As we reach the village the most amazing sight of largely wooden houses, built on stilts, looms into view. Most of the houses are covered in traditional palm and rush roofing, supported by misshaped wooden poles, possibly 10 across. The flooring is wood and the sides are light balsa or corrugated wood effect – some are ancient, or at least look like they popped out of the neolithic – this feels like Africa I saw in the 60’s geography text books. Apparently the houses can last for up to 20 years, with a bit of maintenance and they can build one in two weeks. On the whole, it’s a beautiful group of ancient houses worth a visit while it lasts.
You encounter dozens of houses, in a real community, with people in canoes travelling up and down the village high street waterway on their way to market – a floating group of women and their loaded boats, or to school, a solid building at the back on the river bank. Kids laughing and mucking about in their neat khaki clothes, waving to us and enjoying the ride.
This is an entire water bourne village – a Venice of the northern lake. We stop to visit a couple of hotels and tourist shops – surprisingly good work, among the usual trinkets. A jovial and slightly mad owner in one, who pulled eccentric faces and tried to sell us weird handy work, but all in good humour, we bought things for our families – and I enjoyed haggling with a grumpy teenage girl who smiled when the sale was done. Coming from Oxford I wanted to show them I could punt too, but I didn’t fancy tipping into the grimy water on a fragile canoe.
While all looks ideal, its still worth remembering these people are very poor and have no access to health care other than that provided by Mercy Ships and other NGO’s. They have high infant mortality and the hospital ship sees many people with tumours, fistula, dental and eye problems and of course they are in deep malaria country in the reeds and over the water. It must be hard for them, but as usual they are bearing it with fortitude and good humour.