Mwanza: A Huge Lake, Freakishly Large Birds, And A New Friend

I awoke, did one of those looks back and forth where the eyes dart but the head stays put.

New room; new city in Tanzania.

A new city to explore.

And I would do so this day to discover gardens along huge Lake Victoria tended to by locals, tan boulders the size of cars (and trucks) (and buildings…) piled along the coast, an old graveyard of old Germans, a fish market, and then a hike through nearby woods past monkeys eager to eat my food and then up to a cliff overlooking the lake for one of the best views I’d ever have the pleasure to absorb.

I hopped out of the single-sized bed, which necessitated lifting up the fine-mesh mosquito net. I threw on a pair of khakis and a t-shirt. It was a small room–but with a carpeted floor, a dresser, and a closet, it felt as familiar as any in which I might find myself in the U.S. I was batting 2/2 in finding lodging by way of the web community, Couchsurfing. And like Arusha, this was the house of a young couple in Tanzania.

Andrea was a Dutch physician here for a two-year project working on maternal health. She liked to dress in long skirts and sported a headscarf wrapped around her hair. Her boyfriend, Joseph, was a thin, dreadlocked, patchy-bearded Tanzanian Rastafarian. He worked with the runaways and street kids of Mwanza, helping them find accommodation and then with developing a work skill. They weren’t your usual couple, but they seemed a darned good one.

We had tea and bread at their round, wooden dining room table to start the day and then walked out the living room door to their Toyota SUV in the driveway. They were headed to work. But first they’d drop me off to explore Mwanza.

Andrea and Joseph lived about two miles outside the city center along a main road heading out of town. Driving under the blue sky, we passed residential areas, then some businesses, and always lots of other cars. An impressive-looking new mall was under construction to our right. Andrea spoke of it with mixed feelings. There are many reasons one might like/dislike a new development. Here in Tanzania, I’d heard this particular “dislike” before: that such development takes something pure and genuine away from the neighborhood and city. This desire for the authentic went so far as to inspire a friend in Iringa to experience and then admit to me her mixed feelings about my village getting electricity. The artificial lights at night and the noise of radios would detract from the quiet and the natural, she thought.

Looking back at the new mall in Mwanza

Also to our right, just shy of the city ahead, was the reason this city was here at all: Lake Victoria. Past the mall and then through some lakeside trees and shrubbery was a plain of blue glass within this municified bay. Here at the apex of the curved shore’s meeting with the road is where I started my exploration.

***

Andrea and Joseph drove off, and it was just me and Mwanza. Sometimes one feels lonely when in a populated area, not an acquaintance around. But it’s also true that when this solitude occurs in a place so new, far, and different from one’s home–with no attachment or relationships or expectation with anything or anybody around–that a complete detachment and the novelty and wonder and exploration of this new world disallows any negative thoughts.

Positive and ready to absorb, I began.

Between the road and the water was a boulevard of gardens being tended to. At this particular place, I’m guessing were a mom, dad, and their boy. Dad walked to the lake shore to gather buckets of water, Mom watered the sprouting vegetables, and the young boy kept himself entertained as children do.

Father getting water. (See footage from this garden at the bottom of this article.)
View along the coast

I continued, and the gardens went from growing edibles to aesthetics.

Watering a flower gardem

And here is where the city center began.

Past this bright, clean part of town, I entered a section of small stores and a narrowing road. Suddenly a young man approached. He was thin and dressed in white sneakers, blue jeans, and a dark blue-striped plaid short sleeve button-up. He had an even, half-inch head of hair, but also murky eyes and an uncertain expression.

My instincts told me here was a guy looking for a handout or soliciting to be my guide. But this idea was swiftly supplanted by what I took to be a genuine friendliness. And having just experienced the kindness from my buddy, Innocent, back in Arusha, I thought that this young guy might be a similar example. (This sort of thing happened in China, too. Some guys approached to sell you something; others were just interested in getting to spend time with an outsider. I’ll be forthright and admit that I think this was the case because I was Caucasian–and “better” yet, American. I found that while the U.S. has taken a hit in the last decade regarding its moral standing and economic dominance, East Africans largely seemed to yet consider America as the stereotype of good living and the leader of the world.)

His name was Daniel, and he walked beside as I wandered without direction. Daniel would soon suggest one, and remembering my adventure mindset, I took his lead. He asked me about my life, education, and work. In his fluent English, he said he was a studying engineering in Johannesburg, South Africa. He said he had a girlfriend from Sweden–and that they had a daughter. His girlfriend helped him pay for school, he said.

By now even the small stores has disappeared, and we found ourselves along a road headed toward a quiet nook at the edge of another bay. The road ended and a trail began that we took over a dirt mound and into a woodsy area dotted with gravestones. It was an old, not-well-kept cemetery of Tanzanian and German deceased. Tanzania was a German colony 100 years earlier. Their stint into colonization was ended by WWI. But for a few decades, Germany made their presence known and some came here to live and pass on.

A couple of locals used this brushy, graveyard flat as a place to hang out. They were residents in a large city with mindset of villagers. They set up a little shelter, did laundry along the shore, which was just a few more yards ahead, and took a canoe out from this rocky, grassy lake edge to catch a meal.

Turning around, a steep hillside impressed me in its beauty as rocks and green foliage decorated its side.

I was also impressed to see a trail zig-zagging its way to the top and homes right on the hillside like Hobbit’s homes in the Shire.

A small barefoot man in jeans and t-shirt approached to ask if I wanted to pay for a tour. I declined. I did ask him, “Are you worried about rocks falling on your homes?”

“It’s not easy for stones to come down,” said the man as Daniel translated it back to me.

Daniel and barefoot man

We left the way we had entered, went back about as far as we had met, and then took a new direction along the coast in a different part of the bay where I began my day.

Here, the natural was tamed for city living. Land between the sidewalk and the lake was a manicured lawn.

Then, the green lawn was replaced by the activity of fish sales. Along this stretch of shore, white metal coolers opened to reveal their abundance of tilapia. A good dozen of these independent operations sold their catch. (Footage below)

Finally, we approached a place where people cleaned and cooked the fish. And here is where I got my best look at the remarkable birds I had been spotting all morning.

They are called the marabou stork, a freakishly large bird, whose head would approach man’s sternum. So plentiful and tame, they walked about like pedestrians. Only these half-vulture/half-stork-looking homely animals acted as beggars who didn’t bother to ask. I guess that made them thieves.

Daniel told me they were protected, so hurting them was prohibited.

They were a wonder to view. So large and with such strong features, they were a highlight for this morning’s wander along the coast. (See them in action in the footage below as well.)

Later this day would be monkeys and a cliff’s view overlooking the lake that was so beautiful, it would be difficult to put into words. Good thing I took pictures…

***

Now enjoy the clips from this post. (And if you’re enjoying these articles, please share via the social media buttons up top, refer the pieces to a friend, or simply let me know. Comment below or write to me at brandon@theperiphery.com. I’d love to hear from you.)

2 Responses

  1. Bev Klein

    I have never traveled nor have I had the desire to. After reading all of your BLOGS and looking at all of the wonderful pictures, I realize I don’t have to. You are doing it all for me. What great stories and pictures.
    Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.

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