Landlubber Alert

Nkhata Bay,

Malawi

July 4, 2016

The landlubber that I am, of course none of this interests me. Swimming is not one of the skills I possess. But there is something here that I want to do. I want to go with one of the fishermen on their boat.

I see them out on the bay each day. But these are not the usual metal or plastic canoes or motorboats. These are dugouts called makoros. There are usually a pair of fishermen in each. One paddles while the other dives into the water, armed with a snorkel and a mask. He dives into the water spearfishing underwater. He surfaces a few minutes later, with some fish strung along a piece of wire. There are others with fishing nets that they bring ashore in the village. The fish are taken out of the nets and up the short path into the village. Soon the smoke of cooking fires carries with it the tantalizing smell of frying fish.

For the past few days in my wanderings through the village I have been pestering the fishermen, hoping that one would take me out on his mokoro.

“Hello, good morning” I would open the conversation in the usual way of these parts.

“How are you”?

“Good, good” came the reply.

“Did you have a good catch today?”

“Is okay, not so good last night”

“Is this your makoro? Is it a good one?”

“Oh yes, this one is very very good!”

“Great! Can I go on it?”

At this point there would be a dramatic change in facial expression. What was until now a friendly look morphs into a faintly wary one.

“You want to go on the makoro?” he asks with the sort of look that questions my sanity.

“Yes”, I say, I would love to.

A few more questions aimed at ascertaining the presence (or absence) of my gray cells and he reluctantly agrees to a short ride. I sternly restrained my urge to do a little jig of joy. Just as I am about to step into the boat, more or less in an offhand manner he asks

“You are a good swimmer. Yes?”

“Um” I hedge, “No, I cannot swim”

“Oh, then Madam, I cannot take you” he replies with alacrity. “This one can turn over often”.

The conversation invariably ended the same way. I have a sneaking feeling that word has got around. Now when they see me coming their way, the immediate reaction is “no, we cannot take you”.

Deep sighs and a forlorn expression at the restaurant last night had Lyman taking pity on me. Kind soul that he is, he said that the Mayoka Village has its own makoro and once his shift was over, he would take me. I was thrilled! Dutifully trussed into a lifejacket we paddled out into the bay. I even managed to paddle without overturning – a previously unattained achievement for this landlubber!

 

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