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A Trip to Remba Island, No dogs, No Spouses, and a Thriving Sex Trade

My journey started off at about half past ten in the morning. I had traveled a day earlier to Mbita
from Kisumu hoping to catch the very first boat to Remba Island. Thanks to an early morning
drizzle on this day, the trip was delayed and finally it was time to board.
Getting into these types of boats, locally known as ndururu or engine boats, requires a very
delicate balancing act. A miss step could send you into the waters, though too shallow to harm
you, except for scooping volumes of the water using your shoes or at worse having your clothes
all wet depending on how you land.
With all luggage carefully balanced at the front and the passengers equally balanced at the rear,
it is time to set off. This balancing act of luggage and passengers is very crucial because in the
event of turbulence due to strong waves, the boat can easily be toppled over from the heavy side
and drown. So if the coxswain asks you to move sitting places, better obey.
As the shores behind us the main land becomes smaller and smaller as we head deep into the
waters, my initial fears (I had evaded this mode of transport twice before this due to fear) fade
off as the rumbling sound of the engine becomes monotonous. I actually get myself comfortable
just as the rest of the passengers appear easy. In fact, one of the passengers positions himself
below the wooden sits to have a nap saying he was very sleepy. Very quickly, he snores away the
rest of the trip.
We are slightly less than 20 people on board including the coxswain and his jalwedo (a helping
hand with whose job is similar to that of a bus conductor). Nora, my colleague who is sitting two
rows from me, turns and says, “You are very lucky today, the gods of Lake Victoria have decided
to “iron” the lake for you”. This is in reference to the unusually calm waters at that time of the
day. With no waves one hour into the journey, this is indeed a very smooth sail and a very
unusual one at that. So we all savor the goodness of the gods, especially for those who have
experienced scary moments with the waves before.
We are heading to Takawiri Island, the first official stop over to drop and pick some passengers.
As we approach, the boat assistant suddenly rises up and begins waving frantically to a group of
people at a place I learn is called Sienja. From the assistant’s non verbal communication and the
group on the shores, looks like there is an agreement as the boat branches to where they are and
three of them hop in. So just like it happens in your usual public service vehicles, these vessels
can stop anywhere on the shores to pick or drop passengers.
Takawiri Island has recently been marketed as a tourist destination. With white sandy shores and
beautiful palm trees dotting its skyline, a few resorts have already been put up and there is
evidence of more investors swimming across from the main land to the Island and her neighbors
to tap into the huge tourism potential offered here.
From the beautiful Takawiri the engine, the engine rumbles over as we head to Sena. Sena is the
main docking place for the expansive Mfang’ano Island. Here, you will also see the water bus and
the ferry dock and leave at different times of the day. “This is a very busy place because of the
population on this Island” the coxswain offers as he switches off the engine, a sign that we will
be spending a little more time here. I have a memory of Sena dating back to the late 90s as a
small boy growing up in Homabay town.
My sister had lost a sister in law and we traveled with the body from Homabay to Mbita. From
Mbita, we were to use these very engine boats and cross over to Mfang’ano for the burial. When
we left Homabay, we had no idea that the second part of the trip would be without the comfort
of the vehicles. So together with my younger brother and a few others, we did not make it to the
burial because we could not get ourselves into those vessels for a few minutes, let alone the
nearly an hour across. Now older and braver, I was here doing three hours!

It is heading to noon, the early morning chill we encountered in Mbita has now been replaced by
a very strong sun shine hitting directly from overhead. We are half way through the journey and
by this time, the initial fears have been replaced by a wave of comfort. In fact I could even afford
to doze a few instances.