“Give me five,” called out a voice from across the main road leading into Nkhata Bay, a beautiful little slice of paradise on the beaches of Lake Malawi.
“Five what?” I called back at the young local sitting in the shade of his gift-ware shop, escaping the midday heat. I immediately suspected that he suspected that he had a suspected business opportunity and would try to sell me some trinkets.
“Five fingers,” he grinned, “because when you shake my hand it makes ten.”
I like that.
This guy ain’t about business. He’s just doin’ what Malawians do best; greet, smile and have a chat just for the sake of chatting. I crossed the road and introduced myself, giving him five fingers to make ten as we shook hands.
“I’m Bom-X,” he introduced himself. “This is my brother, Lucas,” he indicated to the Rastafarian braiding the Rasta colours of red, green and yellow on a black background to make flip flops (also known as thongs).
We all pumped fists and tapped to our heart, one of my favourite ways to greet people.
“You like to smoke?” Bom-X asked, rolling a joint. “Here, we don’t have rizzla, so we roll with paper. Is it OK?”
Is it OK? I’d smoke from a flip flop right now if I could. “Not a problem,” I grinned. Is it OK, pff.
“Please, sit down. I invite you,” he indicated to the bench where I parked it. “Me, I’m from the village,” he began to dictate his autobiography, “we are very poor –”
“It all depends on your definition of ‘poor’,” I cut him off.
“What do you mean?” he frowned.
“If, to you, poor is being without money, then you are just financially poor.” Shit, I feel a rant coming on. “But if you have somewhere to sleep, something to eat –” How do I stop myself? – “and people to call family and friends that always surround you and help you, then, my friend, you are one of the most wealthiest people I know.”
His frown turned upside down. His eyes lit up and he pumped fists with me.
“I like that. Yes, I am a rich man,” he was laughing and Lucas was grinning.
I grinned back, pumping fists as I explained my penniless ways. “I’m working at Big Blue Backpackers,” – which was right next door to their shop – “in exchange for food and bed and I play guitar.”
“Lucas is a musician,” Bom-X proudly stated of his brother.
“Awesome,” I said. “Come down to Big Blue and we’ll jam.”
He grinned, pumping fists with me as Bom-X lit the happy stick. Back home it was socially customary to adhere to the puff-puff-pass rule. In Africa? Take your sweet African Time, hold that taste in, breathe it out slowly and enjoy the journey. No rush to pass it on.
South Africa had good cheese. In Namibia it was South African and Zambia’s local ‘erb just didn’t cut the cheese (see what I did there?). But in Malawi?
“Swaziland has the best weed in Africa,” Bom-X explained. “Malawi is second.”
Wow, I exhaled. He wasn’t kidding. “I’ll bring any guests we have to your shop,” I offered.
“Ah, thank you, bro,” he pumped fists. “You are welcome any time. Malawi is free. Just feel free.”
Indeed, I was feeling extremely free. I thanked the brothers for the smoke and headed back to the backpackers.
“Where are you going?” Bom-X asked a few days later, bumping into him on the street.
“Into town,” I said.
“I want to show you where I live, in my village,” he offered.
“Sweet, let’s go,” I grinned.
We walked along the road then down a staircase roughly carved into the rock wall, across a bridge that didn’t look like it might hold out for the next rains, up another off-road track, passed the government hospital – “It’s free, for everyone,” Bom-X played tour guide. “Even for you” – kept hiking up into the beginning of his village, Shindoza and then,
“We must stop and have a smoke first, OK?” he said as we stopped by a shaded thatched zula full of local men.
“I wish to be President of Zimbabwe,” Dave introduced himself, stoner eyes glistening back.
There was also Black Moses, Titus (who I renamed King Titus) and James. “I’m a bush doctor,” he said. “I sell ganja for medicine. I am Bom-X’s uncle. You are most welcome in Malawi. Please, feel free.”
“I have a long-running prescription,” I grinned as he laughed.
“I want to give you a gift,” he reached into a blue plastic bag and pulled out a little squared paper packed package. “Smoke it, welcome to Malawi. Feel free.”
This day just keeps getting higher.
“Thank you very much,” we pumped fists.
I was offered some local whiskey that is sold in a plastic sachet. The kind of stuff that you could run a car on and should avoid as it probably can burn a hole in your intestines. Then an extremely drunk local stumbled in. The kind you could immediately tell was looking for a fight. He picked on a younger fella and a scuffle started between them. Being stoned, most of the guys just lazily called out for them to stop.
Even I threw in an, “Oi! Come on now, guys,” but there was no way I was getting physically involved.
The scuffle ended and among the many warnings the man received I could make out one that might have meant, “We have a muzhungu guest here. Don’t embarrass us.”
Or it could also have been, “Touch the muzhungu and we’ll kick your ass.”
Or simply, “You’re drunk so just fuck off.”
I felt safe, even when the drunk picked on someone else outside the zula and you could hear every punch hitting a target with loud slaps from beyond the wall where a crowd gathered to watch.
“OK, let’s go,” Bom-X suggested
I hate violence. And it blows my mind how it’s obvious that alcohol just brings out the evil in some people. Never had a violent incident on marijuana (too stoned to do anything).
We hiked up the hill and I was introduced to his grandmother.
“Timon-eh,” I greeted her. “Mwe-uli?” I asked to her well-being. “Te-u-mam-pa,” I answered her question to mine. “Tawonga,” I thanked her in the greeting ways of the Tonga people that Bom-X taught me on the hike.
Then he yelled everything I had said to her, making it echoing clear that she was partially hard of hearing.
“Let’s go meet my sister,” he suggested.
is family is huge. On their land alone there were about 12 families, all related. Bom-X’s cousin scampered up the mango tree. He picked the fruit and threw it down to me. We went back to his grandmother’s house for my first traditional lunch in Malawi – nsima (which is Nshima also known as pap in South Africa) with a relish of rape leaves and usipa (small fish that resemble the Zambian capiente) cooked with onions and tomatoes.
After the feast we went back to his sister’s to eat the freshly picked mangoes.
“This has to be the best mango I’ve ever had,” I said, sucking on the succulent juices as I tore into its fibrous flesh, well aware that I’d be picking my teeth later but it was worth it on a level that no hallucinogenic drug could ever replicate. This was even better than the mangoes in town.
“How do you feel?” Bom-X asked.
“I feel amazing,” I grinned, my beard soaking up most of the juices as I used my teeth to peel away the mango skin.
“After we will go jump off rocks into the lake,” he casually stated.
This day can’t get any better.
After devouring three mangoes each, we hiked down to the boulders where I immediately demonstrated my infamous Aussie cannonball, leaping off a 9-foot high boulder into not-too-deep-not-too-shallow waters.
By four o’clock we had trekked back to town. I thanked Bom-X for a great day.
“Later we’ll go to Mayoka Village,” I suggested.
Mayoka was notorious for a great night out.
“You pick me up,” he pumped my fist as I turned to hop down 70 steps and reflect on the day’s high.