At the end of the last installment we had made it through the Tanzania/Malawi border crossing at Songwe, with about an hour to spare before dark. We set our sights on Karonga, a town on Lake Malawi. We entered town just as it was starting to get dark and set quickly to the task of finding lodging, In case I haven’t mentioned it before, darkness falls fast near the equator. It’s light, then it’s dark. There’s not a long period of dusk.
Lonely planet had a few listings for Karonga. The first was several strips of rooms, forming a loose U, all facing away from the lake. It looked kind of grim, so we circled through and on our way. The second was a series of brick cottages, reminiscent of a 1960s-era Borscht Belt summer getaway (think “Dirty Dancing”). We had a look at the rooms, and while they were not luxurious, they were clean and had the necessary appointments. Sold!
We checked in, paying approximately $15 USD for each of our rooms. Then it was time for dinner, which for me was chambo – a local whitefish (which I came to think of as the official fish of Malawi), and nsima – a kind of solidly formed porridge made from ground and boiled corn. I can’t remember what K had, but it didn’t involve nsima.
We ordered, then went to settle into our rooms while the food was prepared. When I arrived back at the dining area (a square white room with fluorescent lighting and a TV in the corner showing what appeared to be an African soap opera) the lady who was serving us motioned me to a small sink in the corner and indicated I should wash my hands. I washed my hands and then proceeded to commit a series of Malawi faux pas.
The handwashing should have been a hint, but I missed it. Faux pas number one: when we sat down to eat I didn’t have any silverware, so I asked for some. The server seemed surprised but brought me a fork. Faux pas number two: I ate my fish with the fork, then tried to eat the nsima with the fork. Faux pas number 3: the nsima was very filling, so I didn’t eat very much of it. If only I had read the Wikipedia article before I sat down to dinner! Not only was I supposed to eat with my hands, using the nsima to pick up the fish, I also displayed insufficient respect for the nsima, the creation of which is very labor intensive. Doh!
Aside from my nsima faux pas, and Kevin’s terror of possibly rabid bats, which I discovered when we walked back to our cabins, and I exclaimed “oh, cool, bats,” the evening was uneventful. Stay tuned for the next few installments in which I sleep on the porch and we learn how many Malawians it takes to fix a flat tire. Oh, and there will be a quiz.