Mbita Point; I plead with you

BY KENYATTA OTIENO Luos have a shortened one-word phrase, ‘asayi’, which loosely translates to – I beg or I plead with you to let me go back home – in full. It is usually used as a postfix after the name of a place to connote a goodness that makes visitors feel like staying longer and longer. More like the Mombasa tagline of kuingia harusi, kutoka matanga I have heard the phrase used to describe two townships, Muhoroni in the Kisumu sugar belt and Mbita, the headquarters of Suba Sub County. Mbita is the Luo word for a headland. I come from the tip of the peninsula in Southern Siaya. For many years we were more close to Mbita across the gulf than Bondo or Siaya due to bad roads. Then Raphael Tuju happened and Rarieda got good roads and a private investor brought a ferry across the gulf from Lwanda K’otieno to Mbita. Now Mbita is nearer to Kisumu through Bondo than Homa Bay. I have relatives across the lake so every time I am home I enjoy boarding an outboard motor boat (not the ferry) to Mbita. The late benga musician Okatch Biggy immortalized Mbita as an entertainment hub full of beautiful ladies in his song in praise of a daughter of Rusinga Island- Helena Wang’e Dongo. Whenever fishermen wanted to refresh their tired bones, Mbita was the point of convergence. From Sindo, Olambwe Valley, Kamasengre in Rusinga and even as far as the islands of Mfang’ano, Remba and Ringiti. Suba is also home to beautiful ladies; now you know why men would go on their knees to plead with Mbita. Recently I made the trip to Rusinga to burry a relative. Over the years Mbita has changed from a backwater urban centre it was a few years ago. It boasts of major banks, an Immigration Department and Kenya Revenue Authority offices. The ferry services recently introduced another vessel to the Mbita-Mfang’ano route. The forty kilometre Mbita – Homa Bay Road is now tarmacked; it now takes forty five minutes, a journey that took up to three hours in the past. The causeway that was built in the 1980s to connect mainland Mbita to Rusinga Island is being demolished to pave way for a bridge. Environmentalists recommended that the causeway be demolished as it was interfering with the ecosystem in the Winam Gulf by blocking underwater currents. This has led to low fish stocks in the gulf prompting a rush to places like Migingo, which were once uninhabited, in search of fish. Today many hotels have come up making Mbita one of the must-visit-spots in the Western Kenya Tourist Circuit. The southern shoreline from Mbita towards Sindo has white inviting sandy beaches. From the days of one good hotel called Jonah Hotel, today there are several including Mbita Safari Club and Blue Ridge across in Rusinga where you also find Wayando Eco Camp. There are three five-start lodges one each on Rusinga, Mfang’ano and Takawiri Islands. These are the three Suba well kept secretes. These new developments have not washed away the asayi factor from Mbita. The town is a beehive of activities as I land and begin to look around for a motorbike to take me to Kaswanga – Rusinga West. Rusinga Island has a ring road that runs around the island about one kilometre from the shores of the lake. IMG_0786The ride on the rough road is still bumpy but the road has improved since the last time I used it. I take the corner at Wanyama then roll into Kaswanga. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The sloping land with Ligongo Hill in the background faces a bay like front of an open lake that extends into Uganda. The sunset is tantalizing and a marvel to watch. Further down to the south from Kaswanga is Kamasengre, the home of independence icon Tom Mboya. The bullet head shaped roof of Tom Mboya’a Mausoleum is a must visit when you land in Mbita. It is separated from Rusinga Island Lodge by an airstrip. After the burial, I leave Kaswanga through the road that goes up the Ligongo Hill. It is my first time to use this road. What looks like one long range with a high peak is actually a series of hills. The road meanders up the hills until we turn left to take a descent and I ask the driver to stop. Ngodhe Island is a sight to behold. It stands like a docked ship in the armpit-like angular bay North West of Rusinga Island that is shielded to the east by a cape like Lianda headland that shoots from Rusinga into the lake to the north. Thanks to my phone I managed to capture the scenic view of Ngodhe Island. We go downhill to Nyamuga and off to Nyagina Market, I alight and let my cousins proceed to Nairobi. I still had to take some time to plead with Mbita before going across the gulf. I take the southern road that goes to Kamasengre to visit Father Robert Sewe at St. Joseph’s Girls School – Kakrigu. This is a man who knows Rusinga and the people well. He tells me how every month he must make a trip by boat to Ngodhe Island to conduct mass. I spend some time with him and he drops me at Nyagina as he has to go back to Kamasengre for pastoral visits. At Nyagina, a fish-landing site, I meet up with my old friends for a brief catch up on the state of affairs in Mbita. After inquiring about the local politics I come to learn that fish stocks are dwindling and the area economy has been affected. They are going strong though, fishing and engaging in small-scale businesses. At around 4:00pm, I make my way to Mbita, walking briskly across the causeway that a Chinese Contractor is crushing bit by bit to make way for the bridge. I go past the Immigration Department and take a left turn after Equity Bank. I walk into a tree covered landing bay for boats near the ferry pier. There is a speedboat that is almost full and I opt to board it rather than wait for the ferry that is docking then wait to leave at 5PM. The boat takes about ten minutes to cross the gulf while the ferry takes about fifty minutes. In about fifteen minutes I land at the peninsula a happy man, knowing very well that I cannot resist the allure of Suba land any time I find myself down at the peninsula.

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