Part one: SAMAKI OVERDOSE
Sipping passion juice at a crowded café, I zone out on the balcony while buses blaze through crowds of people below. Sophisticated assemblies discuss around tables as they inhale chai lattes and slabs of vanilla cake. We are all waiting for traffic to die to get home. I scroll through my inbox messages.
Two workers needed immediately to transport machine from Kampala to Nairobi – Pliz call now - Biggy
I left the noisy café and called the number.
“There is a group of youth banking off a new machine they invented. We need to bring one to Nairobi. Get to Kampala and look for a guy named Mansour. He’s in Najanankumbi” said Biggy on the other end.
Farouk, my long time comrade, was the man for the job. I’ve seen him make miracles too many times to mention. Thankfully he was picking calls.
“I’m in my village building my house, help me here then we go to Kampala. Kuja tukule samaki” Come we eat fish.
That’s how I ended up on the 9:30 night bus to Busia with a bag holding little more than a camera and my notebook. My friend the businessman ‘Biggy’ met me at the bus station. He handed me my ticket and a bag jammed full of Miraa to pump me full of amphetamines during the 8 hour bus ride. I hate sleeping on the bus.
Fortunately Farouk’s place in Western Kenya is on the way to Uganda. Right beside the Ugandan border. Where giant tribes share the infinite body of water called Lake Victoria. Home of young Obama who picked firewood for his grandmother before taking breakfast.
9 hours of Lingala music on the bus later and I was on the back of a motorcycle whipping through dirt roads with Farouk taking me to his village nestled in a thriving valley. His shamba was full of cows, chickens, sheep, dogs all living off the green plants that gush all over the fertile ground. After I got the tour and we sat for tea.
“Farouk I have a job for us”
“Hahaha so wewe ni mtu wa job” Laughed a young guy who was introduced as ‘Roba’. Roba was young but looked like he could rip the arms off anyone. Before I could explain myself, Roba handed me a shovel and we were digging a hole the size of a swimming pool. Now I was to learn how to build a traditional mud house. Farouk’s house.
“Leo unapiga udongo!” Today you build with mud! Mama Farouk cheered to me. The sun was kicking me in the face and my eyes were full of sand. I needed sleep but no, we must build. Then we eat fish.
The next few days were spent carrying wheelbarrows of mud and sand to various places and as we finished one job another appeared, stopping in between to eat fish. Calculating mud to thrash against a wall is a nice feeling. Our hands cramped from carrying heavy chunks but the cool texture was nice to grab. We gave Mama Farouk a new floor in her living room. We were in her good books after that.
We also attended a funeral a few towns over where our friend Biggy had involved Farouk with some business. I stood under a tree as people sang “Niwe nawe Mungu milele” in tearful harmony and I looked around for Roba. Wearing his nicest clothes, there he was ripping shovels of soil into a six-foot hole belonging to someone he had never met in his life. The friends of the deceased were beat from the heat and booze. I joined for a while but Roba filled the entire hole almost singlehandedly.
As much as work was kicking my ass, the village was calm and beautiful and I was thankful to be out of the city. At night Farouk took me around to visit different family and friends who laughed as they unsuccessfully tried to teach me Luo language.
On the way back to his place, a group of kids passed us a bag full of giant black ants with wings. I would see the creatures again the next morning served beside bread and tea (more bugs later on in the story). After I chewed some fried winged ants we were on the bus heading for the Uganda Border. I had totally lost track of time and decided to finally turn my phone on. The following message appeared:
THE MACHINE IS WAITING – MANSOUR