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December 9, 2010 / Dan Whipple



Kisumu from the fifth floor of the Imperial Hotel

Kisumu is Kenya’s third largest city, located on the shores Lake Victoria, the legendary headwaters of the Nile. When I arrived on Sunday, the place was buzzing with a vast market with hundreds of people selling fresh vegetables, second-hand clothing, shoes, watches, personal hygiene supplies. One of the tables was selling small cylinders of Q-tips, the only place in Africa I’ve been able to find these necessities. They were priced a 15 Kenya shillings (about 18 cents) but I didn’t have any coins or small bills. The paranoia induced by Nairobi life—unsmilingly called Nairobbery by some expats—made me reluctant to pull out big bills to pay for it in the rush of humanity. Besides the boy running the stall didn’t look like he’d have that much change anyway.

But this bustle of humanity was much more what I’d expected to find in Africa. There are a few conventional taxis, but most of the public transit is careering matatus, motorbikes, and bicycles with padded seats behind the pedaler for trips of various lengths.

Kisumu doesn’t seem very interested in Lake Victoria, there being little to entice a visitor to its shores. The lake near Kisumu is choked with water hyacinth, vast islands of the stuff.

The city is proud of its tilapia, a fish that is taken in vast profusion out of the lake, to the extent that we were warned several times by environmental activists that the current catch levels are unsustainable. Uganda, which shares the lake, is apparently doing a better management job on its side. We were urged to try it, though, so we did. It was excellent.

Market stalls, Kisumu

Market stalls, Kisumu


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