It had been raining not long before we landed in Mwanza on the south-eastern shore of Lake Victoria after the 1.5 hour flight from Dar. We sat in a small open-air café across the road from the airport before our onward flight and the wind coming across the lake brought myriads of small flies. People battled through them seeking the refuge of cars and buildings, trying to shield their faces, until the rain started again and cleared the air. Our flight was a little delayed until the weather was clear for a landing in Bukoba 45 minutes away on the west side of the lake.
There were only 4 passengers in the single engine prop plane and we three UK visitors (one from Scotland, one from Iraq, and I) were met by Mselenge and a vehicle which drove us 200 yards to our lodging place. Since I was here last November, the airstrip in Bukoba has been upgraded to tarmac from red dirt that would not support the larger planes in the wet season. The commemorative pillar and plaque euphemistically called the foundation stone had been unveiled on my birthday less than a month ago and on reading it I felt rather special!
It was nice to return to familiar ground, to the place where we held our courses in November last year. Some of the local health workers are here in the hostelry having 2 days of training on febrile illness in children. In the last 2 months there has been an outbreak of malaria at Muleba just 2 hours drive south of here, and 200 children died. Just at the end of the small rains is a time when such outbreaks may occur but it has not happened on this scale for very many years.
A local football match was staged in the afternoon where the local side, made up from one representative from each of the wards in Kagera district, playing in Argentinian strip, was beaten by Kagera Sugar, a more experienced visiting team in red shirts. The curious method of taking gate money involved purchasing a ticket through a hole in the fence, handing it over to a man on the gate who then returned the tickets to the man at the fence hole to be sold over and over again. In this way a few old tickets from the 2004 and 2005 seasons served their purpose very well. We jokingly suggested that these are no longer acceptable since US dollars are also rejected if the date is before 2006 as there are so many forgeries from that period in circulation.
We ate well in the evening to the usual accompaniment in this outdoor restaurant of British Premier League football on TV. We turned down fish in favour of beef and chicken with plantain banana, potato chips and chili tomatoes and I completed my collection of 15 bottle tops in five varieties ready to challenge all comers at the ancient game of Nim! If you haven’t heard of it you need to meet my eldest grandson who is rapidly becoming an expert at the age of 10.
Tomorrow we transfer by road to our training venue, somewhere in the direction of Rwanda, to prepare for the first 4-day course and to settle in. No doubt we shall have the repetitive pleasure of eating fish in the coming days as the economy and diet of this region is very much influenced by the proximity of Africa’s biggest lake…
Bukoba Monday 19th
The shock and reluctance of emerging from sleep in the dark at the wrong time of one’s natural diurnal cortisol cycle is rapidly replaced by the onslaught of sound from the local pre-dawn bird chorus. The sheer exuberance and variety of calls, of squawks and tweets, the chuckles, whoops and booms of the monkey-frog-bird*, overlaying the more tuneful songs of these creatures of earth and the sky as they celebrate the arrival of the new day, the survival of another night, the sheer joy of being alive, the social contact with birds of their kind, the wonder of it all, for whose sake?
Aside from their own world, their swelling sound overflows to the pleasure of the Creator and the eavesdropping of other creatures, like me, bathed in their song as I enter the world of the wakeful. It washes over me in waves of freshness and generosity and welcomes me to join the worship, quietly reflecting their thankfulness of life.
The concerto gradually fades to take its place in the soundscape of daily life – the gunning of a turbo-prop as the first flight of the day prepares to leave Bukoba airstrip, the passing of the occasional car, the sound of mop and bucket along the corridor, the squeak of bed springs as someone else leaves dreamland, a distant radio, the rattle of a chain and padlock freed from a tin-sheet door.
Only the dogs and cats are silent. Exhausted after their tuneless communion in the thick of the night, challenging each other and every strange sound, and with no alarm clock to disturb and no duty to call them from sleep, they rest oblivious to the feathered orchestra overhead.
*This little known local ventriloquist confuses newcomers with its brilliant scope of vocalizations. Rarely seen, it hides by day in the swamps and trees bordering Lake Victoria composing itself and its music for the following night.