The Malawian Feel


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, April 22, 2004 was originally posted on April 28, 2004.

DAY 187:  Lonely Planet says that people have described the vibe of Nkhata Bay as “Caribbean,” yet still retaining a “Malawian feel.”  What this “feel” was I didn’t know about prior to my arrival, but by the end of the day, I felt the gist of it.

AFTER MY TONGUE AND TASTE BUDS FELT THE TEXTURE of the Malawian breakfast dish Shak Shuka, made of poached eggs mixed with tomatoes, onions and spices over toast, I befriended Anel, a nineteen-year-old Mexican girl traveling Europe and Africa in between high school and university, who taught me how to play bao, the Malawian board game that is played on the same kind of Zambian nsolo board, only with different rules.  Anel had been “stuck” at Mayoka Village since Easter weekend, having the similar problem I had in Livingstone, Zambia, failing to access funds from a proper ATM.  While I got by on the courtesies and kindness of the Jolly Boys and Shelle, Anel got by on the courtesy of Gary, who opened up a tab for her until she could get money wired to her. 

Being “stuck” in Mayoka Village can be done effortlessly; it’s not exactly a place you’d want to leave, a freshwater paradise (picture above) with its good food, scenic lakeshore views, the relaxing sounds of waves crashing into rocks and its interesting cast of characters — perhaps it is collectively “the Malawian feel.”  Anel opted to stay “stuck” in Mayoka for the day when I invited her to go into town to run some errands. 

“Hey there,” called guys sitting on the side of the road as I arrived in town after walking the hiking trail, the dirt road and across the bridge.  I figured they were the usual guys trying to sell me something.

“Hello,” I politely said, walking on.

“American, huh?” one said, calling me out on my accent.

“Yeah,” I said in mid-stride.

“I want to talk to you.”

“That’s okay, I’m on my way somewhere.”

Another young man used the same tactics, but I was feeling a little generous this time.  “Okay, walk with me,” I told him.  He followed.

His name was Fezelle and he told me about his life as a carver and painter while he followed me all around town like a stray cat.  In a way it was nice to have him around to show me where things where because the map I had was pretty vague, and I didn’t know exactly where the post office was.  On the other hand, I wasn’t sure of his ulterior motives.

“Come this way, it’s a shortcut,” he said, pointing to a stairwell up a hill to a higher and shaded ground.

“No that’s okay, I’ll stick to the road.”

“This way is faster.”

“Nah, I like walking near the lake.  I mean, look at the view!” I said to keep us in sight of passers-by.  I continued the “long” way, which wasn’t too long anyway, and Fezelle followed.  He even waited the forty or so minutes it took me to stamp twenty-three postcards to be sent out to Blog Sponsors and to package a parcel box of unwanted items back to markyt.  Seeing he wouldn’t leave me be, I told Fezelle I was looking for the Aqua Africa office (I really was), which was where he took me next.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be,” I told him.  “You can go ahead.  I know where you’ll be.”

He left me to speak to the woman at the dive shop about diving, which I ultimately opted not to do since most of the little lake fish were found by simply snorkeling.  I inquired about night dives, but they wouldn’t do it without me taking a specialization course for $50, and not after I did a $20 day dive with them — too much in total for a place where I wouldn’t see any coral or big things.  My trip to the dive shop wasn’t a total bust; the woman there informed me that I should take pills to prevent bilharzia because it is found in the northern part of the lake.  (If the “Malawian feel” is that of little worms growing inside my digestive system, then I don’t want to feel anything!)  I took her recommendation and walked over to the nearby clinic, where I bought the proper dosages of pills to prevent and kill the intestinal worms for just about a buck fifty.

After buying a pair of new sandals to replace the ones I lost in Lilongwe, I made my way back to Mayoka Village on the other road that led there, which is how Fezelle found me easily.  He led me to his friend’s carving stand to try and sell me something; I was feeling generous since he did lead me around town and caved in on a custom hand-painted shirt he would make me for $15.  I picked a design and gave him a deposit to get started, wondering if I had just given money for nothing.

“HEY, MY MOM SINGS THIS IN CHURCH,” I said to Anel as we had lunch on the deck at Mayoka.  The barman Phillip was playing Brenda Fassie’s remix CD, where DJs remixed the songs of the award-winning South African pop singer known by some as “the Madonna of the townships” that was once featured in Time magazine.  The electronic lounge rendition of “Soon and Very Soon (We Are Going To See The King)” was the only English-language song on the CD.

Anel and I finished listening to the CD after lunch and then decided to take out a canoe, one of the hollowed out log ones that Mayoka Village let its guest use for free.

“Should we take one or two?” Anel asked one of the local who knew the precarious nature of the canoes. 

“If you are learning, then two, but if you are good, you can use the one.”

“We can do it,” I told Anel.  “I’ve been canoing before.”

When we boarded the canoe with our two kayak oars, we soon learned that my previous experience meant nothing; it was impossible keeping the vessel straight and we kept on zig-zagging across the bay.  We eventually made it to the other side of the bay having used more energy than probably needed, which was quite a sight for the locals.  After swimming and chatting at a lagoon at the other side of the bay, we really gave something the locals to talk about when we both lost concentration looking over to a guy in a passing canoe, we flipped over and capsized the canoe, only to have it fill with water.  It was more work to empty it out than just swim it over, so we just lugged the boat the half a kilometer back to base like Roy Schneider and Richard Dreyfuss did to the driftwood at the end of Jaws.

AFTER HANGING OUT AT THE BAR WITH PHILLIP — where an old man who sold candy always slept in the corner — it was time for the all-you-can-eat barbecue, a weekly Friday even which brought in locals and guests of the other lodges over.  I had dinner with Anel, our dormmate Ed, and two new faces, Maaike, a traveling doctor from Holland, and Yvonne, a former staff travel journalist from Hong Kong.  After dining on rump steak kebabs, veggie burgers, barbecued chicken, salads and garlic bread, the pool table was pushed to the side for some after dinner entertainment:  an acrobat busking his way through Africa who entertained us with incredible feats of balance and fire eating tricks.

The nighttime Malawian feel was felt when a group of us walked with our flashlights up and down the dark hiking path to town.  Escorting us was the ever-friendly Kennedy, a local guy who lived nearby.  He led us to the Shenkhani Entertainment Center, a club in town where people rushed over when the loud music of Sean Paul echoed through the streets from inside its walls.

Before we went out I wondered if I should dress up, but I was advised it was unnecessary.  When I got there, I saw how true that was; half the guys weren’t even wearing shoes.  The “club” was hardly a club by New York City standards, or even the standards of Morristown, New Jersey.  It was more or less like being at a house party held in a VFW hall with a small bar in the corner and a DJ who simply stopped one CD and played another without any song blending.

Not that there was anything wrong with the standard of quality of the place.  It was a good time bugging out with the locals to American hip hop, local reggae and European trance.  However, there was a bit of an awkwardness from us heterosexual Western men.  In Africa, it isn’t taboo for heterosexual men to hold hands while walking in the street, which also translates on the dance floor.  After one guy grabbed my hands to bug out with him, he went over and grabbed Ed’s hands to dance with him for a while.  Both of us were puzzled, but we learned that if there is a distinct “feel” to Malawian nightlife, it is the feel of another man’s hand.

Next entry: Tummy Aches

Previous entry: A Long Way From Lilongwe

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Comments for “The Malawian Feel”

  • hmm, hope he’s been using Palmolive for that soft tender feel.. btw E. you should wait til’ Thailand to dive! You can do it on Pipi Island where they filmed the “Beach” awesome place, gorgeous scene.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  04:34 PM

  • That lake is amazing - crystal clear. It looks like there should be coral - oh well!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  05:43 PM

  • ERIK - first paragraph - “What this “feel” was I didn’t know about prior to m”

    prior to what?

    what’s up with that transition from the t-shirt straight to hey my mom…??

    ummm…so you like holding guys hands huh?  hahahha…go dive with the FISH

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  06:38 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Tummy Aches

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A Long Way From Lilongwe


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