While Vising Kakamega, I Discovered How The Town Got its Name

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A lorry ferries harvested sugar-cane to the processing plant in Mumias

A lorry ferries harvested sugar-cane to the processing plant in Mumias

Phase two of my road trip landed me in the port town of Kakamega, about 52km north of Kisumu city. I had just finished a 5-day stay in Kisumu (read my Kisumu story here) where I had a chance to visit Kabondo, the sweet potato headquarters of Kenya which until now I had thought was Meru. It takes about 2 hours to travel by road from Kisumu to Kakamega by Matatu.

If you have read my Kisumu blog post then you recall I had promised to tell you about the origin of the name ‘Kakamega’ and so I will keep my word. The story goes like this. When European settlers first visited the area now known as Kakamega and were offered ugali (called Obusuma in local dialect), they tried to emulate the eating style of using the tips of their fingers to scoop morsels of the dish made out of maize meal for which the tribe was famous.

To the hosts though, the visitors were more like ‘pinching’ the Obusuma instead of ‘scooping’ it. The resulting administrative area was therefore named ‘Kakamega’ – meaning to ‘pinch.’

As I travelled around in public transport my sharpness of yesteryears was coming back and I was growing wiser by the hour – For instance, on this trip I made sure all my heavy luggage was safely inside the boot of the matatu I was boarding!

In Nairobi, at the Easy Coach Booking office, I had had an incidence where I mistook the store used by travellers leave their luggage for a sort of a luggage check-in bay. My assumption was that once I registered the bag in the store, someone in the Easy Coach staff would later come to load the luggage from here into the bus earmarked for departure. How wrong I had been! I arrived in Kisumu minus my bag which was still safely stacked in the store in Nairobi.

Easy Coach later sent the intact bag to me 2 days later after I alerted them of my mistake. Had they not handled the matter with the professionalism that they did, the situation would have been a catastrophic one because all my change of clothes was in this bag I had left behind! Kudos to the staff of Easy Coach in Nairobi and Kisumu.

I was booked in at the Kakamega Golf Club, a few metres from the Kisumu-Kakamega road. From what I was hearing, the club had just revamped their club house with a new modern lounge, restaurant and conferencing facility. It seemed they were also putting some final touches on renovation work on the 9-hole golf course.

I have this habit (which I think is common with most of you anyway so nothing odd with me) that as soon as I get into the room of any hotel, I first check whether there’s WiFi and secondly whether DSTv is installed. I can do without cable TV but internet, I find hard to be without and so like most of you would do, I proceed to the reception area to ask whether there is a business centre from where I could access the vital service.

The Golf Club did not have either of these services I had come to regard as standard in any hotel room. I later discovered the TV at the lounge had DSTv and that there was a WiFi connection which had been disconnected for non-payment.

Let me leave the matter of accommodation at the club at the point where I now noticed my TV set in the room was the old Cathode Ray Tube type with an extended behind and move on to other matters such as having to wait for my dinner, later in the evening, for a staggering two hours or better still, let me really move away from this whole club stuff all together!

Oh by the way, the breakfast was absolutely amazing despite not being a buffet and the networking at the club lounge in the evening as I worked was just out of this world. I made connections with the high and mighty of the region – that was priceless.

Outside of the club, I had a chance to travel to the village of Cheptais in the Mount Elgon area, about 100km from Kakamega. Most of you would remember this region as the home of the once dreaded Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), a guerilla militia group that emerged in 2005 in the wake of land dispute issues here and caused untold havoc leading to huge losses of life and property before it was quashed by the government.

On this day, I was here for a different reason which was to visit some of the ICT projects the Anglican Development Services, western region, was implementing with young farmers. I visited the project’s ICT centre in Cheptais and spent some time with the youth learning the different ways they were using ICTs to access information to improve their farming of tomatoes.

On our way to Cheptais that morning, we passed through the famous Mumias Sugar plant and the now defunct Pan African Paper Mills in Webuye. Looking at the scale of investment that went to the mill, one cannot help but feel sad that it is no longer operational. What a waste!

On my last evening in Kakamega, as I rested at the club reflecting on my experiences here and planning for my next trip to the city of Eldoret the following morning, I could not help but think of the many more exciting places and the many more wonderful people I could have met had time been on my side.

It had proved yet another memorable journey as I bid the ‘pinching’ town farewell and boarded another matatu to begin the third leg of my trip to Eldoret. Once more, I noticed our driver, just like in my Kisumu-Kakamega safari, was an old mzee – probably in his late 50s or early 60s. What is it with the matatu business in western Kenya and the old Turks?

I made a quick learned guess that these were probably the owners who had left the comfort of their homes to ‘take care of business’ and make sure things did not go to the dogs, so to speak. Stay tuned for my last and final journey to Eldoret before my return to Nairobi in my next post coming up in not too far a time.

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About Henry Muuthia

Henry Muuthia is a travel writer and photographer. He writes for a range of online platforms including Technorati, Google+, EzineArticles and ArticleBase where he has published several articles, mostly on Kenyan travel. He is a resident writer for Enchanted Landscapes Travelogue and also occasionally writes for the travel section of Nakumatt''s SmartLife Magazine.
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