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Thursday, November 15, 2012

the lake

The bus leaves you a distance from the actual shags. From there you take a motorcycle . Along the way there is a road tax levied, you know one of those things where every vehicle using a particular road has to pay something to the council which will, in an ideal world use this levy to make the roads. The roads here are horrible, they are a collection of dust, rock and stone. The place is hilly so every time you crest you expect a movie stunt to happen though it really never does. The tax is levied quite simply showing both the ingenuity of taxmen all over the world and this ability we have in Kenya to create employment out of everything(before the machines take over.) someone simply sits by the side of the road the whole day, there’s a rope stretched across the road and it’s this person’s job to take down the rope when someone who has paid comes to pass. They all know each other population not being Indian so it works though it seems to work by query, “have you paid?” ”yes I have.” There’s another informal tax that goes on a little further down. A policeman will stop every bike and talk to them about this and that when all they want is the brown handshake(am not sure what colour a 50 bob note is right now and it’s that time of my life when there’s none handy to check-should have been a policeman this one worry would not have been.)

I wish I had carried a camera. Because bar none this is the most beautiful place in Kenya I have ever been to. It may be the most beautiful natural landscape I have ever seen. Of course it may be home ground advantage, maybe the fact that so many of my ancestors come from there prejudices me, the ground around that place is after all a repository of so many of the chances that had to come to pass before the right man to father me was born, specks of my dna roll in those soils and in the water and the air, there is something of me in that place, a me not fully formed but something nonetheless.

You see it’s quite close to the lake. Every single homestead  is hugged by the lake. Its presence is everywhere, in the fresh fish, in the rain water that comes down every day without fail, in the clouds that hang so low you feel like you can pick them, in a sunset that takes so long you believe Atlantis is still enjoying some of the sun’s favours.

It’s a hilly place so soon we were on a vantage point, I had gotten over the sting of rushing air pricking my eyes and the watery tears this brushed down my cheeks and I looked over to the left. It was mid-afternoon and the wind was playing with the lake. Brushing its fingers over it, blowing it’s breathe down her neck, just enough to tease her, to excite her without bringing her over to climax. Little wavelets played in the sun, blue and white and sparkling. The reflection catching a million little solars as they played back and forth and back again. It seemed endless this lake, the horizon a function of failing eyesight more than anything else. It could go on forever if I could see forever. Water has always had this strange effect on me. Large bodies of water still me, they make me think or not have to. I can sit by them for hours and read or gaze off in the distance not noticing anything else happen. Not that I like to get in them unless am on a boat.

The next day I got on a boat. There’s a small island near Gwassi called Kiwa. Its maybe the size of 2 CBD’s in Nairobi. Am not sure how big this is in hectares because I have always been singularly hopeless in estimating sizes. They call the engine-boat that you use to get over there a motor. And we waited for our motor. It fits maybe 20 people in and its sturdy, you can’t imagine it tipping over, they make many, many trips there and back, trips that take maybe 20 minutes each. In addition everyone who grew up here is a strong swimmer. The lake is the beginning and the end of everything. If not for Christianity we would be worshipping some version of Poseidon. From the lake comes food in the form of fish, from the lake comes water(I don’t think anyone really needs scientists to see the correlation between terrestrial water and that falling from the sky.), in the lake you wash, in the lake you shit. In the lake you play and there is that sound it makes. That eternal sound like an old man who doesn’t want to impose but whose smooth silky voice you stop to listen to as soon as it starts.

Gwassi is after all far, far away from all modern amenities. There is no electricity, no piped water, pit latrines are only now making a blushing entry into the place as if shy to take away so many natural nutrients from the plants. By the lake while I waited for the boat there were dozens of children with all their household utensils efficiently scrubbing them down. They stood naked or in underwear because it’s one of those places where nakedness is only shaming if you are an adult and are in the presence of adults of the opposite sex. Here they washed their dishes and then they washed their siblings. With such a store of water so close by who the hell is going to trudge back and forth to take it back home?

We got on the boat and the old man of the lake began to talk and everyone fell silent. Me most of all. For almost everyone else this was as unremarkable as a matatu ride, I hadn’t been on a boat since February and that wasn’t even a real boat. The lake rocked back and forth on those little wavelets, the wind not being one for whipping up a frenzy in these parts. I kept my eye on the horizon and I saw a bird, it was just standing on the lake. A black bird just standing on the lake. Then it got up and began to fly away. It never went too far up just gliding as if the sprays from the water would keep it afloat in the air. I followed it until it was a speck in the horizon and then it stretched the horizon. As long as I kept my eye on this bird my definition of the horizon changed, it went further and further and my eyes stretched further and further. Then it dropped off the edge of the world.

Did I mention it rains every day here? Every single day. The clouds hang low impregnated by lake water, too fat too float far in the air. This causes two things. The first is that you can see the bottom of the clouds as well as their tops. You just look straight and you can see the head of the clouds and you realise that they don’t hang on anything these clouds, they just float there levitating on air. I could see the different kinds of clouds I was taught about, the cumulus and nimbus(though the nimbus were too high up to see their heads.) their whole hierarchy was laid out and stacked up  like a messy god’s room. Because they were so close they began to form tableaus. You squint just right and you  see a table or a car or people in discussion. Between the head of this cloud and the tail of the other you could see the sky. It was never exactly blue, just less white. Every single spot in the sky was spotted with clouds of some kind. Just too light to completely obscure the view.

The second effect was the shadows. From the island you can see the effect of shadows hanging so low, it’s a hilly mainland so some mountains are set off in sunlight. It breaks through the dark of the clouds shining down a spotlight of gold and green, of dust and dreams. The weird thing about this sunlight was that it looked anaemic, weak. You would think that the contrast would make it look stronger but it looked more white than yellow. No matter that it had escaped some of the clouds it was still affected by them.

I walked around the island for a little, and well was it average. Nothing different, everyone looked the same, sounded the same, talked the same. At least here I could indulge in some local brew without being sure my grandmother would hear about it. I got a cup of changaa for 50 bob from some ladies selling out of a hut(it’s always the ladies who sell It.) it tasted like Uganda to be honest(my stay in Uganda being the only time I really indulged in changaa). Strong and survivable if you sipped a little of it a time. A too quick gulp, or even worse a shot would shoot through your nerves, setting them afire and your throat would be coughing up phlegm. When I got on my boat to leave there was a man standing nearby. He looked like he had been dropped out of Jamaica or a raga video into these parts. You know how raga men always have this face that you don’t really want to meet in the middle of the night? A craggy face with lines that speak of hardness and a complexion that talks of long hours of battle with the sun. His demeanour was pure reggae though. He had dreadlocks that weren’t too long and they were all tied up neatly in a Marvin. He stood by one of the boats watching us go, his daughter(I assume) was playing below it. In his hands was the biggest doobie I had seen in ages. It was classically rolled. None of this one width like a cigarette shit, no it was tapered like a cone. He stood there in the middle of this beach taking puff after puff. He was not a man who smoked to get stoned. At least not the way some city dwellers do. He wasn’t going to go off into the giggles was this was done, or be unable to watch a movie. No he just smoked to relax, like the way some smoked a cigarette or had a beer. It wasn’t some exciting ritual for him just what he did every day by the beach as he waited for the sun to set. Dropped from Jamaica this guy.

I got back to mainland as the sun was beginning to set. Got on the most dangerous boda boda ride of my life. This guy nearly dropped me twice off that bike. I could tell when I got on that he would ride fast. I don’t know if it was the brash confidence of his youth or the fact that all this bluster existed in the one guy who actually had a helmet, knowing his faith in his prowess couldn’t protect him by itself.

Large bodies of water retain heat much better than land. The heat has a chance to penetrate the lake which is a much more willing lover than land,  pure wind though all he does is get her ready with all his soft caresses as the sun plunges in deeper and deeper into her. The light and heat find a home here and they aren’t as ready to leave when the time comes. This results in land breezes at night(secondary geography that may be wrong but am way too lazy to Google that.) as the sun set all around us it got dark pretty fast. There is a certain inky darkness that prevails in places without electricity. Its squid like and complete. As this was happening I looked over to the lake again and I saw something strange. Towards the edge of the horizon it wasn’t dark at all. A crown of gold was being lowered over the lake as the sun set. Over there it looked like it had 2 hours ago. The sun took its time leaving its lake and it set off a contrast as severe as day and night, as magical as a rainbow. A chance to see two things that usually don’t roam the earth walking it hand in hand. I kept watching it wondering if like the bird from before it would go on forever until it finally dropped off the edge of the world. Wondering if it was possible, on a really fast boat to follow the sun forever and never see it go down for a year. Wondering what stories about our lake god we would associate with this false place of forever sun if Christianity had not come barging in. Wondering, just wondering until everything went black.


  1. I'm amazed by water bodies too, and have always wanted to own a beach house or lake house or river house(?) or something. I like the idea of chasing the sun for a year. Your shags sounds like paradise. Or at least it would be, if it had wi-fi. I don't care much for electricity or running water, but I really can't survive without my wi-fi.

  2. yeah shags is lovely, but humans weren't made to live in heaven, it gets boring after a while all this beauty and perfection, we need dirt and ugliness and wifi and for that some electricity.

    thanks though, i loved it there though just for short bursts