She lives on the island of Juma a 2 hour boat ride from Mwanza town.
Mussa’s mother died shortly after his birth at home, unable to get to a hospital in time. His dad is around and as involved as he can be but he works as a fisherman and has not been netting much recently.
The family had been asking for food parcels as their income is very low but really need a business setting up. The trouble, I found out, was that neither Hassan nor Anna in the Outreach Team can swim and both were frightened of making the journey across the water in a small boat. I am happy to make the journey but my Kiswahili is not good enough to negotiate a business plan when I get the other side!
First, swimming lessons for the Outreach Team. Or rather, floating lessons as it is more useful for them to be able to just stay calm if they end up in the water and float until I can drag them back to the boat or until another boat passes by to rescue us.
After much faffing and procrastinating, I forced them in to the pool and…..after a little while….they loved it!
So, finally this week we set off on our Outreach Adventure ….not before finding out that there probably was not a boat back and the island is not safe for ‘outsiders’ especially wazungu (Westerners) so if we stayed the night we would have to sleep at the house of the island policeman!!
The boat was due to set off between 9 and 11 am , so obviously that ended up being about 11.30am. When we got to the port area, I thought the boat did not look too bad, big with padded seats and a roof until Hassan pointed out our boat was the one next to it – a large fishing boat full of supplies for the islands. “Are the seats under that bamboo?” I cheerily asked.
No. It turned out we (and the other five passengers) were to spend the 2 hourss lying head to toe in the bottom of the boat, trying to pad ourselves with jumpers and kangas against the wooden struts, with at least the bamboo for protection against the sun (picture taken before the journey started when still optimistic!)
As we set off in to the lake, the water started lapping just below the edge of the boat. In our usual style, we attempted to cheer our fellow passengers with our usual repertoire of singalong tunes from Abba to Bieber. I drew the line at Celine Dion’s theme tune from Titanic though.
At one point the engine stopped and thinking we’d arrived I poked my head above the parapet to find us floating and swaying wildly in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately they’d just run out of petrol so shakily slopped some more in from their petrol can and we set off again.
The boat drew up to the island – well, about 20 feet offshore in solid black water. The inhabitants, it has to be said not looking that friendly, gathered on the shore to watch us. Anna refused to disembark until a sturdy young man waded out to give her a piggyback. I feared subjecting him to hefting me to shore might be too much so I waded through the black water and, ignoring the stares, did my cheery Lady Shat-Beazel greetings in their local language of Sukuma and marched on up the beach, hoping I was heading in the right direction.
Bibi and Babu Mussa Mussa’s grandparents were at home and greeted us warmly and their neighbour set to making the dreaded ugali (warm playdough) for lunch.
Mussa’s father wanted to stay fishing but we were trying to find an additional income for the grandmother to keep food on the table for all 4 of the children.
Bibi was keen to sell ground mahindi (maize) as this is a staple food out there and only one other person on the small island was selling it. She would need to take a boat to the mainland, buy and grind the maize and transport it back so, after a bit of testing of her basic maths skills and knowledge of storing the maize and weighing equipment safely, we gave her some money to buy the items the next day.
Checking the times of the boats back, it then transpired it was either 20 minutes from the other side of the island or midnight! So we chose to jog over the hill to the other side of the little island. Tanzanian time was in force so eventually we all dozed off on the sand until a shout from a small boy alerted us to the arrival of the boat.
This was an impressively bigger looking boat, albeit rammed with people in lifejackets, looking a little like they’d already been rescued from a previous naval disaster, and crates and crates of fresh caught fish and tomatoes being shipped to the mainland for sale.
There followed a marginally more comfortable return journey, albeit with rather choppy water slopping over the top of the sides and a continuous bailing out of water going on behind me!
Less singing but bought some amazing fresh tilapia and took it to the giant frying pans behind the port to be cooked for dinner! And then, an early night!