Hullabaloos that greeted and continues to shower the recent resumption of the refurbished KISUMU SAFARI TRAIN on grounds of long travel hours, thus inconveniencing commuters, is a reserve for the ignorant lot.
Those who were birthed, parented and schooled largely in the lakeside city of Kisumu during the era when the rail transport was fully operational can vividly recall and attest to the fact that boarding a train those days was not only enjoyable but also prestigious and adventurous.
And the nostalgic adorable moments of those heydays are still sentimentally and indelibly etched in their respective memories.
The toiling of train for several hours before it reaches its scheduled stations and other halter stations, was secondary.
And I am proudly one among the perfect living examples who experienced and witnessed some of the train’ events unfolding, courtesy of one of my maternal uncles who was a locomotive driver, thus prompting our family to travel intermittently by train.
Household name in the train
We became household name in the charter of names of frequent commuters at the ticketing hall.
By then, while the passengers were on board and with the train hooting, snaking its way into the foot hills belching out black smoke with passengers on transit, it provided and left in its wake a trail of niceties:
For the travelers with seductive and romantic charms, it accorded them a conducive environment to engage opposite sexes by waxing love lyrics.
Consequently, some ended up tying marital knots that compacted to date. Interestingly, some passengers who were overwhelmingly overjoyed by sweet talks could alight before or past their destined stations to knot their talks.
To some organizations, institutions, groups and families, train was not only for journeying but for bonding sessions. They could book one coach purposely for that purpose.
The soothing experience
Flavouring, colouring and humouring the journey thus curtailing the insurgence of boredom were passengers carrying along with them chickens, more so matured cockerels.
Appealing and alternating voices of seasoned broadcasters; Leonard Mambo Mbotela, Fred Obachi Machoka, James Onyango Joel, Omuga Kabisae, Elizabeth Obege, Gladys Erude, Elizabeth Omollo, Agao Patrobas, emanating from the state owned media VoK.
Soothing musical sounds of rhumba, Lingala, by legendries Franco Lwambo Makiadi, Pascal Tabuley Rochero, Pepe Kalle, and Sam Fan Thomas, among others were some of the hit songs livening the moods of the passengers, as the train snaked through hills and valleys.
Not left off the list of the rail trip benefactions were the avid readers of books who on arrival, had pored over and completed reading at least a novel.
The terminus drama
At the Kisumu Railway Station, family guests disembarking with traditional foodstuffs, tourists boarding and alighting flanked by petite and naturally beautiful sooty black African women, hospitable railways staff civically crisscrossing the premises adorning cotton-clean attires dutifully ready to serve.
The unending cool musical background coupled with diversified chirping birds and lake breeze fanning the sometimes hot air ignited by the scorching sun, were some of the eventful activities that were therapeutic, endearing and resonating well to both the travelers.
Arrival of the train and docking of MV UHURU ship at the port in tandem could momentarily spur the normal business at the station to unusual levels prompting the movements of goods and people to and from the pier to catch up with departure timelines.
Occasions of tears-of-love triggered by lovers seeing off departing mates or giving warm reception to arriving partners graced too.
The epitome of it was uniformed high school lovebirds who could literally shed tears bidding farewell to each other during school openings and closures.
Afterwards, they would rush to catch up with the post office to purchase stamps and subsequently pen letters of love to be sent via speed post to be received by their respective transiting lovers on arrival.
And some train bound passengers who had made advance bookings to travel later would resort to hoping from one bar to the other clad in bellbottom trousers with high heeled wooden soled shoes and shirts bolstered with suspenders, flapping train tickets and bragging, self-advertising their offing long journey via train boarding the prestigious VIP, FIRST or SECOND classes.
From Railways Institute, Railways Club, Sheraton,Alfros, Kisumu Hotel, and Friends Paradise, among others were some of the notable bars and hotels in and around Kisumu’s Central Business District (CBD) which were abuzz with activities and showbiz.
To those who are ranting and raving, shouting from the rooftops lamenting about several hours it takes the train to reach intended destination were either unprivileged to have been born and grew up in the environment where train services was alien.
With the replenished train using the newly built railway stations, and for the sake of zealous preservation of Kisumu’s rich history, the OLD RAILWAY STATION must join the long list of the Kenya’s national heritage.
The county government of Kisumu, as a major stakeholder, can move proactively and initiate the process which will ultimately culminate to its gazettement, for it will be a major tourist attraction site, thus boosting the county’s revenue base.