In high school, if you pursued the arts path you had a choice between Geography and History. Those of us who went with Geography got the benefit of some pretty memorable field trips.

One was a visit to a marine park somewhere in north coast, Mombasa. I forget the name. We got on a boat that had a glass bottom so you could see all the fish and coral below. I still remember how exceptional that small experience felt.

In college years, we visited Dunga Island in Kisumu, and it felt like an opening to another dimension just standing there looking out at a fisherman’s boat sailing out yonder.

Then I spent time by the waters of Bagamoyo. So profound was it I’ve never stopped writing about it. In the night you looked out to the distant Zanzibar lights and pictured the boats bearing their human cargo from the fort at Bagamoyo to the slave markets of Zanzibar.

A devastating history etched in the name of the place – Bagamoyo (bwaga moyo – lay down your heart in surrender). Maybe this added to the mysticism of the vast ocean. Every time I looked out there, it felt as if the waters had an eye watching you.

Waterways have always been a place of escape, of freedom, pathways to new discovery, places of surrender. And human greed has always restricted access to waterways so that they became exclusive, only for the wealthy and privileged.

The underground railroad took advantage of rivers as points of escape. The greatest civilizations were built from and along the flow of rivers, including Persian Empire which fed off of the grains of Africa’s River Nile. The conquest of new lands came by sea. An oasis in the desert becomes a spiritual place and the foundation of a city.

Until you heal its natural waterways, a city will remain sick at its core. So goes Nairobi and its river.

Those who wield power have sought to create a narrative that the ordinary person cannot afford the freedom, experience and education of the waterways. The building of marinas comes with boating made to look like an exclusive pass-time for *yacht owners. Truth is, there’s nothing exclusive about boating. All you need is some smarts and a sense of adventure.

History proves that the waterways always belonged to the people. Exclusive marinas like the English Point in Mombasa have been built where locals with a history of building dhows, fishing and navigating the waters once thrived. Now you ask any odd Hafizi mtoto wa Mombasa about sailing and they’ll tell you that’s for the rich.

Get your coconut wood and teak, build your boat and set sail. If anyone stops you, get a friend, and another one, until you have a community of boaters that cannot be denied the freedom of the waters.

In another life, I’m an accidental boater’s wife who takes friends out to learn the inspiring history of the mouth of the Patapsco as it vomits out into the Chesapeake Bay. It’s filled with forts, scars of war and victory and markers of a forbidden memory not too far removed from thoughts of Bagamoyo.

I’ll just say this though: Of all the water bodies I’ve seen, nothing shifts you more than Dunga Island waters. Is it its bewitching sunset? Maybe it was the state of mind I was in.. No, something lives in there, and it’s not fish.

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