Reflections on Lake Malawi

For me Malawi was a source of inner conflict. The two things I associate with the country are in direct opposition. Firstly, Malawi remains one of the world’s poorest countries: annual gross national product is less than $250 per person, half the population is malnourished, and life-expectancy is just 43 years, in large part due to HIV/AIDS. Secondly, Malawi is famed for its eponymous lake, which provides the traveller, and this traveller in particular, with many opportunities for lounging about the beach and cooling off in the crisp water. Indulgence in the latter of these national characteristics makes one forget about the former. And we were indulgent.

After stopping over for a night in the capital Lilongwe to stock up on supplies, we made for the lake to spend five nights on its shores. Although I’d seen pictures of it online and knew its size (it sidles up beside almost the entire length of the country making it the third largest lake in Africa) I’d not appreciated how little it resembles a lake. Its long yellow beaches, lapping waves, turquoise waters and tourist bars give it the complexion of a tropical seafront. Only when you get in the freshwater do you remember it’s a lake. Falling into beach mode, we spent our time reading books, swimming, eating a roast pig who we named Luscious Lucille, drinking local beer (Kuche Kuche, a reasonably drinkable, if bland, lager) and generally having fun.

On our last night in the Kande Beach resort we walked to the local village, where we had were served stew (beans and spinach and tasty) and the kids put on a show of traditional dancing and singing for us. Seeing some of their more provocative moves I suspect they’ve also been influenced by Snoop Dog videos. Surprisingly their performance climaxed with a rendition of the Hakka (pictured) which a particularly patriotic Kiwi taught them. Authentic, not really, but like the rest of my time in Malawi it was enjoyable. And hopefully our tourist cash will help those GDP figures.

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