Victoria: The Lake That Wasn't There—Page 2
By Luke Armstrong

Eastern Africa travel

"Have you seen a hippo?" Titus asked us. "There are many hippos in this area."

"Yes," I said, "Have you ever eaten one?"

"Though it is illegal, yes I have. It was sweet as honey and melted like ice-cream in my mouth."

That didn't sound right. It sounded like something a 13-year-old boy who had never eaten hippo meat would say. I admit it. The next time I had Internet access I asked Google if hippo meat tasted at all like honey or melted like ice cream and the result was no, it does not. Yahoo Answers had pages of forums on eating hippo, with back and forths in all-caps and no rationing of the exclamation point. My favorite:

I've actually tried it before. (Seriously!!! Unlike some other smarties I HAVE really tried it before.) It is currently illegal unless you can get some like I did. My dad was a scientist out there and got some meat for us to try from a rogue cow that the game wardens put down (The meat came from the game wardens themselves).

The overall conclusion was that Titus was a bit of an embellisher. But what 13-year-old boy finding himself in the company of adults he is trying to impress is not a bit of a fibber?

"My tribe, the Luo; we like to eat fish. Every tribe in Kenya has their own food. What kind of food do your people eat?"

"Pizza," my brother and I agreed. "We come from a proud pizza eating people."


The Hippo Man
After continuing to strike out in our attempt to see the lake part of Lake Victoria, we decided to let Titus lead us to a place where we might actually glimpse some water. We passed from wealth to poverty to a man sleeping on the road's shoulder. He bounced to life upon hearing us pass and began yelling at us to wait for him. We kept walking. He continued after us. It's an ancient rule of the road: if you are a foreigner, people have the right to yell at you and sell you things, like flutes.

This man wanted to take us to the hippopotamus peep show. He caught up to us out of breath, "For 2,000 shillings, I will take you to see a hippo."

"We're good on hippos," my brother said.

"Okay for 1,500 shillings I will show you the hippo."

"We hate hippos," I told him.

"Not to worry, these hippos are not to be feared."

"No," I elaborated, "hippos killed our entire family. The last thing we ever want to see is a hippo."

The man grunted and began to begrudgingly tell us a history of the lake, so that once we'd gleaned information from him, we'd have no choice but to tip him 50 bob or so for his time. What he had to say was more interesting than a hippo, which would have just sat around being fat and not tasting like honey or melting like ice cream. He told us about a boat of 11 fishermen that had become trapped in the hyacinth. They were rescued by helicopter, but only after four of them succumbed to exposure. The plant, knowing no limits whatsoever, also murders people.

The trail we walked finally led to an inlet bordered by "sausage" trees where goats grazed on the shoreline. While the water was still covered in a green blanket of hyacinth, there was a blue of distant waters beyond. Three gloomy looking skiffs, curbed to the shoreline, perhaps for the next few years, pointed in the direction of the waters a kilometer beyond the botanical blanket. Surrounding them was the mauve flower, that vegetal femme fatale responsible for so many of Lake Victoria's current woes.

blue waters

My brother stepped into the plants covering the water and picked up one of the plants, throwing it violently onto the ground where it would die. "There," he said, "I've done my share to help solve the problem." Physical removal. Gratis. I followed his lead and murdered one of the plants too. If every tourist and out of work fisherman followed suit, the hyacinth problem would probably still be just as prevalent, but it was wonderful to think to the contrary.

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About and How We Are Human. After finishing degrees in philosophy and English in Chile, Luke backpacked from Chile to Guatemala, where he spent four years as director of development organization Nuestros Ahijados. These efforts were featured on the 2010 ABC News Global Health Special: Be the Change, Save a Life. Follow him @lukespartacus.

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Related stories:

The Day I Did Not Meet Kenya's Prime Minster by Luke Armstrong
Clear and Present Danger in Morocco by Luke Armstrong
The Warrior Scholar From Kenya by James Dorsey
Not the One in the Bible by Jessica Lee

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