24.12.2016 - 29.12.2016 85 °F
Alright folks, now off the tourist grid a bit.
One of the benefits of being able to travel for an extended amount of time is the ability to take side trips. To hole up and see what you can see outside of the Lonely Planet. I am VERY disappointed in the newest edition of East Africa btw. Maybe go with Roughguide or Frodors...I don't know. I've been told by Travellerspoint that I should stay away from slamming anyone or anything so enough said. Not told personally of course, just as a general blog rule.
That rant aside, Kisumu is nice...lol
I arrived on the 24th to find that my reserved room at Kisumu Guest House was unavailable. Yes, irritating but it happens and the receptionist duly found me another place in what I'm sure was another hostel owned by the same folks. Why not right? Why say you're all booked up when you can just keep taking reservations and then funnel them into one of your other properties.
The new place was Cosy Garden and not too far away. The security is tight to a fault. They are directly across the street from one of Kisumu's slums and they know it. The feel was very stay-inside and the gate guards seemed very reluctant to both open the gate for me to leave and open the gate for me to return. The other staff were very nice though ;-)
On Christmas Eve I found myself a bit upset by this so I stalked out the back gate after dark and went for a beer walk. Not five minutes later I was hailed in the usual fashion; "Hey brother! My Friend! Where are you going?". Okay fine, this is my friend for the night. I was not in the greatest of moods and I was well used to "friends" at this point.
BUT...this guy turned out to be DIxon. I know now that the spelling is wrong and he goes by four names anyway so I'll protect the anonymity for him.
You'd heard a bit on Christmas day about him if you recall.
He never asked me for anything that night. Instead we just talked over a couple beers at a joint he knew and made some plans for Christmas Day. He was to take me to his area of town, the "slums", and show me around. This I gladly accepted. You'll forgive the lack of pictures. This will be a word post only. I was invited by only one man to take his picture with me and snapped a couple of the environment but it's a bit of a faux pas to bring out a camera in these places without express permission and I don't like doing it even with permission. These folks are raw. Proud. And completely aware of what separates them from the other side of the street. If you act like a friend you'll be treated as one. If you act like a tourist looking for a shot to send home you'll be treated as one.
I've told people that the only man to ever buy me a cup of Chai in my three months in India was a man in the Mumbai slums. I have been treated to the greatest hospitality without expectation, the most humble and genuine show of welcome in the poorest places I've been to around the world and this Kisumu ghetto was no exception. He has been overly protective since I met him.
I had actually eaten before I left to meet Dixon. More's the pity. The first stop was Fenny's place with her three children where I was immediately given a plate of stewed beef and pilau. NEVER refuse a plate of food in the slums. Her baby of a few months was sacked out on the couch in her Christmas dress. Never moved once...lol Luckily I had Dixon and a house cat to share my food with. It was a bit odd as Fenny never said a word to me but I assume she was acting on Dixon's behalf.
We moved on with the "tour" and saw the local movie house. A cement-hut furnished with wood benches and a 32" flat-screen showing whatever the neighborhood bootlegger could get ahold of. They even had a makeshift marquee outside of the door with printed movie covers. 20 bob to get in. That's 20 cents. Chinese martial arts movies and Bollywood flicks mostly. One American horror movie about some girl who comes back to take sexual revenge on males...Dixon assured me it was an F-d up movie that I shouldn't miss but I think I'll pass...lol
We took a detour after this to investigate a ruckus happening nearby. This turned out to be a heated dispute between a couple brothers and a friend. Rodger, the plaintiff, was convinced that his brother had been sleeping with his wife and that the friend had been in cahoots. We arrived just after the main event to find Rodger with a bashed up leg, a cracked up lip the size of a quarter, a very admirable gouge on the side of the brother's head (dealt by a rock that Rodger had wielded, still covered in blood on the ground) and lots of bickering. So Dixon turns to me and says "maybe see what you can do about this, he won't listen to me". Oh thanks.
The next half hour was spent talking Rodger down, dodging thrown objects, appealing to his respect for his mama, who was there. Dude was just drunk. He needed to go to sleep. Everyone kept sighing and calling it a bloody Christmas. And oh there was a crowd...lol
At one point the mood lightened considerably when Rodger look at me very seriously and said, "you know what....I'm going to shave him. I'll fucking shave him. I'm going to shave my brother". Incredulously I said "shave him? You're going to....shave your brother...?"
That got everyone laughing. Turns out there's a back story. Rodger used to have very long dreadlocks. Until his brother shaved them off one night while he was passed out. So in all this heated bloody affair the only thing drunken, dejected, pitiful Rodger could come up with is that he's going to FUCKING SHAVE that guy...lol That has been a rolling joke for days now.
The next stop was Mami's place. She brews a local spirit made of sugarcane and lime (Illegally). So she's the pub. She's also the local D.J. as she owns a stereo and a t.v. to play videos on. There was a passed out man on the sofa and she explained that he was her client and it was her responsibility to look after his keys and personal belongings while he was there, pay no mind. She had a wee man on a chair, maybe a year and a half old, that knew most of the songs and clapped and sang along when he could. Very cute. She also had a runner child. The gofer for cigarettes, coke (the cola variety), anything anyone wanted. She was maybe 7. I felt a bit awkward about this and offered to get my own supplies but Mami pointed her cooking knife at me and said "Oh no, you're in MY house now. Sit down." That was not to be argued with.
She fed me again.....oof. More rice, tomatoes, a great and very spicy supplement I forget the name of, and a bit of chicken. We started as three but by the time the food was going around I think the word had gotten out that a Mzungu was in the pub so we were about 12 at this point. Food was shared and spread around. Drinks were poured at my willing expense. We even had an elderly woman there, must have been 80, who could hold her liquor very well. After a drink was bought for her she looked at me dead in the eye and said, "I like you, but I don't love you". Fair enough.
We tore ourselves away to the sounds of many thanks and Merry Christmas's and walked around a bit more. Trash is a big problem here as I've said. Any local rivulet or ditch is filled with it. They burn it when they can. The smell of burning plastic is not rosy. There are signs in many places in the ghetto that read "Do not shit in this area". Cuz it needs to be said.
To give me a taste of opposites Dixon then took us to Dunga Hill where I took the Lake Victoria picture I sent y'all. We met a chairman for the president of Kenya and I addressed the garbage issue with him. He assured me they are working on it and I tried to give some cost effective solutions but really felt I was talking to a politician. Lot's of circular speak.
Christmas ended very well with a great package I've been lugging around from Heidi. The next day my intestines started paying for the excursion. This has lasted till the time of writing and is still worth the events witnessed. Just a bit leaky is all...lol
Dixon is now in Nairobi procuring bails of clothes to resell in Kisumu based on a small investment and a plan to get him out of the slums while helping those around him. He seems to know his shit and I trust him. As I told Heidi, if any journalist got ahold of this guy they'd have a promising Pulitzer. He absolutely hates bananas because he had to carry them as a child for a good few miles on top of his head, after his parents died, to sell at market. He's witnessed two of his friends burned alive for stealing in the slums (the worst offense). He has slept in a tunnel under the street my hostel is on with a good hundred other boys and girls. The tunnel is still active. I was, just tonight, happily and sadly surrounded by 14 street boys (it started as 3) looking to be fed. Yes of course I'm a target white man and they were alive before I got here but what the hell. I was able to take them to a local place and get them all Ugali, rice and chicken for 28 bucks. As I told Joey, try feeding 14 boys for 28 bucks in the states barring Top Ramen...lol
I've received a few hugs in my life but a couple of these boys really clung on. I know it's just for a night and the plight continues tomorrow but screw it. Now is all we have.
I will witness Dixon's first shop going up tomorrow if all goes well and will leave him in to the new business, take a bus for Kampala, and spend New Years in Uganda. Fate willing.
Cheers and thanks for reading. A very happy end to 2016 if I can't be in touch tomorrow. I've reserved a room again so I should be...lol