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!

No phone, no pool, no pets.

No phone, no pool, no pets.

The TV worked, as did the mosquito net.

The TV worked, as did the mosquito net.

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.

Posted by lesherjennifer

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