I was in Kisumu last Saturday, interviewing candidates at the dusty old Imperial Hotel. On the way to the airport, my colleagues and I stopped at a beach resort, expecting a view of Lake Victoria. As we picked our way across the grassy yard and whispering palms, the shore came into view. From the coastline to the horizon, all we could see was green - the surface of the lake completely covered in a carpet of water hyacinth. I could see it multiplying - the tentacle-like stolons reaching through the murky water, doubling again and again, thickening the field of bulbous plants. I imagined the hyacinth devouring the boats that were anchored in the bay, patiently waiting for a wind to free them from the suffocating grips.
I walked around the waterfront, Bob Marley wafting through the humid air as I took snaps of the hyacinth. A breeding ground for mosquitoes, a haven for snakes.
With broad, thick, glossy, ovate leaves, water hyacinth may rise above the surface of the water as much as a meter in height. The leaves are the size of a human palm, floating above the water's surface. They have long, spongy and bulbous stalks. The feathery, freely hanging roots are purple-black. Their flowers, a softer shade of purple, are beautiful; long-coveted for colonial water gardens across the tropics.
From the Victorian shore, I felt for the water, invaded as it was by this unwelcome visitor. I envisioned the similar infestation creeping in on me day by day. A "what if?" followed by more "what ifs" until the mind, unable to fend off the reproduction, is completely consumed. Suffocated by thought. Choked and paralyzed by the vastness of too many creeping opportunities. What was once calm, blue water is now something entirely different. The lake's only option is to wait it out, to wait for the winds to disperse the hyacinth.
The owner of the beach resort joined us at the shore, a Kenyan-Indian with a magnificent white Fu Manchu mustache and a large belly hanging over a giant anchor belt buckle. He talked about the old days - before the hyacinth - sweeping his arm across the scene so as to erase the green and replace it with white sand beaches. He gestured to empty dirt pits on the shoreline - he decided to build fish ponds on the property instead, to give guests something to do.