Pig Day

Day 50: Kande Beach, Malawi
Saturday we headed south from Chitimba for Kande Beach (pronounced "candy"), stopping in Nkhata Bay to visit some roadside curio shops. Malawi is famous for intricate wood carvings – animal figurines, bowls, masks, tables, chairs, and many other things. Bartering for these souvenirs is an art, and vendors often accept items for trade – flip flops, t-shirts, old mobile phones. Although it is possible to obtain some great deals, once your shopping is done, it becomes very tiresome dealing with the constant hassle from street vendors, who always shake your hand and offer a "good price for you." Some tag alongside for long distances, striking up conversation that is only a thinly veiled sales tactic. They are ruthless in trying to force the sale of unwanted items, and after enough time in Africa, most of us have become quite callous, ignoring anyone who tries to talk to us and refusing to shake anyone's hand. As unfriendly as it feels to act this way, it is the only way to deal with the constant hassle.

Sign for campsite at Kande Beach, Malawi © Matt Prater
Sign for campsite at Kande Beach, Malawi
We reached the camp at Kande Beach after a few hours. It is a beautiful setting on the sandy shores of Lake Malawi, the misty silhouette of mountains hugging the shoreline to the south. A rocky, tree-filled island beckons just off the coast, the only interruption to the otherwise unbroken sea of water that stretches to the horizon. Like much fresh water in Africa, Lake Malawi carries a risk of schistosomiasis, an infection caused by bilharzia parasites. However, all that is needed to guard against a possible infection is a single pill, taken within two months of exposure. It is not necessary to avoid swimming in the lake for fear of parasites – it is just as easy to become infected from showering, as campsites along Lake Malawi draw their water directly from the lake.

Lake Malawi, Kande Beach, Malawi © Matt Prater
Lake Malawi and Kande Beach, Malawi

Outdoor seating area, Kande Beach Resort, Malawi © Matt Prater
Outdoor seating area at Kande Beach Resort, Malawi

Yesterday was "Pig Day," a tradition with many of the overland truck tours. Early in the morning, we walked out of the camp gates to some nearby huts, where we witnessed the slaughter and preparation of our pig, which we would roast on a spit for dinner. The act retained a shadow of savagery in the forceful thrust of a knife into the squealing pig's heart, the spurting of warm blood into a bowl, and the pained last breaths of the animal as it was lowered into a shallow pit where it would be shaved. As one local villager carefully poured boiling water over the hide of the dead pig, another expertly scraped the steamed hair from the animal's skin. As brutal as these events may sound, they are a potent reminder of the source of the food we eat – we as Westerners, familiar only with our sterile plastic packaging, often forget where the meat we eat originates.

In the meantime, I sat down nearby and learned how to play bao, a Malawian board game similar to checkers. The villager who was teaching me explained that the name originates from the fact that the game is often played in the shade of a baobab tree. Of course, after learning the rules of the game, the villager immediately hassled me to buy a board. After explaining that I had already bought a game table in Chitimba that contained both bao and chess boards, the vendor then offered to write up an instruction sheet for me for only 1,000 kwacha ($6). I told him I would find the rules online.

On the short walk along a dirt path back to the camp gates, I arranged an afternoon fishing trip with one of the locals and agreed on a price of 2,000 kwacha ($12) for three of us. The man called himself Black William. All the men in Kande Beach use creative pseudonyms – Sugar and Spice, Spiderman, Samuel L. Jackson. I paid half the amount up front so Black William could purchase the fishing lines and bait. He would receive the rest after we returned from the trip. At noon, Becca, Beth, and I walked out to the beach where we were supposed to meet Black William. The trip was to last two hours – we would take a boat out to the solitary island, learn how to fish as the Malawians do, and have an opportunity to jump off the rocky cliffs into the refreshing waters of Lake Malawi. As this is Africa ("T.I.A."), Black William was an hour late and told us that he was only then going to get the supplies and prepare the boat. He told us to return at two, but we reminded him that we wanted to be back at camp by then. He said, "OK, five minutes then." After much longer than five minutes, we walked down the beach towards a little shack where some locals were sitting and asked for Black William. He finally saw us and led us towards our "boat", which was quite literally a hollowed out, knotty log. We looked with apprehension at each other but decided to give the Malawian boat a try.

Men pushing dugout fishing boat into Lake Malawi, Kande Beach, Malawi © Matt Prater
Men pushing a dugout fishing boat into Lake Malawi, Kande Beach, Malawi

The sides curved up and towards the center, so it took some maneuvering to squeeze our hips past the rough wood edges and sit down. The three of us were scrunched, almost on top of each other, at the front of the log, and Black William rowed from the back. We seemed precariously balanced on the constantly surging waves as we floated towards the island. As we rocked side to side, our guide told us to balance so we wouldn't roll completely upside down. With arms outstretched like gymnasts on a balance beam, we shifted our weight to one side or the other, keenly aware of the danger of capsizing. Because it had been such a tight fit to wedge ourselves into the boat, it was a terrifying prospect to consider what would happen if we overturned. To make the situation even more alarming, water began slowly rising in the curved bottom of the boat. When we were sitting in water about eight inches deep, Black William remarked nonchalantly that we were sinking and that we should turn back because we didn't want to get into trouble. Relieved, the three of us anxiously fixated our eyes on the beach ahead, fiercely gripping the sides of the hollow log every time a wave hit us from the side and threatened to roll us over. After a few minutes, we finally reached the safety of dry land.

Man in dugout fishing boat on Lake Malawi, Kande Beach, Malawi © Matt Prater
A man rows a dugout fishing boat on Lake Malawi, Kande Beach, Malawi

We asked if he could refund the money we had paid that morning, and he agreed. He walked off to get the money and said he would return in a few minutes. After half an hour, we were fed up, and I walked out of the camp to the side of the beach used by locals. I talked to a man who said that Black William had already spent the money on the fishing equipment and that cash was hard to come by. He suggested that we might receive something else, such as wood carvings or another excursion, in exchange. I told the man that I just wanted the money, and he replied that I should meet Black William at the camp gate at five o'clock – in three hours. I knew it was probably going to be a futile task to get the money back, but I was not going to give up. At five, I walked out of the gate and, unsurprisingly, there was no one there. I decided not to worry about it for the rest of the evening – I had the whole next day to find Black William and get my refund.

Pig roasting on spit, Kande Beach, Malawi © Matt Prater
A pig roasting on a spit, Kande Beach, Malawi
Back at the truck, an adorable abandoned kitten had turned up – we named her Nudge. We mixed up some powdered milk, and she lapped it up. Nudge became our mascot for the evening, and we took turns playing with her and letting her sleep in our laps. Shortly, our pig – which we named Lady Penelope – was a nice golden color. She was removed from the spit, and dinner was served. The meat was quite fatty, and there were some unappetizing strands of black pig hair still attached to some of the chunks of meat. At least we had plenty of chips (fries) to fill up on. After dinner, we mixed up some punch and played drinking games. We soon moved to the camp bar and took Nudge with us. She lazily curled up in my lap while some of the others played a few games of pool. When it was my turn to play a game, I was appalled at the hundreds of midges – tiny flies – that swarmed around the light suspended above the table. Many had fallen onto the green felt and had been squished into a fine black mat as the pool balls rolled over them. But there's not much sense in scrutinizing the condition of an African pool table.

Outdoor seating area, Kande Beach Resort, Malawi © Matt Prater
Outdoor seating area at Kande Beach Resort, Malawi
Outdoor bar, Kande Beach Resort, Malawi © Matt Prater
Outdoor bar at Kande Beach Resort, Malawi

Sunset over Lake Malawi, Kande Beach, Malawi © Matt Prater
Sunset over Lake Malawi from Kande Beach, Malawi

After I finished playing pool, I noticed that there were about five people from our group dancing on the bar. The music was blaring, and after I finished my drink, I joined in. It was great fun until eleven o'clock came and the bartender turned the music down. He would have been happy to keep it loud, but he said he would be reprimanded by his boss. We left the bar and walked down to the beach for a night swim in the lake. Making sure to keep our mouths closed, we ran through a curtain of thousands of midges that swarmed between the lampposts. Once past them, we splashed into the refreshing dark water. A silent lightning storm in the distance flashed behind the silhouette of the lonely island and occasionally brightened the star-filled sky. After our swim, four of us – Deepa, Nix, Tom, and I – ran off to the truck for a four-person truck party. We put my iPod on and music boomed out of the truck's speakers as we danced in the narrow aisle between the seats. We were having an awesome night, and the music gradually increased in volume until it was absolutely pumping across the campsite. The highlight of the evening, however, came after a string of dance tracks when we switched gears and all started singing along to "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story. I could not imagine a truck party with better friends! It was a perfect end to an amazing night, and we finally crashed around three in the morning, only minutes before rain started pouring from the night sky.