Lake Malawi

The drive to Lake Malawi wasn’t very long, but with the intense sun and vast amounts of dust blowing through the open car windows, I couldn’t wait to get there. A barren land of mud huts, with thatched reed roofs, and scattered goats, stretched out in front of me. Bicycles, cows, chickens and pedestrians, carrying everything from sugar cane to buckets of charcoal, balanced perfectly on their heads, flashed before me as we made our way to Africa’s third largest lake.


village huts

Village women


Even though the scenery was fascinating and new to my sight and senses, I focused instead on storefront signage as we drove through various villages. The first tiny, urban space we passed was home to the “I Like Beer” bar, standing next to the “Beautiful Head” beauty salon, which happened to be across from the town’s coffin store. Another 20 minutes down the road was a line of buildings featuring “Uncle Joe’s Investments” and “You like my Price” grocery (most likely owned by Uncle Joe), located next to another coffin maker, his crew busy assembling a set of simple, brown wooden boxes for display.


village storefronts

Highway to Lake Malawi


Arriving to Senga Bay, the area’s main town–15 kilometers from the water, we got a flat tire. Many people stopped to ask if we needed help, but my friend Joseph, who ran the wildfire center’s campsite, and his friend, Elias, managed to fix the problem within minutes. While standing on the side of the road I noticed a dilapidated building in front of me. It was the “Only God knows” tearoom, sitting beside a billboard promoting a liquid soap appropriately named “Dirt is not Good”. I decided I liked the straightforward marketing approach of Malawians and should rethink my own restaurant name. Maybe something like “I Believe in Gluttony” or “Good Food at Low Prices” café might bring in more customers.

sifting corn

Woman sifting corn


Pulling back onto the road we passed another coffin store where a group of men were carrying away a newly polished, handcrafted, rectangular box. I quickly buckled my seat belt and prayed that I wouldn’t be supporting their business any time soon. Instead, I would help the local economy by purchasing arts and crafts, as well as eating my share of the lake’s famous Chambo fish.


corn silo

Village corn silo


With shorelines in Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique, the lake’s long, narrow body of water encompasses over 11,000 sq. miles and is home to the world’s largest variety of fresh water fish. Fishing villages surround the lake, providing employment the country cannot otherwise afford, even though its resources are stretched too thin by overpopulation—Malawi being the most populous (by square meter) country in Africa.


woman washing

Lakeside clothes washing


Senga Bay is home to a few tourist lodges, scattered among the mud huts and fishing boats. Even though rooms and restaurants are very simple, they contrast greatly to the poverty beyond their walls. Most visitors spend their time in the waves and snorkeling. I, however, opted not to press my luck with bilharzias (a fresh water parasitic disease) and instead walked awkwardly through the nearby village, making friends with a group of girls who offered to show me around. They told me my sweat-drenched, old clothes, stained from working with Betty (toilet training a baboon was not one of my responsibilities) were beautiful, the prettiest they had ever seen. I thought of ripping them off my back and leaving them behind, but nudity wasn’t allowed on the beach.


village girls

Village girls


We spent the afternoon together, learning about each other, before I headed back to what now was incredible luxury: a bed, a table, a chair, a mosquito net and running water. I wanted to visit the “God only Knows” tearoom and find out why I had such good fortune and my new friends did not. I settled for a beach chair and evening sunset instead, contemplating my social responsibility to the world. What is my part in all of this? How am I meant to make a difference? Discovering the answer will take longer than a day, or a weekend at the lake.



Cool Runnings Lodge

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One Response to “Lake Malawi”

  1. swazzi Says:

    Wonderful! I adore your humor.

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