25 Minutes Above the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean looked like blue ink that had spilt across the table forming an irregular map. Funny how everything looks so small from above. I thought to myself. We had just taken off from Malindi airport and were now flying above the Indian Ocean, on our way to Lamu.

I was seated in the window seat of the first row, feasting at the natural sights beneath me. Although the blue waters of the ocean appeared calm, I knew that the waves were probably roaring and soaring. Every time a wave reaches its destination, huffing and puffing, it’s easy to imagine that it is always that feeble. But go deeper into the ocean for just a mile and you will find the same wave hissing and dancing in full force.

When the plane took off from Nairobi, I had hoped that we would be given hot sandwiches followed with that gentle question, ‘which drink will you be having sir?’ I always get confused by all food-related questions that give me the power to choose whatever I want. This is because I would actually like to have everything being presented.

But in this particular flight, the gentleman who was the sole steward posed a lesser question, ‘Coke or Fanta?’ I loved Coke but had recently seen a video on Facebook showing how coke can clean a dirty toilet. So I settled for Fanta, served in plastic cans so tiny that I gulped it in exactly 2.5 seconds and was left wondering what to do with the two cookies that had also been offered.

The sight of the vast ocean reminded me of a recent wise comment by Kenya’s renowned writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. He was debating with a host panellist on CitizenTV’s Cheche show on the merits of African languages. In his calm and convincing manner, the distinguished writer argued that languages were like rivers flowing into an ocean; hence Africa needed to ensure that its linguistic rivers kept flowing.

Back to the literal ocean, I noticed that we were now flying over a section that had brown, as opposed to blue water. That must be the Kipini area, I thought. The River Tana flows into the Indian Ocean at Ugwana Beach in Kipini and maintains its brown water for a section of the ocean that is a few metres wide. It’s as if Kenya’s longest river is saying to the ocean that, ‘you may be a big blue giant but I will keep my brown for as long as I can.’

This mixture of fresh river water and salty sea water is known is brackish water. It is ideal for certain species like shrimps. This gives Kipini the potential of being the shrimp capital of Africa, if not the world. But it still has a long way to go before it can match the 24,000 tonnes monthly shrimp exports of Ecuador and India last year. The two countries are the leading shrimp exporters globally.

I first visited Kipini in the company of Carol Hunsberger, my Canadian friend and former UNEP colleague. She was conducting a research on jatropha, the biodiesel plant. I tagged along and was stunned when I stood at the Kipini beach and watched River Tana gushing into the Indian Ocean.    

After travelling for one thousand kilometres from the Mt Kenya region, the river finally arrives at the Indian Ocean. Watching its arrival is a humbling and joyous experience. The brown waters just keep coming and gushing into the blue waters. They never tire. Minute after minute, hour after hour, the river becomes one with the ocean.

Kipini’s shrimp and prawn fishers have legendary abilities and are said to dive underwater to fish for prawns for periods that can extend up to ten minutes.  

‘Please fasten your seatbelts as will be landing...’ the steward’s baritone voice yanked me from my Kipini thoughts and I realised that my 25 minutes above the Indian Ocean were about to conclude and I would soon be on a boat on my way to Lamu Island, my second home.

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