Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In my head I knew rats were highly regarded, but …

Continuing with our trip to Mfangano Island, in Lake Victoria, to attend the Suba people’s cultural celebration 

Celebrations lasted all day—longer than we expected—and at six o’clock the sun set, like it always does on the equator, with only a brief lingering dusk. Festivities continued, though, while minute by minute, darkness deepened around us.

It never occurred to us that festivities would last into the night so we didn’t bring flashlights. Of the hundreds of us gathered, only a handful had flashlights—torches, they call them in Africa.

Concluding speeches and honors continued, but I lost all interest. I had only one thought racing through my head: Would a trip after dark to the mainland in a little boat be safe? If not, we’d spend the night on the island. In my head I knew that resident rats were highly regarded on Mfangano Island, but my stomach churned at the thought of sleeping on the ground with them.

I whispered my concerns to Dave, and then to Marvin and Joyce, who had traveled to Mfangano Island before. Marvin had the wisdom, grace, and cultural sensitivity to wait until events ended before asking questions of our hosts. That gave me plenty of time to squirm.

After the last of the talks and presentations, Marvin talked with our friend Naphtali, a Bible translator for his Suba people, who assured us that darkness wouldn’t hinder our boat trip to the mainland. Whew! No sleeping with rats! (Or so I thought.)

A Suba man stepped out of the dark and politely asked us to follow him. He led us down the mountainside—two miles in thick blackness, around corners, through bushes—to the landing strip and our plane.

We loaded our overnight bags, hiked another half mile to the beach in front of the chief’s house, and waited for the boat.

Our Suba friend stood with us in darkness lit only by the moon on the far side of a thick layer of clouds.

“We should hear the outboard motor soon,” Marvin said. We listened, but the night remained silent except for our whispers and the waves that lapped the beach.

We waited.

And waited.

In the faint moonlight, off in the distance we watched a person walk to the edge the beach, strip off clothes, wade out a few feet, and bathe. This provided an interesting diversion, but afterward we remembered our conspicuous lack of a boat.

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a flash of lightning toward the mainland. My heart sank. A storm!

No one else seemed to notice. I hoped that if I didn’t say anything, it wouldn’t be true.

But then I saw another flash, and others saw it too.

The wind whipped up. I pictured our little boat lurching and rolling in a tempest on Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake. Only Lake Superior is bigger. Miles of open water separated the island from the mainland. Even in ideal conditions, such a trip would take an hour and a half. A large oceangoing vessel could handle a storm, but we had only a small hand-hewn boat. My stomach knotted.

I stood on the shore and agonized over our options. Which would be better, to venture out on this huge lake in a lightning storm or spend the night with rats? I didn’t have to think long. I could live with rat-scarred toes, but I’d never survive a capsized boat in a storm.

I wondered—should I say something to Marvin and Joyce? Should I say I’d changed  my mind and wanted to stay on the island after all? (From Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 7)

To be continued.… after I take a week off for special family time. 


  1. Well told! You had me tensing up as I experienced just what you were going through. I can't wait for the rest of the story. I hope you are enjoying your special family time.

    1. Joyful, you probably experienced similar situations when you were in Africa. Now, looking back, this is one of my favorite memories--despite the angst I felt at the time.