Settled In


Mfangano! It’s everything I hoped it would be. Right now I am sitting in my private little house with a ridiculous view over Lake Victoria staring at the Kenyan mainland. It’s wedged onto a hill underneath the mountain surrounded by other little houses that are all owned by people in one big family. I arrived here yesterday, after flying into Nairobi at 3:30am, and catching a flight to Kisumu at 6:30, I was in the parking lot of the airport by 7:30am.

I have to say, I was really dropped straight into the heart of Africa. There was no big city entrance where you get that kind of diluted viewpoint of what a new area is like. From the airport I grabbed a cab and pulled out onto the street, which was lined with workers tilling fields, women carrying buckets of water on their heads, and dozens of bicycles rolling by. This was exactly what I had imagined Africa would be like. The cab took me to the center of Kisumu, which is a hectic, bustling little city, and he dropped me at a mutate station where I caught a ride to Luanda. I had to pay for two seats because my stuff took up so much space, but even paying for two, the hour long journey was a lot cheaper than the cab ride.

The mutatu’s are like minibuses that stop everywhere. Every town we passed it would pull over, a young man would hang out the side screaming where it was going and the driver would mercilessly pound on the horn. All of the Mutatu’s have names displayed across the windshields and sides like “Silent Killer” “Tupac” “Sweet Baby” and the like. I had been awake for over 30 hours at this point and was half falling asleep, but kept waking up when I started to fall over onto the guy next to me. I began talking with him, and told him I was going to Mfangano to teach about bicycles, and he said that he was going to Mbita and could help guide me. Mbita is another island that the boats stop at before moving on to Mfangano.

Everyone was very helpful with my bags and it was almost awkward trying to carry my own because everyone wanted to help me. Most of them asked for nothing, but one guy asked for a soda so I bought him one. When we got to the ferry it was just a long wooden canoe with a motor attached. I put my bags in and sat down. I watched as another guy loaded a motorcycle in, as well as a bicycle, and the boat quickly filled up with people and took off. I knew it was going to be warm, weather reports I had checked said it was going to be in the low 80’s in Nairobi and Kisumu, but with all of the traveling my sun screen was still packed way down in one of my bags. At some point on the two hour long journey between the mainland, mbita and mfangano, I gave up on holding a newspaper over my head and ended up with a pretty bad sunburn. Nothing that doesn’t happen to me on the first beach day of every summer I guess, I should be good in a couple days.

So, the boat made it’s first stop on Mfangano, and although I hadn’t even called them yet, Tillen, the manager at the bicycle shop, was there to meet me. He told me to get off and that we’d pick my bags up at the next stop, but it would be better to take a motorbike to Kitawi Beach, where the Ekialo Kiona center is. So the three of us, Tillen, the driver, and myself, took a motorbike on the bumpy dirt road a few km across the island. I checked out the center, which is set in a beautiful location, and walked back to TIllen’s house where he showed me where I’d be staying and helped me settle in. Tillen is my “host” and guide, and basically just takes care of everything that I need. He’s been super helpful and I’d pretty much be lost without him.

Once I unpacked I realized that I’d lost something pretty important, a bag of cables. Luckily I have my solar charger thanks to my friend Allison, so I’m able to charge my cameras and phone and everything. The only things I’m really missing a lot are the cables for my microphones and my remote shutter for the camera. WIthout these things I basically can’t get decent sound out of my camera, and I can’t shoot time-lapse photography. There is a media center on the island, so I am hoping they have some stuff I can use, if not, I will have to look into getting some things from Kisumu or Nairobi. Either way, I can’t do a lot of film making without sound, so I need to figure it out. I’ve taken a few pictures and a little bit of video, but these first two days I’ve just been trying to settle in. I also realized that one of my panniers has a hole worn straight through it. my bag must have been dragged a lot and wore through the canvas and straight through to the pannier. So much for water proof! Good thing I have duct tape.


The view from my private hut

My hut looking up toward the mountain






Life on the island is like nothing I have experienced before. It’s a completely different world. The small village I am staying in has only steep, rocky footpaths to travel on, the families all eat together, and life is generally quite simple. They go to bed when the sun goes down, and wake when it rises. The farms are amazing, and we’re eating mostly food that the family has grown, or that has been grown locally and sold at the markets. The children are super nice and very curious. Tillen’s brother Mark lives in the house next to me, and he has a son George who is 12. George has been around the last two days and when Tillen leaves he comes over and shows me around. We played cards tonight and he beat me at Go Fish. I also put my bike together and rode it into Sena, which is the sort of “downtown” of Mfangano. There’s a series of shacks built out of large sticks and tin that are everything from photocopying stores to electronic stores to barbers and grocers. I bought some water, toilet paper, sandals, fruit, a cell phone and had my face shaved. I spent just over 20 bucks.

Steve, George and Matz


And yes, I said cell phone. It will be good to have while traveling, and I feel a bit more connected now. I’ve been talking with Tillen about the bicycle shop, and what my role will look like. Over the next four weeks I have seven students, who have been through one basic training course. I guess some woman from Zambia came and trained them for two weeks, one of the weeks was almost all classroom stuff. There aren’t many bikes that haven’t been fixed yet, but I’m hoping that I can train these seven people to the point where they can be helpful when the next container arrives, which should be the end of February or early March. I’m very excited to start class and begin working on bikes again, I think it will make life here a bit more familiar.

I have to say, laying in bed my first night, it was a little hard to swallow the fact that I’d be here in Africa for the next two months. I was missing Caroline, my traveling partner, and all the familiarities of home and even the middle east, with it’s hotels and restaurants etc. It was a bit daunting being alone in such a completely new place. But now that I’m onto my third day, I feel completely comfortable, and am really looking forward to the short amount of time that I have here.


Tillen, Michelle, Steve, and another boy


One thought on “Settled In

  1. Hi Derek,

    Rob McElman here. I worked with your Dad for years at Thorsen and see him each week at NEW. We go back a long time. Back when you were just a very young boy. Your Dad has always kept me updated with your progress in life. This I have to say is an amazing jurney for you and I have been wathching it ever sence your Dad sent me the link and video before the holidays. He is very proud of you and he should be. Travel safe! I’ll be watching. If you need some cables UPS let us know…although it doesnt look klike the BIG BROWN TRUCK rolls through there.


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