The unexpected journey ; Bukoba

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I had a plan of traveling on the first week of October to a yet unknown destination but before that plan there was an on-going plan of traveling to my mother’s home town with my siblings.  It didn’t cross my mind that I would find myself there again without them but with a family that is close to my heart as my own; for their father’s funeral.

Last week has been a week in which an important member of a community and a beloved member of a family was lost. When death, the final journey, knocks the doors and takes our beloved; we think of life, how we live it, our legacy; our own death. I have had much to think of and a fair share of mourning for the current loss and a loss of the past. This is however not going to be a post about deaths and funerals. To get away from the grimness of death, I felt the need to appreciate that I’m living and even though death exists, I’m alive!

My heart begged me to explore the town  in which my mother was born and now a father was buried in. I remember stories she told me, of going out to the lake whose water is as sweet as the bottled water we drunk; of lush green forests; of going out to graze; of rocky hills and rolling down hill. Of this beautiful town that I had long imagined until last two years when I first came to see her home, seven years after her death.


Welcome home:-)

Bukoba is the capital of Kagera Region of Tanzania, situated in the north western corner of the country.  It is an upcoming town with attractive waterside landscape, beside Lake Victoria. (

The last time I went to Bukoba it was by bus from Moshi to Arusha and joined the B3 route via Singida through Babati (does that make any sense?). This time, I went by flight. Whichever way you get to Bukoba,  the scenery is breath taking.

Riding down the dusty Maruku road to the place that would be my home until my return to Kilimanjaro; I enjoyed the passing scenery of banana plantations, pine forests, rocks  and Kyamnene river as it flowed under the bridge that separated Bukoba town from Bukoba village. During the ride I decided that I would take a hike from or to town before I leave so that I could get a closer look of this beautiful landscape (cliche? I need to expand my vocabulary >_<)
The following day, after escorting a friend to the airport, my 16km hike begun. I was just a few meters off the airport grounds when I spotted an open field overlooking lake Victoria  which hypnotically through the rhythm of its waves drew me in.

Lake Victoria

Kanoni river entering Lake Victoria.

With a surface area of 68,800 square kilometres (26,600 sq mi), Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area, and it is the largest tropical lake in the world. Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest freshwater lake by surface area; only Lake Superior in North America is larger. In terms of its volume, Lake Victoria is the world’s ninth largest continental lake, and it contains about 2,750 cubic kilometers (2.2 billion acre-feet) of water. (

It’s beach looks almost like the beaches of the red sea and the Indian ocean which I’m very familiar with having purposefully or accidentally drunk their waters and having my eyes stung by the rich salt while swimming. At first sight; the waves hitting the white sand, oyster shells on the shore and seagulls reminded me of the two;  but no seaweeds, crubs or the strong fishy smell which was a welcomed difference.

I moved in to greet the water and dipped my finger to taste it; even though I knew this was a fresh water lake, for a moment I was bewildered with it’s saltlessness. I dipped again and again until my brain accepted the perceived paradox- a water that looks like the ocean and sea but tastes like bottled water.

I then found my eyes fixated on a nearby island and minutes later I saw a man setting his boat ready to set off to it. Without second thought and despite every fear from my rapidly beating heart, I asked him to take me along. For 3000 Tshs I had a deal.

Msila island:

Approaching Msila settlements.

There are a number of islands on lake Victoria but Msila was the closest inhabited island, 1 hour of prayers away; on a man powered  boat.

Athumani Abdu’s boat was leaking, the sky was clouded and the waves hit the boat hard, creating a roller coaster like ride (hence the prayers). On more than one occasion it got me thinking that I was going to drown and meet my end. I had to constantly draw water from the boat with a cut jerry can. Every now and then my eyes wandered off for possible help while my mind was busy creating a mental plan of what to hold on to should we meet a Titanic end (without hitting an iceberg of course). To my relief we reached shore in about an hour.

The houses in Msila are not sophisticated, some look like patches of wood put together just well enough to keep off the sun, wind and rain. It is a permanent settlement for a few families but majority of its settlers are temporary fishermen. It’s people are welcoming, kind and courteous.
I went around the small rocky yet fertile land and thought of how man has found a home in every part of earth that can support his lifestyle. In the end of a self imposed tour (for some reason, Athumani decided yo take me around the settlement) I was offered a ride back to the main land; this time on a motorized boat which  would’ve cost me 1000 Tshs.

The ride to the island reminded me of a force that is powerful beyond measure, the presence of God; the Protector, the Giver and Taker of life and the Owner of time. As much as some would like to believe that the earth is a big bang incidence, it just can’t be; it’s too complex to be incidental. How can this island on a lake and the lake itself with its contents and powerful waves be incidental when even a pencil needs a creator?!

Walking down the road to Maruku:

Down Maruku road, the bridge over Kamnene river.

After my spur of the moment diversion I continued to walk on, guided by navigator and Google maps. Minus lake Victoria, Bukoba is a fertile rocky highland just like Kilimanjaro. Walking down Maruku road, I felt like a stranger discovering new far away lands, ‘Columbish’.

The villagers speak a familiar language which I can hardly understand, Kihaya; they stop to look at a coming guests and readily start a conversation with passer-bys. Unlike Swahili greetings; they greet men and women differently, paspota and maspota respectively followed by general courtesy of how are yous (wabonaki?).

Passing through tall pines, eucalyptuses  and trees whose names I do not know; looking down the plains where cows and goats grazed; laboring up hill; I felt like an orphan girl I read about on a novel, ‘Heidi’. I could imagine my mother walking in her village going about her chores; excited; anxious; dreaming. She may have wondered as I did whether she’ll ever have kids and if they would see the beauty of her hometown.

My mother’s home.

Kids playing otuside what used to be my mother’s home in Kashambya.

My mother grew up in Kashambya, Gera in Kiziba which is not different from Maruku. With all the development of infrastructure going on; the increasing numbers of man made forests; deaths and births; it must be very different now than it was way back then but I’m certain that at least the rocks I saw are the same- these are the constants through time but they are tearing them down to gravel for construction which worries me! I wish there was a way to stop the destruction but can we really get in the way of the wave of change that is slowly but gradually embracing us?

Words are not enough:

How I wish that I could describe my feelings about this town, I can’t! Words are simply not enough.

Even when we don’t know it, every journey has a purpose, a reason, a lesson to be learnt. This journey has been about appreciating life, remembering death, friendship and finding my way home.

I hope that where I lack in words; through pictures, I can transport you there and awaken in you the spirit to go back to your roots; to find or revisit your ancestral home and to appreciate the beautiful creation that earth is:-)



  1. Christina Sintala · · Reply

    Wow Fatma, that was great. You have reminded me the time I travelled to Bukoba on official duty way back around 1985/86. It was my first time and may be my last one. But it was great.

    1. I was an infant but I must have traveled at around the same time with my parents. I think they were taking me to the grandparents:-)) Do you have pictures of how it looked back then? It would be nice if you can share them:-)

  2. Have never read a blog about my ‘mama land’ before. Good read!

    1. Thank you for reading Levy 😀

    2. Thanks Lev.
      You are much appreciated.

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