My pal’s mom kicked the bucket two years ago. Her memorial was last Friday at their village, a place called Ugenya which is in Siaya District. For all you who have never been past Limuru, Siaya is in Nyanza. He asked me to attend it. If a good friend asks you to attend his mom’s memorial then it must be important so you drop all your plans for the weekend and hightail there. Prior to this visit I had never been to Siaya before and suffice to say I was keen at making this trip.

But here is something I find extremely hilarious. Every time I tell someone (mostly from Central) that I’m going shags they always smile and say, “Oh, you are going to Kisumu?” That kills me! Most non-Luo always imagine that every Luo comes from Kisumu! It doesn’t matter if you come from the deep bowels of Mbita town or the shorelines of Kaloka beach in the Northern shores of Lake Victoria. They don’t care. If your name starts with an O you are from Kisumu, the rest are details. Do you know how flattering that is? These folks imagine that if all jangs went to shags they would all meet in Kisumu town, nay, city. If you are not from those parts of Kenya please note that not all Luos are from Kisumu because that would be like saying all Kambas come from Machakos. Kisumu is a metropolis just like Nairobi because in deed in Kisumu there are countless ATM machines, countless Casinos, streetlights, small traffic jams (albeit 10meters along), five star hotels and Nakumat. Two of them actually. That counts for something. By the way in 1901, Kisumu, or Port Florence as it was called back then was founded as the main inland terminal of the Ugandan railway. The Luos, endearingly, call it as Kisumo, where “sumo” means a place of barter trade.

The plane touches down at 8.15am on a crisp Thursday morning. When you disembark the heat hits you and you know you are home. It feels right. Something about that air in Kisumu. It blows from the lake, misty with heat. It carries with it the slight musk of the boats offshore, the silvery smell of fish being aired to dry on polyester mats by the loud big butted women at the beaches. It’s a beckoning breeze.

If you cast your eyes to the East of the airport you will see the industrial area climbing up the hill, smoke from factories crawl lazily into the air. Further up you will see the aged Robert Ouko flats named after the man himself; sharp as a whip and felled by a political bullet. It’s at this estate that my pal, Tim, died by hanging himself. A cowardly chap who went to Kisumu to visit his brother only to hang himself because of a woman who I wouldn’t hang my dog over even though she had an ass that would turn a whole church into a choir. Her choir. The grief that his demise brought his poor mother is unfathomable. Amazing that he killed himself because to off oneself over a woman is to say you can’t get another woman which goes against the grain of every maxim of Kisumu, a land of the braggadocio. A land which – although almost tops the list of the poorest region of Kenya – is still is buoyed by a people with an inexplicable pride. There aren’t celebrities in Kisumu because everybody believes they are a celebrity in their own right, an arrogance that is both baffling as it is appealing. But if you were to force them to pick a celebrity then it would have to be Raila, the only person who can bring the town to a standstill. Hell even guys who work in a posho mill will close their shop to go see him, and I hear guys in posho mills don’t close their shops for nobody!

To the West, at the shoreline is Sunset Hotel. Elegant. Prim. But they run it like a bloody kiosk, which is sad. Service is crass and you get the feeling that maintenance is something they have never heard of. I passed by there on Thursday and I asked for a smoothie and this waiter asked me, “Hiyo ni nini? Sijawahi sikia hiyo hapa.”

Further inside to the East, over the hills is Kondele. I bet you are aware of its notoriety. It’s where bad boys live. Look, that guy on Hot 96 who talks like a bad-ass guy – Papa Shaq- should visit Kondele to see who the original bad guys are. Those guys are nasty because they don’t give a shit. They-just- don’t-give-a-t0ss! It’s a rumbling center with bars and shops and stalls and shoe-shiners and hawkers and women selling chapos and beans, and mitumbas, and dust. A smorgasbord of life. And they are loud and brash as only Luos can be.

Thieves are burnt here at the drop of a hat. The choice of music in the bars is Lingala or Zouke. They have never heard of Jimmy Gait there and if you want to be decapitated and your body fed to the fishes in the lake, just request for his songs. The women there are bold and loud and have posteriors that are named at birth. The men are loud and boisterous, strong and dark and tall and they will break your neck like a twig. Scared already? You should. I always tell guys, “You think Grogon is bad with those chicken-necked glue-sniffing riff raffs who speak with a drawl? Try Kondele.” Ever heard of Baghdad boys? They are a vigilante group like Mungiki, only they don’t strip women in jeans. And if they are to strip a woman off her pants it’s purely on a romantic basis. The only thing worse than a guy who has given up in life is a guy with a death wish. Baghdad boys have a death wish. They have nothing to loose. I have heard some gory folklore about them, stuff that make the Goodfellas seem like Tellytubbies.

At the height of the 2007 general elections Kibaki was supposed to pass through Kisumu from western Kenya. His convoy was to pass through Kondele a political hotbed. At that time the jangs were sort of pissed off with him and so they had a plan to barricade the road and do what they do best, pelt Emilio with stones, something like what they did to Kenyatta in the late 70’s when he had gone to officiate the opening of a hospital by the Russians. If you know anything about these guys is that they can hurl a stone that can shatter a bullet proof window. Heat seeking stones. Stones that are sworn to do as much damage that they can. If a well fed guy from Kondele stood at Loita House and you asked him to throw a stone, he would hurl it out and be sure it would hit someone having lunch at Home park hotel next to the Prime minister’s office. Their knack with the stone is a case study going on at some university in Ohio. Anyway as the folklore goes intelligence got wind of this plot to stone and they knew that these guys would not listen to the mayor or the local MP or anybody else for that matter. The only person they would listen to would be Raira because you know he is a demi-god down there. So apparently Raira went over and talked- no pleaded- with them to let mzee pass. Rumor has it that he told them in that famous line, “Jo Kisumo, bed uru mos!” Have that translated by any Luo you know.

If you are in Kisumu you got to eat the fish. It would be an insult to the gods of the lake if you didn’t. Don’t bother going to the big hotels that will serve you fish and chips and charge you VAT. Try the fish down at the lake in those seedy kibandas run by loud women going by names like “Nyar Yala”. But as a word of caution, don’t let those boys at the beach wash your car because they are thieving miscreants who will siphon off your fuel, something that is deeply saddening. I think Njuguna’s and Kamau’s who wash cars in Nairobi should round up these boys and organize a seminar on how not to steal from your customers because it’s the surest way to lose them. The fish there is amazing, and going by the picture below you can tell I enjoyed mine.

Anyway, let me back up a bit to the part where I found myself in the cockpit of Jetlink airline.

They were overbooked and the lady at the desk says “Look, I’m sorry one of you will have to sit in the Jump seat.”

“A what? I’m not seating in no jumping seat lady!” I said.

“Sir, do you know what a Jump seat is?”

“No, and I don’t think I want to find out today.”

I had never heard of that word before Thursday. Now the missus who I was travelling with says that seat sounded uncomfortable and since I’m the man I should take it. Sure, why not, let the man be the martyr. Oh by the way, I mentioned here some time back that most air hostesses nowadays are as plain as day and they have horrid postures. Well not entirely. Jetlink had some pretty good looking airhostesses on this particular flight; tall and shapely. Maybe it was intentional to have them in the Kisumu route lest the Luos ask for their refunds or worse grow cassava on the Kisumu airport runaway in protest.

This Jump seat as it turned out is this foldaway seat in the cockpit. It sits at a precarious ninety degrees and it’s crumbed. Once you sit in this seat, the air hostess closes the compartment behind you, locking you inside with the two pilots. The chief pilot is this sort of aged looking guy, and his first officer is a young lady with a pierced nose. I think it’s a good thing we don’t get to see who flies us because this chick looked how shall I say this, young?

Anyway, I strap myself in and the pilot turns in his chair and grins. “Not the most comfortable seat but the view will make up for it.” I’m not sure if he’s referring to his first pilot. So they start that pre-flight gamut. She reads from a clipboard and says “check” a lot. He touches and flips at knobs and things.

“Excuse me,” I say to which he turns patiently and says with a fatherly smile, “Yes?”

“I’m just wondering, why is this seat called a Jump seat, I hope it won’t jump or anything?”

“Come to think of it, I’m not sure why it’s called a Jump seat.” He turns back and goes back to his switches and things. The plane starts to taxi away on that yellow line.

“Uhm, how do you choose who sits on this Jump seat?” I ask over the slight roar of the engine. He looks at me with that look that says, “I’m trying to get this plane off the ground, if you don’t mind?”. Instead he says, “I look out for someone who isn’t a security

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I sort of laugh at that because he means I’m harmless. I mean there must have been about thirty women and children back in the plane and yet I was the one who didn’t look like a “security risk”? This guy was trying to embarrass me in front of a lady!

“Oh, I’m dangerous all right. I can do things that will terrify you!” I say.

The first pilot giggles.

The plane takes off. He turns in his seat and introduces himself as Chief pilot Charles Mulinge and his first pilot as Joan Ndinda. He has 6,000 hours in his wings to Joan’s 2,200hrs. Joan was formerly with KQ before she jumped ship, or should I say “jumped planes”. Good thing she left because I have nothing but bitter memories of my last KQ flight to the coast. Charles used to be in the airforce flying fighter jets. For a while he was former president Moi’s pilot he informs me. I realize that I’m clearly in the presence of greatness. So I start getting nosy and ask questions and our talk goes something like:

What is this?”

“Please don’t touch that!”

But what is it?

“It’s a brake lever.”

This small thing is a break lever?!


But it’s the size of a corkscrew, how can it stop a plane using only this?

“It just does.”

If people knew this is what you use to stop this big thing, they would not board!

He says nothing.

So if I pulled it up will the plane stop in mid air?

He turns and looks at me keenly with that look that suggest that he has just run into a first class imbecile who is turning out to be more of a security risk than Osama.

“What did you say you do for a living again?”

I’m a journalist.

There is a silence which seems to say, “Good thing none of my kids have chosen that career path!”


“Well what?” he asks.

If I pulled this corkscrew will the plane stops midair?

“Please don’t touch that Mr. Journalist. Keep your hands away.”

There is silence for a bit and I’m getting the feeling that he is ignoring me and regretting having let me in. So I turn to his first pilot.

What speed are we doing now?

“About 350knots”

Those are many knots, no wonder I’m feeling a tight knot in my stomach.

Yeah, maybe.

Can I ask you and embarrassingly personal question?

“Uhm, ye-ah?” she says cautiously

“What is a knot?”

“How is that an embarrassingly personal question?”

Well, it is embarrassing to me as it is personal.

“I don’t see how.”

Well what is a knot, If you don’t know just admit it.

She laughs and shakes her head.

See? You don’t know!

So thus our conversations go.

But seriously Charles and Joan were nothing but stars. They were courteous and helpful and Charles broke protocol for the first time in their history and allowed someone to take pictures of the cockpit and do an interview without clearance from the ground. And for that I’m most grateful.

To Charles and Joan thanks a lot for your time and for the interview and good luck. To Joan, I still think you don’t know what a knot is!

  1. Speaking as a person who lives a stone’s throw from Kondele (which as you have so rightly established could be just about anywhere in Kisumu by our stone-throwing standards ) I can tell you that it both lives up to and defies its reputation as a bad-ass centre. It has some of the toughest thugs around, but that does not stop it from having a booming nightlife with what is said to be the highest number of nightspots per square metre.

    The only time I ever sat on a jump seat , it was situated right at the back of the plane. I guess I did not appear harmless enough !

  2. I was a student in maseno and to be honest those guys whose names start with an “o” can be some arrogant bunch…hurling both stones and insults(esp the ones at the matatu stage,which was one of my least favorite places because the Os here were, i must say, the one’s who didn’t get past the class ‘8’ and so don’t know what it means exactly to respect the species called woman.

  3. 1 knot = 1.852 km/h and approximately 1.151 mph. The abbreviation kn is …or 1 knot = 0.514444444 m / s …. I had to google and learn

    That is a great post.n I have to share with my pals

  4. Dude your just sumthin else.
    A pal of mine once hung himself and i’ve never forgiven him to date so I completely feel you on that one.
    The one time i’ve been to Kondele left me with a permanent scar on my head which means that I now spot an ever-present bald head.

  5. Lol Lolest, people in my office are giving me ‘the look’ they think i’ve lost it!! Did you actually have that conversation? with a straight face?? Keep ’em coming!

  6. Loved it. You are a thorough writer. They don’t make them like they used to. Keep them posts coming. YOU got a fan.

  7. Great post as always…I think suicide is another way of telling God you can’t fire me I quit!

  8. FYI…You are not a journalist…You are a writer! Its much better, original and creative.You had to take a picture of the girl’s lips! Seriously!Hehehe…Great one!

  9. @ Magaribana. So you must feel it.
    @Richcter scale: You were in Maseno!! I have memories there.
    @ TC. I’m taking notes…thanks
    @Chichilla, Alex, Kanyoko, Sunshine, Tedii, Tina, Kitty (really?), Janet: Thanks for your generous comments.
    @Anonymous: You cant really quit on God, can you?
    Red Velvet: What lips? I was taking the shot of the communication thingi! From today, I’m reborn, I’m a writer.

  10. Even you, how can you go to Sunset Hotel (or any other in Kisumu) and ask for a smoothie?! You only ask for those when you’re in Tacos or at Lord Errol (if u can spare a couple of thousand shillings for a glass. hehe). But while in Luo Land pls ask for “Nyuka”, even if you don’t like it coz ur mum used to force it down your throat at 4p.m after you’ve had your nap. Hehe.

    Otherwise, great piece!

  11. p.s. Now I want to go to Kondele… and sit in a jump-seat on the way there. I imagine it would be tres facile for me to get allocated that seat by virtue of being 6’4″ and named ‘Mohamed’…

  12. this piece so made my one of those people who thinks all luos come from good one

  13. refreshing! I miss kisumu, mona ami, and some other ka-old joint where we would go for brunch before trotting our hangied asses to kiboswa to sit in 18 degrees Celsius rooms and listen to some bald mzungu cursing in the name of teaching us on some equipment.

  14. this piece is just the one…..i must admit very well written and researched….kisumu has got a character we love to hate….

  15. Read this on the jam. I CANNOT BELIEVE you were interviewing a pilot as he was doing his thing. Totally hilarious.
    For a moment i thought he was gonna stop the plane mid air n ask for u to switch with someone else..

  16. Haha! Poor Tim, the guy should have taken a ride to octo instead of offing himself!The article is an accurate description of Kisumo and should make a travel Magazine for those willing to explore the land of ‘celebrities’..haha! this is a magnum opus!

  17. Loved itttt!! I think u wanted em to regret puttin u in the jump seat and offer u a new seat. Lol!