MALAWI: April 2018

Acha Chawinga, as well as extolling the virtues of his country – not unexpected seeing as he works for the Malawi Department of Tourism – likes a good story.

The phrase ‘kaya mawa’ – the name of our resort on Likoma Island – is the local equivalent of  ‘mañana’, along the lines of I could leave Likoma today, but maybe I’ll go tomorrow.

The wiry Acha explains the meaning in a more colourful manner.

“‘Kaya’ means ‘doubt’, he says, ‘mawa’ [means] tomorrow”, so the literal translation is ‘doubt tomorrow’.”

Explaining where the saying came from he tells us: “Two families lived on opposite sides of the Lake,”  – a mission for either party to meet up, given the distance involved – “so they arranged to meet up on an island halfway between the two. A good idea, says one, but I doubt [it will be] tomorrow.”

As the ‘fixer’ for the duration of our stay in Malawi, Acha, despite the stresses of leading a group of seven here, there and everywhere, while trying to showcase the best Malawi has to offer, always wore a broad smile; something of a given for Malawians.

Later, as we sit down for dinner, he draws our attention to some bells that are on display.

“Cow bells,” he says. “Each farmer would have a different sounding bell. So if you ever come across a cow, you would know which herder it belonged to.”

He then points to a monster of a bell on the sideboard.

“And for troublesome cows, we use this one,” he laughs.

Something fishy

Seeing me admiring a picture depicting a boy standing in a dugout canoe, a couple of fish and what looks like a boathook at his feet, he sidles over to me.

“Catfish,” he says. “They spike them with the boathook, the fish floats on the water and then they haul them on board… It was the traditional way of fishing.”

“They wouldn’t be able to catch a lot that way,” I say, thinking it would take a super-human effort to catch enough fish each day to make a living.

“No, it would just be for their own use,” he says. “Catch three or four fish and then head home.”

Acha is a keen fisherman himself, catching fish for his family to eat when he was younger and living in Mangochi. Fly-fishing in Nyika, though, proved a different proposition. Appearing more skilled than myself (which wasn’t hard), he was determined to land a fish. After a couple of hours of trying, the rest of us hardy rodsmen (and women) abandoned our pursuit of the elusive trout and headed off for a game drive.

Acha, on the other hand, was not to be defeated. “I’m staying here until I catch a fish,” he says defiantly, as the sun begins to dip.

I had the feeling he could be there all night.

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