A gift from Susan

A gift from Susan

Leaving Jinja was a little hard. I could have stayed a few more days, there was a lot to do there, and some really friendly people, especially Nash, a Kenyan who works in Uganda and who really helped me to sort out the best option to get to Kenya.

Nash, a cool guy who told me that the best thing to do when you take a matatu is sit at the back and try to sleep: that way you don’t get scared!
One of the cottages at the Explorers Backpackers in the morning light

But in the end, I was super lucky to meet Andy, a motorcyclist who was part of a group of Europeans travelling on their motorbikes, but who also had a support vehicle. Andy introduced me to the owner of the company who agreed to give me a ride all the way to Eldoret, where I was trying to go. That saved me either 4 days of cycling (which I didn’t have) or another hellish day of public transport.
I made sure I was there on time, and had almost an hour to chat with the group before they left. Bikers are like family to cyclists, so it was really an awesome morning. They secured Laf to the back of the truck, and because one of the clients was sick that day, I ended up having a full seat in the front of the vehicle instead of the very cramped scenario that I had envisoned.

The motorcyclists having breakfast, and the truck that was going to take me and Laf to Kenya in the background
Laf safely tied down and much happier than in the matatu…

We took off at 8 am sharp (the owner is Swiss!), in this huge truck that was really shaking like crazy at first. Nobody seemed concerned, so I just relaxed and later found out that it was only when we were going at 70 km/h… It just added to the African experience! And a real African experience it was: we were stopped several times by the police, including one time where we were about to be fined $600 for driving 61 in a 50 zone… But with some discussion and no receipt, the fine was lowered dramatically and we could keep going. It was sad to take part into this corruption system, but $600 was insane.

I fully enjoyed the ride, and soon we arrived at the border. To my surprise, formalities were pretty straightforward and mostly, everybody was super friendly. Including the guy who exchanged our Ugandan money for a very decent rate.
We had to wait for quite a while for the driver to go to the bank, on foot, to get money to pay some vehicle fee, so I chatted a lot with the cook, who actually knows some of the people I used to work with when I was guiding in Tanzania. That was 10 years ago!!! I couldn’t believe it, and was thrilled to have a messenger to tell them that I never forgot them. Such a small world.

Finally we arrived in Eldoret, I packed my happy bike and rode 8 km south to the place where I was going to stay for the night. The ride was great, people super friendly, I got several thumbs up. Kenya felt very different from Uganda. Not that I didn’t like Uganda, but somehow I felt more relaxed here.

I arrived at John’s place. I guess saying that John is a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend would not even be enough… Let’s just say that he is a super nice guy who agreed to host me in his house, and keep my bike and gear safe while I travel to Kakamega for a couple of days. He didn’t even know my name, but he was super cool, and I had a great chat, awesome coffee, dinner and breakfast with him and his son Roald. All I had to do was read books at bedtime!
The next day, one of John’s employees, Rose, gave me a ride back to town, helped me find a place to buy yet another SIM card, and took me to the right matatu stand. Such a nice person too.
Once the matatu was full, we took off for Kakamega. I was a little apprehensive given the name of the town, but so far all is well… 🙂

I am here because years ago, I was working with a fish biologist named Susan. She loved Kenya, and had started a fish farming project to help local people to get an additional source of protein and income from selling their fish. We often talked about Africa together.

Unfortunately, Susan passed away a few years ago, and without her continuous presence and support in the villages, the project isn’t going as well. When I decided to come to Kenya, I immediately thought about Susan and was thinking it would be interesting to visit the area. Some people in the Yukon are still involved in this project, so they helped me to get in touch with Hussein, the manager of this project, and here I am, in Kakamega, to visit some of the fish farmers.
Yesterday I felt really weird about all this; what can I do for them, I know nothing about fish farming, and very little about the project. But I knew how much this project meant to Susan. And a friend from the Yukon who knows more than I do about this project really encouraged me to go and enjoy the experience. That was very good advice.

So Hussein picked me up this morning, and we traveled on his motorbike to the first village. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was going to be a very special day. Right away, the first farmer was so welcoming. He spoke almost no English, but Hussein helped to translate. He explained his challenges, his hopes, and I asked lots of questions to learn more about how this all works. It was really interesting. Then I was invited into the home of the fish farmer, was offered tea, mandaz (doughnut), and egg sandwiches. Hussein had been kind enough to warn them that I don’t eat meat…

One of the fish farmers and his pond in the background

Then to the next place, where again, I met the fish farmer, listened to his story, and was again invited into the house, and given a huge pile of bananas. I was starting to worry that my stomach couldn’t keep up with all this generosity, but was also feeling so privileged to visit these extremely welcoming people.

Another fish farmer telling me about her challenges

This is what I like the most when I travel: to really see how people live, to be invited into their life, even if it’s just for a moment.

And then to the next place, and again and again. Hussein and I started to joke more, and had a truly wonderful time. I realized that being there for only a day or two was almost an insult: they all asked me to come back, and for a much longer period!

Hussein and I on the motorbike with one of the local farmers

And I didn’t even mention how incredibly beautiful the area is.

Amazing landscape
And clouds building up…

Finally we were invited for lunch in one of the homes. It was the real thing: ugali with greens, and there was also fish, meat and eggs (for me), and a banana to make sure I wouldn’t need to eat again tonight! Delicious and so appreciated.

If I understood correctly, the couple who invited us for lunch were some of the local leaders of the Fish4Kenya project. Hussein gave me a letter that they wrote for me. Even if I had no expectations or plans when I decided to visit Susan’s friends, I realized that it was impossible not to be touched by their kindness, and not to want to do something for them.

The letter

We visited one last place before we rushed back to town, trying to get there before the rain started.

Even on the road people waved and smiled at me. One friend of Hussein that we met on the way simply told me: « You are welcome. Your home, it is here ». How can you not love this place?

Another well built pond

I smiled all the way back. Hussein told me: « It is raining and you are not complaining ». I didn’t even think about complaining, this was one of the best days of this trip…

And now I think that even is she is no longer with us, this day was a gift from Susan…

4 thoughts on “A gift from Susan

  1. Salut Catou. C’est tellement agréable de lire la description de tes aventures et l’appréciation que tu fais de tes rencontres avec les gens et les endroits que tu visites. Continue de t’émerveiller et de nous le partager.
    Ici c’est -22°C à 8hre du matin. Je viens de comprendre pourquoi la pluie te fais sourire !!!

  2. Nothing like a good cry with my morning coffee. I often think of Susan and her project. One person really can make a difference in this world. You have the same sort of generous spirit. Thank you for sharing your story and hers.

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