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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Lake Victoria Basin: A Family Portrait

We finally turn the corner into the village of Mashambani after an excruciating couple of hours drive from the town of Riziki on the shores of Lake Victoria. More than a dozen children throw around us a ring of curious and gleeful welcome. In the moment of encounter we note dry and scaly skins, distended abdomens, and thin reddish hair.

“Are your parents out in the shamba?” We inquire. A feisty, youngster, named Vumilia belches out abruptly “No!” His face distorted and his pain apparent. There they are, our fathers and our mothers, all of them”. Said Vumilia pointing to a neat row of earth mounds at the edge of the compound.

“You want to see our grandmother, come.” Murefu, the tallest of the bunch decides rather confidently. He leads us down a winding path behind a row of mud huts. “Have you come to sponsor us?” Murefu asks as we follow his lead in a single file down a footpath.

We stop on the edge of little patch of freshly tilled soil amidst an overgrown weed fallow. The soil is pale, drained of its lifeblood, the vital organic minerals. Our arrival causes Mama Mwamba to lift up her head. She lets go of her hoe and stands as straight as she can with the arc of aging weighing down her posture. And she hails with gusto, “peace be with you”. Aged 70, mama Mwamba actually looks 10 years older.

Mama Mwamba narrates the stories of the family, the land and the fishing beaches on the grand lake. She talks of barren soils and scarlet rivers. She recalls the recent floods and counts her losses; the crops, the livestock and her son s hut. “And now the drought, one more week without rain and, my toil will amount to nothing, no harvest”.

“Mama Mwamba’s voice falters, she looks at her grandchildren and folds her arms across her chest in self-comfort. “And now the children are sickly and out of school. School is free but I cannot afford the uniform and besides, the teachers say the children are too tired to learn. It is all about food”, I cannot grow enough to feed all of them.”

Mama Mwamba recalls her youthful years as a fish trader, when fish was plentiful. “Then things changed, first the Nile Perch at all the, then the big boats and now the water hyacinth”, she continues, my late daughters-in-law would go for months to remote fish cities and after two years and without much money, they came back home, too ill”. “ In the last three years I buried all my three sons and their wives”.

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