There are quite a few hills in Kisumu, but the hill you want to be on if you ever find yourself in Kisumu is Dunga Hill Camp. It is past Impala Park, past Hippo Point, past Kiboko Bay, past the many villages of Dunga, before you get off the rutty road you’re on and turn into a modest grassy parking lot that was once a swamp (now reclaimed). You will look up and see this looming hill with all these guys in stunners, dressed in an array of Kentes, those leso print pants and head wraps, lounging on plastic seats looking as privileged as anyone would want to look. Music greets you.
And as you wedge your car into the parking, you become distinctly aware that as the sun sets behind the hills of Bondo beyond, the yuppie culture rises in Kisumu.
I’m writing this from this hill that has now been made famous by the hordes of new-money coming here because “walls curtail their chi.” That whole Zen fever has bitten Kisumu. I’m with Myra Anubi, radio presenter and Dave Ngiri, a producer with the new 102.5 Urban Radio, the newest freshest hippest radio station in Kisumu, which basically means most of their presenters wear accents on their sleeves. Edward Kwach – formerly Nation, wait, Easy, wait, Nation FM – and the uber fresh Grace Makosewe (you remember her from Capital FM) all now work at Urban Radio. While we were tweeting, guys were moving counties.
I’m writing this from Dave’s MacBook, a poor abused laptop with about three million fingerprints on its screen. Dave’s laptop smells of human touch. The very fact that there is a MacBook on a table in a bar out here, itself underscores the yuppiness of this place.
Wait, the very effervescent Makosewe has just joined us with about four of Urban Radio’s presenters and producers. Also pulling a chair next to Makosewe is her scratchy voice, which now orders a shisha.
Yes, shisha is now in Kisumu. Came in with the evening flight on Jambo Jet. They jokingly call it “sisa” here, a form of self-deprecation. Before me are pockets of revelers, sitting in groups drinking, yakking, wearing trendy garb; tights, sundresses, vests and Ray Bans. A little Monaco-wanna-be with boats, not yachts, bobbing on the lake down the hill.
Before me, scattered under the two large acacia trees, is a group of odieros, NGO embassy types swigging beer from the bottle. There is a chap seated cuddling a guitar, strumming a mournful tune that drifts reluctantly out into the lake. Talking of which, the view is unbeatable. The hill looks over this spectacular view of the lake and of Kisumu’s skyline. Across the lake, planes take off from the airport, thrusting through the sky defiantly and eagerly like steel on Viagra.
On Friday night an Orutu band comes on. Satos is Guitar Acoustic night where some chap hoists himself on a high stool and strums something. Women gush.
The sun sets. Heads turn to look at her. All heads. You thought only people in the Tsavo appreciate sunset? Go to Kisumu, the way everybody looks at this sunset you’d think her departure would leave them with the answers to life’s more complex conundrums. You haven’t seen anything phony until you see a crowd of jangos intently staring at the sun set, sighing and moaning and raising their iPhones to capture this moment.
Darkness means mosquitoes. Mosquitoes mean the management passes around mosquito repellant, which patrons rub on their well-fed necks. Darkness means if you cast your gaze north across the lake, you will see the lights from Kisumu Airport…I apologize, Kisumu International Airport, reflecting on the lake. It’s breathtaking to be honest.
A projector will go up at some point and they will beam Argentina vs Iran. In between they will play Bad Girl by Jesse Jagz and Wizkid. Guys will mingle. Some will attempt to dance. At some point before the sun went down, hippos wandered to the shore and a few guys went to the end of the hill to “aah” and “ooh”, the rest stayed put. I think staring at hippos is like staring at cellulite. Lights wound around an acacia light up the tree at darkness. A chandelier under the sky. Gorgeous.
Here, under this starlit sky are bankers, lawyers, humanitarian workers and NGO types who now call Kisumu home. Here folk are different from us, because they have stopped believing that you have to live and work in Nairobi to be complete. They, like Makosewe, are creating their happiness here, under the acacia with the hippos and the skyline of this small
lakeside town. And while they imbibe their drinks and listen to their music and take in this phenomenal vista, they don’t have to worry about the traffic jam that might await them after this, or all the other things we fuss about in Nairobi.
I ran into this guy I was with in high school and hadn’t seen since (that’s almost 20yrs ago). He was with his wife and two sons. He moved to Kisumu and works for Commercial Bank of Africa. I asked him how it is to work in Kisumu and he said, “I wake up at 8am. I’m at my desk at 8.30am,” then with a grin, “plus there are no bombs here.”
A hippo yawns somewhere in the darkness below. But not at my old boy’s statement. I hope.