In Dholuo, the word “stomach”, or “ich”, becomes iya for my stomach, iyi for your stomach, iye for his or her stomach, iwa for our stomach, iwu for your (plural) stomach, and igi for their stomach! I was thinking I was learning possessive pronouns, but it was all different stomachs. And yes, this makes my stomach ache.

Perhaps these differences in language set me up to misunderstand my tutor. Surely it is not just the clock or the time that we look at with entirely different perspectives?

Sadly, learning Dholuo will not help my French! Que lastima! (Oops, learning Spanish obviously didn’t help my French, either.)

Sunset over Lake Victoria

So fortunate to have this view, looking west out of the expat part of the compound here. This is every night around 6:30 pm–it gets dark early here at the equator. And for the last few days, we have had some hippo sightings at the beach. Tonight had quite a serenade at about 7, just as I was in the shower and could not go and look. And the other day when I was able to see my first hippo grazing on the water plants, I did not have my phone. I will be sure to share if I manage to get a picture!IMG_1742