It has been a couple of years since I boarded a Mwanza-bound Modern Coast Express bus from Nairobi but I remember every little detail of that voyage vividly. It was a long journey but the business class seat I occupied made my long frame comfortable.
While in Mwanza, I stayed at Crossways Guest House following recommendations from a friend who is familiar with the city. Kevin, the receptionist who also doubles as the guest house manager is always glued to the television watching replays of English Premier League games. This gloomy fella answers questions while watching TV and treats guests like they are a distraction to soccer.
There are many guest houses in Mwanza. Approximately, three out of ten houses in middle-class residential areas are guest houses. It seems like owning a guest house is a lucrative business in this town.
Unlike other lodging facilities which normally host visitors from out of town or abroad, Crossways and many other affordable guest houses in Mwanza are frequented by Mwanza dwellers. Rooms are mostly used by inhabitants of the city for extramarital affairs. On a good day, one room can be used by multiple guests.
There is a Bible in every room placed on a table near the bed but I doubt if those promiscuous Crossways’ regulars have time to read the word of God while in those rooms. I did not touch the one kept in my room either and therefore, I should remove the beam from my own eye in order to be able to see the speck in my brother’s eye.
You have probably visited Mwanza before and stayed in a 5 star hotel while attending a high level conference and interacting with delegates from different countries. Unlike you, I stayed in a middle class neighborhood and experienced the day to day life of an ordinary citizen. I bought a tooth brush from a small kiosk across the street and rode a bodaboda to the market. I observed things you missed when you were discussing issues relating to climate change and conservation of Lake Victoria with Swedish donors.
Apart from guest houses, Mwanza has numerous bars and churches. Many local bars are set up in response to the lifestyle of the people. In this community, a beer is synonymous to recreation and leisure. Upon arrival, I asked someone to recommend things to do in Mwanza, he gave me a long list of bars to visit.
Pastors on the other hand are working hard to make their voices heard. They advertise their services through different media channels. Some claim to have the power to make all of us rich. These articulate and persuasive preachers drive posh cars, wear expensive suits and live in lavish mansions on lakeside rocky hills.
I made a number of friends who have white collar jobs. After work, they drive straight to the bar and drink until late while talking about politics, football and women. They eat large quantities of nyamachoma and consume a lot of beers on a daily basis. Most of them are overweight and proud of it. Their breakfast is made up of beef soup and chapati. A day in their lives begins in the bar where supu, as they call it is served, and ends in the bar.
One Sunday morning, I went to the nearest bar in search of supu but surprisingly, the bar had been turned into a church. This multipurpose facility is a bar on Fridays, a wedding hall on Saturdays and a church on Sundays.
I got along very well with Mwanza people, some of whom I have stayed in touch with. I appreciate their hospitality and a sense of humor. It was a busy business trip but I spared some time to hang out with friends in my neighborhood every evening. Did I say "my neighborhood?" That’s exactly how I felt. I felt at home.