A Great Lake

Trip Start Jan 10, 2006
Trip End Jun 02, 2006

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Where I stayed
Kupenja Lodge

Flag of Malawi  ,
Monday, March 27, 2006

Its been a while since I've been on a computer. There aren't many here, and they're pricey so I must be quick. Tuesday, it took two mini-buses to get from Lilongwe to Nkhata Bay. They were crammed tight, too, but I made it just in time for sunset (see photos). When the bus dropped me I hadn't seen the water yet because I had no window view the whole ride. It wasn't until I stepped out on the deck of Kupenja Lodge that I was struck by the lake and all its beauty.

Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) is the third largest lake in Afrika (11th largest on Earth). It certainly would qualify as a fresh water sea. The water is clear and silver-blue, and clouds are always shaping the sky above it. The surface of the lake is 474 meters above sea level, and the deepest point on the bottom of the lake is 230 meters below sea level. I should mention that this is the Great Rift Valley. The Rift is an active fault line running from the Mozambique up to Ethiopia. It contains many volcanoes (active and extinct) and a handful of the largest and most beautiful lakes in the world. Four of the five highest peaks on the continent stradle this great divide. The northern part of the Rift (Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda) is the most densly populated part of Afrika. All of east Afrika is slowly sliding into the Indian Ocean. Someday, Lake Malawi will contain salt water.

I quickly found Josie Redmonds and Chris Ashton at Kupenja. I'd been in contact with Josie via email for about two years, and we finally met after all this time. Josie (josieredmonds@hotmail.com) and Chris (www.africaunplugged.co.uk) gather resources from donors mostly in England and then use these resources to set up various projects around northern Malawi. They are doing an amazing job dispite the many obstacles in the way of helping Afrikans help themselves.

Fortunately, I arrived just as both Chris and Josie were fully recovering from a bout with malaria. The disease is around, for sure. I'd meet more people with fevers.

We jumped right into the work, visiting various projects - mostly setting up nursery schools and gardens for school children. We visited one such school where Josie's main contact person is a traditional healer named Happy. I shared with him some of the usnea I had gathered in Zimbabwe. Tomorrow I'll go with him on a plant walk to talk about some of the medicines he uses.

The best garden I've seen so far is planted and maintained by the local prison. It has a nice mix of trees (papaya, citrus) and annuals (groundnuts mostly).

We visited various other garden sights. Its a trip trying to politely explain permaculture, as it is very different from the agriculture they are taught in the schools. Yesterday, Josie and I met with Josie's contact, Alonso, and went to a primary school that they have been working with to teach a couple lessons and plant some fruits, herbs and vegetables. I couldn't believe they left it totally up to us as to how long and what we would teach the youths. We had a lesson and practical with each the 7th and 8th graders. I kept the chalk talk very simple (we had a translator), talking about the importance of seeing water, trees and soil as part of our communities and families, and what we can do the conserve and maintain such resources. Then we went outside and planted and mulched.

That afternoon we walked across the mountain (through the rubber tree plantation) to the secondary school. We were supposed to meet with the wildlife club after school. It was a bit unorganized, but finally I found myself addressing about 30 or 40 teenagers. Time was short, so I just told them how permaculture is different from agriculture and horticulture, and how we might want to consider past and future generations in our actions. I showed them a plant list that Stacia and Kristof gave me of plant foods in Malawi. Their teacher was very impressed with this list (it had the names in Chichewa as well) and reinforced the idea that none should be hungry in such a diverse country for wont of maize.

We then went out to the garden and planted fruit trees, ginger, garlic and potatoes, and we harvested oranges and lemons from their old citrus trees. This was an incredible experience. These youths had many questions and were very thankful for our being there. I felt bad leaving (we only had an hour and a half total), but doing the work where they live is up to them.

Besides these experiences in the villages, Nkhata Bay is very cool. Reggae music bumps constantly out of all the bars, barber shops, and mini-marts. Ganja is plentiful and cheap - 500 kwacha per giant cob of schwag wrapped in banana leaves. There is food everywhere. Everyday, I eat about ten bananas, one avacado, some bread, and my fill of fried casava (it's a penny a piece). The staff at Kupenja Lodge feed me dinners as well, though I feel bad when too many people order because they only have fire for one pot at a time. We don't eat as a family here.

I've sampled some of the fish. One, called a butterfish, naturally exudes a butter-like substance when you cook it. All you have to do is rub it with garlic and you have scampi. The fisherman fish all night under lamps on their dugout canoes. It looks erie from the land. Some of the fish are very colorful. Snorkeling and scuba is popular here. I got the snorkel out and saw some neon purple ones and some orange ones. There are also fresh water crabs and mouth-brooders (fish which rear their young in their mouths).

Later this week we'll have a quick workshop on growing oyster mushrooms, a plant learning circle and more work in the garden.
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whiteant on

Nice Pic
Love the sunset pics... right place, right time, well played

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