MALAWI: April 2018

As I sip a cool drink, perched on a barstool at Kaya Mawa on Likoma Island, overlooking Lake Malawi, barman Luke Kakhongwe tells me he was born on the island and has always lived here.

Although members of his family have moved to the mainland, he seems to have no desire to do so. And looking around me, why would he – he has a great job in the perfect surroundings.

As the resort’s guest experience manager Sarah Beer, who hails from Melbourne, Australia, says: ”The island is unique in this time. It maintains its community values and doesn’t rely on development. Sure there’s difficulties for the locals, such as when rains affect crops, but there’s so much love and care for one another.”

This was evident on our travels around Likoma. As well as a succession of huge baobabs – their gnarled branches twisting into the sky – we pass some of the smiliest people you could hope to meet, walking along the road. Everyone we come across stops to wave and shout ‘hello’ and kids run out their houses to greet us – one even chased our vehicle while pushing a bicycle wheel with a stick, as his mate ran alongside him, a Superman-like cape flying out behind him.

That’s my business

“What would you have done for work if you hadn’t got a job here?” I ask Luke.

“I would work in small-scale businesses,” he tells me.

There’s that business conundrum again; the one where you are non-the-wiser as to what it is they actually do.

The main source of income on the island is fishing, though. Indeed, I see many a boat of fishermen going out into the lake each day to cast their nets, as well as a number of long lines of tables covered in fish that are drying in the sun, ready for market.

Likoma lies nearer to Mozambique and Tanzania than the Malawian mainland. In fact, despite maintaining its Malawian nationality, it is actually in Mozambique waters.

“Who do the fishermen sell to?” I enquire.

“People from Mozambique and Tanzania come to do small-scale business here,” says Luke.

Ah, yes, small-scale businesses – a phrase that covers a multitude of, erm, business.

A fellow drinker enquires as to whether polygamy is still practiced in Malawi. A bit leftfield, but we run with it.

Luke acknowledges that it does still occur, but he isn’t keen on the idea himself.

“What about you?” I ask, turning to Luke’s colleague Harold Chirwa, who has joined him behind the bar.

Harold grins.

“I think maybe he does,” Luke laughs.

“I didn’t say that,” Harold retorts, but he doesn’t refute the suggestion either.

“Do you have two wives?” I banter.

He shakes his head, chuckling. “One is enough,” he says. “More than one and you would get very confused.”

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