Busy port for boat taxis – Kyiindi.

It turns out that riding the boats across Lake Victoria is not that big a deal. Yes, they are big, wooden hulks and not the sleek fiberglass watercraft that ply the lakes in the States. Yes, they often leak a bit if the caulking between the planks is not maintained – ours was fine mostly. Yes, the hardest part is getting in and out without a dock, but, after all, this is the primary mode of transportation on the lake for 150,000 people, so we handled it with the aplomb of 70-year-old musungu missionaries. Typically, in the end, Gail was dry and I was wet to the waist.

We arrived at the lakeside port town of Kyiindi (kee-yin-dee) where the boats are going in and out all the time. It was quite busy when we arrived. Our boat, the one that our local friend Jessy reserved for us, was not yet there, so Alfred and I walked down an alley between buildings and stood at the edge of the water.  The chaotic conglomeration of shops and businesses housed in rough wooden buildings crowd right down to the waterline. We watched for our boat with Jessy sitting in it. You have to see these boats to understand the dynamics of all this – they are 30 feet long, about five feet across at the center, and sit up five to six feet out of the water at the bow. They are powered by outboard motors.

We are here tonight…

The business of the boat taxis to the islands is a matter of finding the one going where you want to go, then scampering aboard either over the bow, which is anchored in the sand at the edge of the water, or being carried out either piggyback on the shoulders of the boatmen, or honeymoon style, both men and women, to be shoved up over the side. Many men at these places get paid a small amount for bringing paying customers so there is a lot of yelling, shoving, and running about each time a boat comes in. They also get a small fee for carrying people and their luggage to the shore. The boat sides sit up easily 3 to 4 feet above the water, so most people can’t climb up from the side, and most are afraid of the water because few of them can swim. So the crowd of potential passengers and workers would dash forward to every boat that landed, trying to reach it first in chaotic competition for the seats and the work of unloading and reloading the passengers.

Finally, Jessy’s boat came into view and landed about twenty yards down from us in between several other boats.  It was, of course, inundated with bedlam until the boatman could make them understand that this was a private boat. When they realized there would be no money here, they rushed off in one cohesive serpentine flow toward another boat that was coming in, leaving us and our small party of four to climb aboard.

Gail was carried out into the water and heaved up over the side, as were the others, a pastor and the bishop and their bags. I, however, would have none of that. One, I outweighed the man doing the carrying. Two, I have been around water and boats to some extent all my life, and I figured I could handle this by myself. I rolled up my pants, waded out along the side of the boat, hoisted myself up and easily sat on the side, swinging my legs over into the boat. Everyone stopped and was looking at this crazy musungu, so I threw my arms up in victory and got some laughs.

Our small amount of luggage and our teaching whiteboard were loaded in, and before we could get away, about five people clambered aboard thinking this was a normal taxi. Finally, we convinced any others that this was a private boat, but those who had gotten on sat ensconced in their seats and weren’t budging. So at the end of the journey, when we had reached Buvuma, the bishop made a point of charging each person for their fare and handed me the funds since I was paying for the boat.

The ride across was uneventful, nice even. I’ve always liked riding in boats. We arrived at Buvuma Island about an hour later and pulled up directly at the beach for the guesthouse we would be staying at in the little “town” of Kitamiru. They easily unloaded all our equipment, and each of the passengers allowed the boatman to carry them through the surf to the small landing site. The water was only about two feet deep. Of course, I knew I could handle this, but they are so used to Ugandans who don’t want to get wet that they came to carry me even though I tried to wave them off. The stout young man who came for me wouldn’t step back to give me space to jump down – I guess he thought the musungu would just end up drowning himself. So finally, I put my hand on his shoulder to use for leverage and slid off the side of the boat. Unfortunately for me, he was standing too close and ended up tipping me over as I landed, so there I went down on all fours. Embarrassed and wet to the waist, I laughingly waded ashore. Next time, if there ever is one, I still don’t think I’ll allow myself to be honeymoon carried to dry land by a lad whom I outweigh by 30 pounds.  It just doesn’t feel seemly…

Gail is carried to dry land at the end of the trip across the water.

The whole episode turned out to be nothing but a pleasant morning on the water. I’m not sure why the locals think this kind of travel is not fitting for musungus. Maybe it’s just older musungus. Gail, for instance, was almost never allowed to carry her own backpack from the guesthouse down the street to the church where we were meeting. One young man, in a horrified voice, as he grabbed her backpack said, “But you are very old!” You can imagine how Gail loved hearing that one.

A good view of our boat. If it looks a bit fuzzy, it’s the drop of water on the lens from me falling into the lake.

The ferry was repaired by mid-week and we made it back to the mainland by Saturday noon (yesterday) after a good week of teaching two classes, one on Christian Leadership and one on God’s Will to 130 students from across many of the local islands. Again, we are awed by the way the people receive these basic Bible truths that they aren’t being taught. It was the right decision to come, which happens a lot when you just pause and ask for Guidance. Strangely, when I was searching the scriptures for insight last week, trying to discern His will about using the boats to come to the island, every scripture I landed on had the word “water” in it. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure He wasn’t talking about me falling down as I got off the boat. He was here ahead of us, and we are on His schedule.

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