The white Mazda truck gleamed in the gathering dusk. The driver was smoking under a nearby baobab tree. As he ground the cigarette butt beneath his feet and ambled to the truck, people appeared from nowhere to jostle into the back of the truck. I clambered in to find myself lodged between a sack of maize and a young woman, who was wearing a faded blue dress with a bright chitenje* wrapped round her waist. As the truck lurched though the dark down the rocky track, she introduced herself as Akine. She was returning to Cape Maclear after visiting relatives in a nearby village. I told her I was teaching at the Girls Secondary School in Malindi, just across Lake Malawi and was meeting some friends in Cape Maclear for a weekend break.
“Come for supper tomorrow!” she invited me, as we clambered out of the truck. I agreed enthusiastically as I waved goodbye and made my way to the holiday chalets to meet up with my friends.
Next evening at the agreed time, Akine was waiting outside my chalet to take me to her house. She lead me through narrow paths between small, mud-built houses to her house, which stood not far from the lake-shore. She insisted I sit down by the lake while she finished cooking. I watched the sky fading above the mountains across the lake and listened to the chatter of the village and the occasional call of a fish eagle.
After a few minutes, Akine reappeared with a bottle of coke and a plate of rice and fish. I knew that she must have bought all this specially for me that day, and it was likely that she rarely ate like this. Being a vegetarian and reluctant to drink coke or most other fizzy drinks, I had come to see certain things slightly differently while living in Malawi and I was delighted with this feast. The fish was chambo, a large, delicious fish, caught that day fresh from Lake Malawi and it was cooked to perfection.
Akine didn't speak much English and I didn't speak much Chichewa so our conversation was limited, but we enjoyed a companionable evening watching the stars rise.
=chitenje – a traditional cotton wrap