Why You Should Tour Kisumu This Year

Kisumu City
Courtesy of Google Images.

There is this perception in Kenya that only the rich (should) take a vacation. And the rich are supposed to be the foreigners from USA, Europe, Asia, name them. A Kenyan himself is only supposed to travel around Kenya when on a specific mission, not for fun. For that reason, it is hard to hear of a Luhya from western Kenya taking a bus or plane trip to Mombasa purely to tour the coastal city. If he happens to be there, it is to look for a job or attend a funeral. Likewise, a typical Kikuyu residing in Central Kenya will hardly visit Kisumu unless the visit involves some business prospects or anything but a vacation. Any Luo who has been to Meru, Eldoret, Kilifi, Turkana or Gatundu did not go there for fun but survival or political reasons.


Kenyans should make traveling across Kenya part of their pastime. Each year should find you more exposed. Classroom education isn’t enough; you also need the first-hand experience that only traveling can afford you. As Chinua Achebe wrote, traveling to England is an education in itself. Touring Kenya shouldn’t be left to the foreigners. The Americans and Europeans come here to see the lions, antelopes, hyenas, zebras, etc., yet many Kenyans have hardly seen these animals up-close. They see them on TV, Facebook, newspapers or books.


Starting this year, you should be travelling to the major cities in Kenya. Now, have you been to Kisumu? How much do you know about Kisumu?


This city on the western side of Kenya lies on the shores of Lake Victoria. The city is impressive enough and is worth your vacation with family or friends. And you are not going to be idle in Kisumu, standing in a corner and watching people walk up and down. It is such thoughts that keep you from travelling to strange places. If you plan your visit well, you will be amazed to discover that there is so much you can do in Kisumu. There are several activities you can engage in to make your visit memorable.


First, you can enjoy boat rides in the lake. Dunga beach is one place you can enjoy boat rides. You can then visit the museum to see what a traditional luo homestead is like. Then you can visit parks to see the wildlife. At night, you can party in one of the lively resorts in Kisumu, dancing to Ohangla, Rhumba or Lingala. For your accommodation needs, Imperial Hotel along Jomo Kenyatta Highway is one of the magnificent hotels at which you can book your stay.


Also, the following facts about Kisumu should make you appreciate the city more:

  1. Easily Accessible


Perhaps what is holding you back from taking a trip to Kisumu is this notion that it is far and hard to reach. Contrary to these assumptions, Kisumu is one of the most accessible places in Kenya. You have many options to choose from. Firstly, many roads connect to Kisumu. If you are in Mombasa or Nairobi, you can travel expressly to Kisumu town by road and within a day. It is only about six hours from Nairobi to Kisumu. Fortunately, the major roads are now in good condition, unlike in the 1990s when they were in pathetic conditions. You are guaranteed a smooth, cheap ride to the lakeside city. Secondly, you can fly directly to Kisumu International Airport from any major city in Kenya. This may be quiet costly, but it is the most convenient means if you are short of time. Kisumu town is a mere stone-throw distance from the airport, so you are right in town as soon as you land. The car taxis are at hand to move you to your hotel. There are also plenty of tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis.


Thirdly, you can also opt to get to Kisumu by train. The scheduled trains are not only cheap but also ideal for viewing the Kenyan landscapes all the way from Mombasa to Kisumu. That is in itself a great vacation. There is so much to see so you better plan to travel at daytime for the night will deny you the opportunity to see those lush forests, rocky hills, arid regions that make up Ukambani among others. Once the ongoing Standard Gauge Railway construction reaches Kisumu, a train journey to Kisumu will be even faster and more comfortable.


Lastly, if you live along Lake Victoria, you can also access Kisumu by water. Many are the people who live near Kisumu city but have not set foot in the city. Many are the fishermen who have spent their lifetime fishing in Lake Victoria on the Homa Bay shores but have not found time to travel to Kisumu city where their fish is sold.

2. The Colonialists Feared Being Poisoned In Kisumu


At the beginning of the 1900s, the Kenya-Uganda railway had just passed the spot that would grow into a shopping centre called Kisumu that would, in turn, grow to become the city we know. The white colonialists, upon learning that Kisumu derived its name from a Swahili word ‘sumu’ which means ‘poison’, were convinced that the place had some poisonous substance about it. They spent much time carrying out tests to ascertain or debunk this claim. However, they were mistaken from the word go; the ‘sumu’ in Ki-sumu had and still has nothing to do with poison. ‘Sumu’ is indeed poison in the Swahili language, but it means something else in the dialect of the Luo tribe that live in and around Kisumu.


‘Sumu’ means ‘support’, ‘aid’, ‘assistance’ in the original Luo language. Now, here is how Kisumu got its name. The town took shape because of the Kenya-Uganda railway that passed through it. There was a railway station at this point, and so naturally it became a business hub where the locals sold goods like fruits to the train passengers to or from Uganda/Mombasa/Nairobi. Soon, it became a settlement. It is one place you could never lack food, being a market. Traders brought grains. So whenever there was a famine or drought in the surrounding villages, some of the villagers would visit their relatives settled in this town to seek grain assistance. So going to this town was mainly about finding aid in the form of grains like maize for sustenance.


The noun ‘sumu’ is rendered ‘suma’ as a verb, which means, ‘assist me with grains’. This word was used strictly at times of famine or drought by victims seeking grains, not anyone else. That’s how unique it is. But like anything else, it soon evolved to include monetary assistance to and so if anyone said, “I am going to visit my town-dwelling brother for Ki-suma” it was understood the aid could also mean money, not just grains. By now, the colonialists had introduced money. The principal place of Ki-sumu gradually became Kisumu, which the railway constructors mistook for a plan being hatched by the Luo community to poison all the colonialists there.

For this reason, the colonialists renamed this lakeside train station as Port Florence. Florence happened to be the wife of the engineer charged with constructing the Kenya-Uganda railway. However, once the misunderstanding of ‘sumu’, ‘kisuma; and poison was solved, the name reverted to Kisumu.


3. Lake Victoria Is Remarkable


Visiting Kisumu will offer you an opportunity to see Lake Victoria. While walking in the streets of Kisumu, you will be able to catch glimpses of the lake shining under the sun. This is a privilege you must not take for granted. Lake Victoria, after all, is the source of the legendary River Nile. Without River Nile, the biblical book of Exodus would have taken a different turn. Egypt will not be Egypt without River Nile. Lake Victoria is again the largest tropical lake in the world. In Africa, it is ranked the largest by surface area.

Fishermen in Lake Victoria.
Courtesy of Google Images.

4. English Is Mother-Tongue in Kisumu

Swahili is the most popular language in East Africa. You would expect it to be the second language in Kisumu. However, the Luo tribe believes Swahili is too ordinary for them. They never bother to learn the Swahili basics, since even illiterate people can still master fluent Swahili. Instead, they have always admired and preferred the Queen’s Language over Swahili. They would rather speak poor English than rich Swahili. An old, half-educated Luo man would insist you address him in English without involving the services of an interpreter, never mind he may not understand or speak much of deep English.


The Luo community has generally held any white-man in high esteem. Anything European is sacred. Any gift like a camera or wristwatch received from a white man is more valuable than money. The money will be used, but the present can be kept forever to preserve the sweet memory that it was received from a white man. The fact that Barack Obama is a Luo has also complicated matters further.


5. Kisumu Is a Peaceful City


Truth be told: the people of Kisumu are easily provoked by insensitive political statements or realignments. Whenever the political temperatures get high, it is hard to know when stones will be gathered in heaps and hurled at buses, buildings or police officers in Kisumu. The tyres will be burnt on the roads before you count 1,2,3. But, that only happens when the Kisumu residents are trying to let off steam. Normally, the Kisumu residents are peace-loving, friendly, warm hosts.


Following the so-called ‘historic handshake’ between president Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Kisumu is enjoying a peace you can only find in heaven. Any visitor is treated like a king. Why not take advantage of this peace and head to Kisumu? Who knows how long this ceasefire will last?

Kisumu City at Peace,
Courtesy of Google.

Parting Shot


Like any other third-world city, Kisumu is home to many poor people. The job opportunities are scarce, and many Kisumu residents have to travel to Nairobi or Mombasa to seek any form of employment. As you walk in Kisumu, be prepared to meet beggars asking for money. But as you will find out, the beggars in Kisumu are so dignified that when they approach you, at first you may think it is them going to offer you something.


You should also avoid isolated areas while in Kisumu. Muggers could attack you. However, the muggers in Kisumu are benevolent; if you cooperate with them by helping them rob you, they will not harm you. So if you are cornered, just shed off your valuables, and you will be handled respectfully.


Remember also to take malaria vaccinations. Learning some Luo language can also guarantee you a warmer reception. ‘Oyawore‘ is ‘Good Morning’. ‘Oimore‘ is ‘Good Evening’. ‘Ching’ kech ahinya’ is ‘the sun is so hot’. Indeed, the sun is so hot in Kisumu, it being just over the equator. If you have enough time after touring Kisumu, you can visit its outskirts to see the major landmarks like Kit  Mikayi, Lwanda Magere shrine, the village home of Barack Obama’s father in Kogelo, among others.

Kit Mikayi,
Courtesy of Google Images.
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