Lake Malawi is also called the Lake of Stars, because at night numerous fishermen with lights on their boats go out on the water to fish. When you look at the lake at night it often twinkles because of the vast amount of fishing boats out there. However, Lake of Stars is not only a nickname of the lake, it is also the name of our boat!
Roy really wanted to have a local wooden fishing boat, so Rik and I have been asking around and found one at Cape Maclear. Now that Roy was here we could finally take a look from up close, however when we first saw it there was some maintenance scheduled. Yesterday in the afternoon it was finished and we asked if he could come down with the boat to our beach. He only arrived after sunset and it had taken him 2 hours and 10 minutes to find us. Luckily we had already seen the boat in daylight, because now we had to look at it with just the torch.
After the negotiations a handwritten contract was drawn up, which says that we paid a deposit and we will complete the transaction when we transfer the papers on Monday.
It needs a little bit of fixing, but I am already quite fond of the boat. It was used ar tourboat for tourists, so it already has a floor and a frame for a shade.
I already know what we’ll be doing coming lazy Sunday!
While we have a fence around the terrain, it is not hermetically sealed. On the last few meters of the beach to the lake there is no fence, and at the entrance we have a gate. Exactly those places are also where intruders are entering: the local goat herd.
It is not a terrible thing to have some goats in the yard, if they weren’t eating the young (palm) trees or ravaging the vegetable garden. Fortunately, because there are many people here every day, the herd is spotted and chased off very soon after they enter. The one who sees them first calls out: Mbuzi! (Goats!), and then soon people jump to action and chase them away.
But on Sundays it’s up to us to protect the premises. Then either Rik or myself run at them while waving a stick in order to chase them away. Quite a funny sight actually. And we also have to look after our own three goats, which need to be moved to and from their shelter every day.
Here we are parttime goatherds
Sometimes things break which are not easy to replace or repair. Not easy, however, does not mean impossible, so our creativity is continuously being tested here. So far, we had the most trouble with our flip-flops. Rik had bought nice new flip-flops before we left. After 6 weeks they were already broken. I tried to take the sole apart and glue the band back, but shortly after it came loose on the other flip-flop as well. ‘Fortunately’ Joeri forgot to bring his when he returned to Belgium, so Rik could wear his instead.
In the meantime, the foam of my flip-flops ripped which caused the band between the toes to come off all the time. I tried to glue it back, however that did not do much and did not work for very long. At that time they were working a lot with strings (strips of old car tyres) on the land, which gave me the idea to repair them using those. And it worked! When the same thing happened to my other flip-flop, it was easily repaired in the same fashion.
Not long after Riks flip-flop broke again (or should I say, Joeri’s?). This time the plastic band broke between the toes, but also this we could repair with strings. Then the other slipper broke in the exact same place. Easy, we were becoming very skilled at this!
But then the band broke in a different location, which was not as easily repaired as we could not use strings here, so we had to think of another way. Rik tried to staple it in place, but this only hold for half a day. The only thing that’s holding up until this day is the nail he hammered through it.
I showed the way we repaired our flip-flops to Michael who nodded approvingly: ‘That’s repaired the African way.’
The beach is already quite busy. It’s not just Rik and me, there are also four young cats, three goats, a dog (+ the dog of one of the employees sometimes) and there are plans for a bunch of chicken. This time more about our dog: Shoprite.
Before the beach was habitable, Joeri went to Money Bay Beach lodge after almost every working day. At this lodge there were three dogs: Cindy, Dawg and Shoprite. Cindy and Shoprite were adopted from the SPCA and Dawg actually belongs to one of the neighbors, but prefers to hang around at the lodge. Shoprite got his name at the animal shelter due to the fact that he was found at the Shoprite. Shoprite is a supermarket, just like Walmart. So, while Shoprite is from an animal shelter, he and the owner of the lodge could not really get along. Joeri and Shoprite did get along quite well, and so the idea to adopt him was born.
Now, roughly three months later Shoprite lives on our beach. Getting him here was horrible, he really did not want to get into the car and when he was finally in it he hot very sick.. But now he’s here, he’s here to stay. If it’s up to us, he never has to go in the car again. And he never has to, as we have even found a vet who can come to us if need be.
He follows us everywhere (until he sees we walk up to the car, then he quickly turns around and returns to the house) and he is quite the coward. He gets jealous as soon as we pet another dog or the cats, and he is scared of everyone and everything. Sometimes he tries to act tough and scare away some small children by charging them, but if they don’t run away then, he stops a couple of meters in front of them and turns around shortly after.
The employees are astonished that he plays with the cats and that they snuggle up against him sometimes. According to them this is unnatural and should they fight as Tom and Jerry.
Yesterday we went to Four Seasons plant nursery in Lilongwe. They really have an enormous collection of plants and trees, but because we were only returning home the next day we couldn’t buy any. Then I decided to look at the collection of seeds inside the shop, however we already had the seeds of most of the vegetables. It was the only shop in Malawi where I had seen flower seeds so far, so I got some nasturtium seeds (a climber with edible leaves and flowers) twee types of protea (those flowers require some patience as it will take 4 to 5 years before it flowers for the first time) and oregano (as we are using a lot of our Italian herb mix). But I had actually hoped for fruit seeds, like strawberry or raspberry, unfortunately they did not have anything like this. A shame, because I have been looking for strawberries for a while now. They had to be somewhere, right?
Our next stop was at the hardware store and when we went back outside someone was selling strawberries! We have not even negotiated the price and bought a little box straight away.
Then in the next day we were doing some shopping together with Roy. When we were in the parking lot of old city mall we were addressed by several people, whether we wanted to change money, or whether we wanted to buy paintings, or fruits and vegetables. In an attempt to turn down the last salesman I said we already grew most vegetables ourselves, so I wasn’t interested unless they sold strawberry plants. Well, it turned out that was exactly what I should’ve said, because now a list appeared with all fruits and vegetables they were selling. If we would tell him which ones we liked, he would tell us whether he had the plant or tree for us. Eventually we decided that we were interested in the strawberry plants and some peach trees. While we were doing some groceries, he would go and fetch the plants and bring them to our car for us.
When we returned to the car he was indeed there with a box of strawberry plants and 4 young peach trees.
So that’s how shopping in Malawi can be. At first you cannot find for a long time what you are looking for and if you give up on the search it turns out that on a parking lot there is someone who has exactly what you want!
Today we went to Lilongwe again because we will have to pick up Roy (Riks uncle) from the airport tonight. This means we have spent a couple of hours in the car, but also that we’ve seen quite a bit of Malawi today.
I think that the biggest part of life in Malawi takes place near or on roads. People use the roads too to walk from one village to another, cows and their shepherds also find it easier to walk on the roads. Most of the markets are also on both sides of a road, so it makes sense that people gather around these places.
What I like to see on the road is how people are much more creative when it comes to transporting things. In the Netherlands we take a bike quite often for short distances, however I would’ve never thought that it’s possible to transport 2 pigs or 3 goats on the back of the bike. It turns out it is possible!
Cyclists also take up more space on the roads here. Some examples of things which I have seen being transported on the back of a bike today: goats, pigs, grass, a stack of firewood so big the driver could sit underneath out of the sun (convenient!), beams of 5m in length, etc. Then it’s easy to imagine a whole world of possibilities opens up if you have a car! Pickups are regularly loaded with people or goats, and today we even saw some cows in there for the first time.
But what if people don’t have access to a bike or car? Simple, then you just carry everything on your head (like a 20kg bag of corn). At least it frees up your hands, so you can wave at those passing by.
On the picture displayed below, you can already see a little bit how we live here: far away from the city. I was actually born and raised in a rural area, so it should not be very new to me, but it actually is. I have never lived really far away from the city, as I could still be in Rotterdam within in an hour or so. And even if that felt too far away there were always opportunities to buy stuff closer to home. Compared to my current situation here, doing groceries in the Netherlands was a piece of cake.
In Nankhwali (the nearest village) or Monkey Bay (a relatively touristic village a bit further away) there are quite some things we can buy. In Monkey Bay there are even supermarkets – although they are not completely like what I expected from a supermarket – and countless other little shops and market stalls. Supermarkets around here have a convenient selection of various items, but for fresh products like potato, onion, tomato and eggs we really have to go to the market. Very often we have to go to many different places, as one person only sells potato, another only onion and a third only tomato, through which buying 3 or 4 items almost always means making 3 to 4 stops. In the beginning this was even worse as we did not know yet where we could buy certain things, and as a result we had to make many stops to ask around before we actually found a particular seller. And some things, like catfood, are simply nowhere to be found nearby…
Fortunately, there are also supermarkets to be found which are structured just like the ones I am used to in the Netherlands (and many other countries I’ve visited). They have a fresh produce department with fruits and vegetables, meat and fish and many other isles with whatever you expect to buy in a supermarket (they even sell some things we do not usually find in Dutch supermarkets: we actually bought our oven at the supermarket). The most annoying thing about those supermarkets is that they are not exactly to be found ‘just around the corner’. The nearest of such supermarkets (to our knowledge) is in the capital, Lilongwe, which is a 3,5 hour drive away from here. So I write down everything we cannot find in the villages here on a list, and then we go for some big shoppings every once in a while in the city. And even then we try to combine our grocery trips with as many other appointments as we can think of, because driving for at least 7 hours just to do groceries is not our favourite thing in the world.
I like to spend time in the garden. On the beach we have about 20 people working, and in the garden we have two: James and Michael. So sometimes it is just nice to escape to the beach. James and Michael happen to speak English quite well, so in the end I actually speak more with them than with the other workers around. Micheal is the one who teaches me the most chichewa words, James asks many questions about the Netherlands.
Yesterday James suddenly asked us whether we havy many rivers in the Netherlands. I suppose we do have a reasonable amount of rivers in the Netherlands, however we Dutch are of course more famous for the tames variant of a river: the canals. After explaining the difference between a river and a canal we had to show a picture of Amsterdam. Immediately James asked whether we have a lot of fish in the canals. We had to think about this for a little bit. I mean, probably some pike and perch, but we already knew what he was thinking..
In Malawi fish is together with nsima (cornmeal porridge) the foundation of a proper meal. Here, it doesn’t matter which of the 850 cyclid species they find in their net (although some fetch a higher price than others), everything they catch will be eaten.
In the Netherlands we do not usually eat fish caugth in the canals. We prefer herring, salmon and tuna, opposed to the local carps, pikes and perches. This information was received with a puzzled expression: ‘So, you do catch them, measure them and then throw them back?’ Well yeah, it does sound a bit strange if it’s formulated like that.
Of course I needed to show some images again to show what herring, salmon and tuna look like. Especially the size of a tuna was unimaginable to James. How would someone ever eat such a huge fish? From there we went on to show pictures of the biggest fish, the whale shark, and the biggest animal on the planet, the blue whale (quick calculations revealed that a blue whale weights as much as 667 cows combined).
He was also curious about the animals that live on Dutch soil, but on that topic we did not get very far. I told him the biggest animal we have is probably a cow. James asked: ‘no elephants?’ Well, the Netherlands are in that regard not as exciting as Africa…
While my progression in mastering the chichewa language is very slow, there are some words and sentences that stuck. This time I wanted to share a saying which is typical for life here: pang’ono pang’ono. It translates loosely into ‘little by little’ or ‘with baby steps’.
A man alongside the road has already said it to us when the roads were quite bad because of the rains. Slowly we were driving through mud and large pits in the road, however an old man smiled genuinely and encouraged us: ‘pang’ono pang’ono!’ he meant that we would get to our destination eventually, as long as we would not stop. A lovely saying.
Sometimes days or weeks pass where we have the feeling that we are not really progressing with the construction of the houses. When people back in the Netherlands asked us for pictures we often realised we had not taken many for a while, simply because there were so few new things to show. This was especially the case when we were working on electricity and the water pipes (the pipes are in the ground now, but unfortunately we did not get the pump to work so we don’t have running water yet). Now all those pipes have disappeared in the ground again and on the pictures you cannot see that there is now power on the sockets. Electricity was a big step though! We now have a fridge, can cook without building a fire and we can charge phone – both our own as the phones of all our employees.
But suddenly it was the day on which the doors and windows were installed. We have made many pictures again! These kind of moments are a reminder to me that – even though we don’t always see it – we are still progressing with baby steps: pang’ono pang’ono.
Yesterday I wrote about the huge quantity of plastic bags I got with my groceries, however today I managed to avoid most plastic bags. I refused the plastic bag with the onions, I just took them with me as they were (it was only 3 meters to the car anyway). I had brought a cotton bag for the groceries at Asante shop and I even bought cooking oil without the plastic bottle! When we came here, Rik brought a bottle of whiskey with him, and now that one’s empty we had a beautiful glass bottle just laying around.
We had already seen big 20 liter buckets of cooking oil alongside the road and yesterday I asked Dany how it works when buying oil around here.
It turns out that you can buy set quantities, 500ml, 1 liter, and so on. The bottle I had was 700ml – which was too complicated – so I had it filled with 500ml cooking oil. For those who wonder how expensive it would be around here: it cost me 450 kwacha (which is about 0,56 euro or 0,62 US dollars).
Next to the fact that I avoided adding another plastic bottle to my collection, I actually like the look of this glass bottle in my ‘kitchen’ much better. Back in the Netherlands I would have never thought about it, but here this small victory made my day even better!