By Mike Saum
At night, globes of light wink into existence on the expanse of the water. More and more appear, like a string of glowing pearls bobbing on a swath of velvet. The fisherman place lanterns on small, hand-lashed floats and release them, one by one, onto the lake. The lights bring flies. The flies bring fish.
Shoals of minnows known as dagaa surge and seethe along the surface beneath the lantern light. The fishermen work in teams–some boats remain stationary while others circle around drawing the nets in broad arcs. After hauling up the catch, the men return to the islands in the still-dark morning, piling the dagaa on sandy, drying plots–conspicuously clean and maintained among the haphazard sprawl of the camp.
The prize in Lake Victoria has traditionally been the Nile Perch–pale white monsters often weighing over a hundred pounds. But in this Tanzanian archipelago, the perch has been largely fished out, leaving a less-appealing quarry. Dagaa fishing is not glamorous. It’s humbling and time intensive–raking and drying and protecting the fish for days before you see any return on your labor. And if the rain comes for long, the fish rot, and the the women must sweep them into reeking piles and wait for the next boatloads.
Spiritually, these camps are dark places–lawless clusters of temporary shacks and brothels, rife with AIDS and despair. But AIM missionaries like Bob and Dorothy Matthews, (insert single lady), and Chris and Dale Hamilton live here, called to be ”fishermen” of another sort. Traveling by boat and by float plane, they host mobile clinics for the sick and marginalized island dwellers of southwest Lake Victoria, demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ and shining Light.