I have arrived in Uganda after a long bus trip from Arusha to Mwanza. Sunday evening and night I spent on the MV Victoria and travelled 96 nautical miles. I booked a first class cabin to share with another female.
All the cabins have their own entrance door on deck, and passengers may book 1st, 2nd, or 3rd class. There is s bar and restaurant on first and second class. I accidentally popped into the bar on 2nd class and had a snack of samosas and a beer, not knowing how to rate 2nd from 1st class in Tanzania. That might explain why I got some funny looks from locals – perhaps they wondered why I did not want to spend $18, or 103 NOK, to sleep on 1st class. I am, honestly, not too greedy!
Stepping onto the ship I got a sense of the colonial period, due to the old fashioned look of the ship. I felt a bit like stepping onto the Titanic, although I was missing Leonardo. And I am not Kate. However, the ship is not actually that old – it was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1960. She was “knocked down” and transported in 1500 crates and subsequently transported to Mombasa, Kenya. She was reassembled in Kisumu, and functioned as the Royal Mail Ship, RMS Victoria, until Kenyan independence from the United Kingdom in 1963.
From 1963 she has sailed under the Tanzanian flag, carrying passengers between most major ports on Africa’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Victoria. The ship reportedly meets all safety criteria in order to carry passengers and overloading the ship with passengers is absolutely of the question, according to Mr Beatus Mghamba. He is the spokesman of Marine Service Company. The vessel has the capacity to carry 1,200 passengers, and Mr Mghhamba says that there are not enough passengers to risk overloading anyway due to competition from bus companies and airlines. MV Victoria has not undergone major maintenance since 1991. Personally I am glad I was not aware of that while travelling on the ship. My journey on the Victoria would have been a little less enjoyable if I had known. All the same, I felt safe all the time on board MV Victoria.
The main thing that was stressing me out was the fact that I am white, and could not escape from being “the muzungu” (“white person”). I went to bed earlier than I normally would have, if I had not been so clearly “different” from everyone else. I have actually started to take a stand sometimes when I am called “muzungu“, pointing out that it is not nice to define anyone by the colour of their skin. Or I might just not answer. “The muzungu has a name – you can call me Silje.” A fellow female passengers was initially laughing when referring to the muzungu, while speaking Kiswahili. However, she quietened down as I presented myself and asked her “Jina lako nani?” What is your name? I guess it is different once a person reveals his or her name. Suddenly they have an identity as well.
Mwanza Guide, “How to get to and from Mwanza”, http://www.mwanza-guide.com/howtoget/lake.htm
Joas Kaijage, “MV Victoria runs for twenty years without major maintenance”, 22.05.12, http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/4-national-news/22561-mv-victoria-runs-for-20-years-without-major-maintenance.html