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Pole to Pole

Day 106: Kigoma to Mpulungu

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThree hours out from Kigoma I am unenthusiastically facing up to a plate of rice and scrawny chicken leg, when the engine note changes down an octave, the ship slows and within seconds the night air is filled with a growing clamour of voices. They grow louder and more insistent, and are mingled with the splash of paddles and the thudding of boats against the hull. Out on deck in some alarm to witness an extraordinary scene. Flooded by powerful shipboard lights, a dozen or more dugouts are clustering around the Liemba like maggots at a corpse, filled with vendors of every kind of food, families trying to get themselves and their belongings aboard and water taxis touting to take people off. Everyone is screaming to make themselves heard as a forest of hands extends from below decks, waving, beckoning, holding out money, helping some people aboard and others down into the bobbing mass of boats below.

Every boat is vying with its neighbour to get close to the Liemba. As soon as the tiniest gap is glimpsed paddles are applied furiously and very often one hull will ride up over another, until with cries of protest the offending canoe is thrust back. Babes in arms are passed to the hopeful safety of outstretched hands. Small boys frantically bale out their boats.

This is African business. The whites can only watch and photograph. There is an urgency about it all that is spellbinding and exhilarating and exhausting. And I'm told later that what looked like a fully-fledged native attack is just one of fifteen scheduled stops.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 106
  • Country/sea: Tanzania
  • Place: Kigoma
  • Book page no: 241

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