This is a blog about my travels. My "regular" life is much too boring to bother blogging about.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Kande is a village very close to the sandy shores of Lake Malawi. An Englishman has put up a lodge on the beach, and that is where I'm staying. I've been here two days and am staying a third night.

People in this village are extremely friendly. The bus lets you off on the highway, about a 3km walk from the lodge. The walk took me about an hour and half, no because it was particularly difficult, but because I stopped and talked to random people every 200 metres or so. People are very curious about foreigners. That I'm Canadian is also beneficial in Kande: CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency... I think) is doing a project here. I met a guy named Banjo. He offered to give me a tour of the village and the school, and then to have me over for dinner. Obviously this was going to cost me, the price was $10. Remembering the wild night I had with Vanesio in Vilankulo, I happily accepted.

The next morning, I went to meet Banjo outside my lodge. Except he didn't show up. In his place came his twin brother, who I met on my walk to the lodge the day before. His name was Mel Gibson. That is a nickname; in Kande, I have also met a Donald Duck, a Georgie Porgie, and a Mr. Loverman (Shabba!). Mel Gibson did the ''tour'' - it was less a tour than an organized attempt to extract money from me. Not that I necessarily hold it against Mel Gibson; he and his family are obviously extremely poor, and I can't really say that I wouldn't do the same if I was in his position. But it was very uncomfortable for me. I had high hopes for yesterday - it strikes me as rare that villagers are so open and so accessible to travelers. The day before, after I had dropped off my backpack, I spent 3 hours on the beach watching fishermen. They insisted on showing me exactly how they fished, what kind of bait they used, and they insisted that I go out on a rickety wooden canoe with them. Later, a woman in the village insisted that I watch her pound cassava into flour in a gigantic mortar and pestle. So I was hoping for a really interesting and enlightening tour, a cultural exchange of some sort.

Don't get me wrong - Mel Gibson took me all around the village, led me into the local school, the local hospital, and deserves compensation for his efforts. I understand that relations I will form with locals in developing countries will almost always be of the cash-for-a good time variety. But there is a difference between that and what happened to me yesterday. After a brief tour around the village, we went to Mel Gibson's house, along with his brother Golden. There he sat me down and explained that I was his brother, his Canadian brother, and that families help each and that he would appreciate any assistance I could provide him. I assumed he was referring to a tip after the tour, which is expected and fair. But instead he brought up driving school - he asked me to provide 40,000 kwachas for him to take driving lessons. 40,000 is somewhere in between $250 and $300. I told him, in the nicest way I could muster, to get stuffed. He seemed OK with that... but he kept referring to me as his brother, and saying that his house was my house and that I should sleep there, and blah blah blah. That made me really uncomfortable. I know how families work in Africa: if one member is lucky enough to have a good job, he/she is expected to support the rest of the family. I could see where the day was headed.

The school was interesting. I spoke to the headmaster, and he outlined some of the problems and challenges that the school faced. He then asked a donation. I happily provided one. Then we went to the craft workshop in town. Mel Gibson does crafts too, and I was pressured to buy one of his various trinkets. Because, of course, I was his brother and brothers help out their family, right? Every time he referred to me as his brother, I wanted to punch him in the face. I much prefer the hard sell that is common in Mozambique - ''hey, white boy, buy my stuff". The kind of sales pitch I experienced yesterday makes me really uncomfortable. I ended buying something, hoping I would be left alone after that. I was not. Mel Gibson insisted I played bao (a very common, and fun, African table game) with him for an hour, and afterwards he spent half and hour cajoling me to buy a bao set from him. I refused.

After that was lunch. We had cassava with a little bit of meat, beans, and spinach. It wasn't very good; Malawian food is extremely mediocre. I was spoiled by the food in Mozambique. Moz. is a poor country, but food is abundant: tropical fruit grows like weeds in the fertile soil, and great hauls of seafood come from the Indian Ocean. There will always be enough food in Mozambique, the only issue is whether or not the locals will have enough money to pay for it. Malawi, on the other hand, is basically slab of mountain with very poor soil for growing anything other than tubers (and marijuana - Malawi is alleged to the have the best weed in Africa, and it costs 10 cents a gram. No, that is not a typo). The dearth of food is noticeable as soon as you cross the border - the giant stacks of fruit so ubiquitous at roadside stands in Mozambique are completely nonexistent in Malawi. People eat what they can grow, which most of the time is a little bit of maize or cassava, soaked, dried then beaten into a flour. Water is added, which makes a paste after vigourous stirring. It doesn't taste very good, but it's filling.

After lunch, my "brother" broached the topic of money a few more times, but by that time I had grown quiet and withdrawn, as I usually get when confronted with unpleasantness. I mumbled a refusal and an apology. We sat around in stony silence for like an hour, until Mel Gibson got the point and asked one of his brothers to walk me back to the lodge. On the way back, the brother, who's name I have forgotten now, asked me to send him money from Canada since he was a student and needed to pay for various things. *Sigh*

I had already paid for dinner so I decided to go back to their house to eat another mediocre meal. I was subjected to a long lecture about how I was their brother and brothers are supposed to help each other. There were brothers there that I had never met before. It was clear that it was hoped that I would be a sugar daddy for the entire village. I was sullen and didn't speak. After dinner I left. They invited me back the next day, but I have no intention of going. I've had enough, my brain hurts. I've been here two days and have done very little beach bumming, I've been in the village most of the time. So today is devoted to the beach. I have met my first A++ travel friend in Kande, a nurse from Calgary named Tiffany who is going to Zimbabwe two days before the elections to volunteer at a hospital there - amazing. We are going kayaking in the lake. It will be my first time on a kayak since I almost drowned in the Pacific Ocean off of Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica, in February 2007. Should be a blast.


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