Life on Rusinga Island

Friday, October 28, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written By: Chris Coulon.

Our Humble Abode
Our Humble Abode on Rusinga.

Rusinga Island is a relatively small place, located just off the shore from Lake Victoria.  The closest town is called Mbita and is made up of a collection of brick and tin buildings that resembles more of a fish market than a town.  Rusinga finds itself on the disadvantaged side of development; it is suffering from deforestation—largely resultant from the local’s reliance on wood for fuel and boat-building—that is progressing toward the later stages of serious erosion and desertification.  These issues have only become more pronounced by a population growth that continues unmanaged.  An increasingly arid environment and recent droughts have forced agriculture on the island to a grinding halt.  In response, the growing population has turned to the lake for its food and livelihood, leading to overfishing.  However, amidst all these challenges, the people greet the world every morning with smiles and exuberance.  The children don their brightly colored school uniforms and the women set off for the day’s routine laden with the usual assortments of odds and ends balanced precariously upon their heads.

Our Living Room
Our Living Room.

Our stay here has provided us a glimpse into the Kenyan village life.  We were equally surprised and excited to learn that we would have our own two bedroom hut to ourselves for the duration of our stay.  Our house, like the majority of those found on the island, is made up of packed mud around a wooden lattice (their rebar) upon a concrete foundation and boasting a tin roof (providing a relaxing ambiance of acoustics during rainy evenings).  The building also, like most others on the island, does not have electricity and depends upon water carried up from the lake or, if you are lucky, a large tank to capture runoff from your roof during the rains.  Domesticated animals are commonplace here, goats, chickens, donkeys and cows seem to roam free yet somehow the locals always know whose is whose.  Bird watchers would be in their element on the island, as birds of prey are prolific; always circling the skies above ready to dive upon unsuspecting chicks that abound around the buildings and between the bushes. 

Our Bedroom
Our bedroom (and laundry)

Many of the daily routines here for the locals are similar to those in the United States; however, they are often done in a different manner.  Cooking for example is most often done here outside over a wood burning fire (or if you are lucky Charcoal).  Kenyan traditional dishes are made most often here, we eat ugali at nearly every meal (a thick paste of maize meal similar to polenta) and Sakuma-Wali (shredded Kale) alongside some type of meat (most often fish here on the island), boiled potatoes, or boiled green bananas. All meals are eaten with our hands by breaking off some ugali, mashing it into a spoon like form and scooping up the other foods.  This actually seems to promote good sanitary practices as Kenyans are oft to wash their hands both before and after every meal.  Water for hand washing is heated over the fire and brought in a pitcher where we take turns pouring it over each other’s hands.  After eating, dishes are piled up into a plastic basin and carried African style on top of the head down to the lake for washing.

Local Children
Some of the local kids playing around our hut.

Sweeping is done with a hand broom, which is little more than a collection of reeds, usually about two feet long, lashed together on one end to form the handle.  Most don’t have dustpans but just sweep out the front door.  It is not uncommon to see people sweeping the dirt around their houses, at first this seemed odd to us but we soon realized, if not done the goat poop builds up in large quantities. 

Cooking Lunch
Preparing lunch for the students.

Toilets here are reminiscent of the 19th century American West, built in outhouses set a distance away from homes, walled and roofed with tin on top of a concrete foundation that covers a deep hole in the ground.  Decent ones have the cement built up to resemble a Turkish toilet and are actually pretty nice, not to mention exciting if you are in one during a thunderstorm. 

Serving Lunch
Serving lunch to Rusinga Students, Today's menu: Corn and Beans!

Showers take place in a similar tin structure some distance away from the house.  A three walled tin alcove has been raised behind our host’s home and we sponge bath from a plastic basin of water.  In Nairobi, we heated this water up, but here in the blazing heat of the day cold water is a refreshing welcome.*

Rusinga Students
Students eating their lunch.

Much of our time here has been spent hiking around the island, or making the several mile trek overland to Mbita to get some power for the computer and use the internet.  We also help out in cooking a large meal everyday for some of Rusinga’s students.  But the majority of our time is given over to reading and writing as we relax under shade during the heat of the day or sitting inside listening to the rains on the roof in the evenings.

Danalynn's New Friends
 Some of Danalynn's new friends.

* Danalynn says that these paragraphs are disjointed and too many random thoughts in one place.  I on the other hand think it flows quite nicely, let me elaborate on the method to my madness. Cooking leads to cleaning, which in turn leads to sweeping, sweeping obviously elicits thoughts of goat poop (the majority of what needed to be swept), and that serves as a nice flow into toilets and after toilet comes shower!  QED  ;)

Hiking around Rusinga
Me, hiking around Rusinga Island.
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