016: Lake Malawi

Under the influence of the gentle morning waves, the paddleboard bumped between the rocks of the shore across the bay.  It was her last day on the Lake and after five days of late, leisurely mornings she had finally recovered the strength and determination to rise with the sun. 
Lake Malawi is world renown for the beauty and diversity of its Cichlids. Chelsi had grown up admiring these fishes from behind the glass of at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  They were mottled yellow, blue, peach and black, some with stripes, others larger than a dinner plate with bulging foreheads.  In all her years she never imagined she would one day be able to swim with them. 
Chelsi laid her paddle down across the back of the board and unfolded her legs, swinging them round so her belly rested on the board.  The day had not yet heated enough to burn off the clouds, which eliminated the glare on the water. Paddling the board across the bay she could see straight down to the bed of the lake almost all the way. Here, near the shore, large, smooth boulders rose the soft sandy bed just an arm’s reach below Chelsi’s belly.  She peered over the side of the board.  A brilliant blue shimmer drifted from a crevasse of the boulders.  She watched as the shimmer began to move with purpose through the boulders.  Around one of the corners it met up with another shimmer, this the color of opal.
The last four days had been the best she had ever felt. No drink, drug or lover had ever made her feel as good as the tropical breeze and warm water.  She thought about moments in the past when, had it been her time, she would have gone happily. There was one memory, from her last days in the Adirondacks. For the last four years it had been the bar for ‘feeling good,’ but now, even that doesn’t come close.
The blue and opal shimmers had parted, blue making for a small group of other blues and opal to one of few sandy bed bottoms.  It was picking at the periphyton on rocks.  It was joined by the three black strips broken by three black spots.  Chelsi focus was broken by the sound of another paddler in the water.  She propped herself up and looked round.  Just over her shoulder, out past the rocks a Malawian man paddled a dugout canoe.  He did not look back at her.  He had probably grown to accustom to foreign tourists visiting his home. Being a ‘tourist’ is a little liberating, she thought.  She didn’t have to worry about exposing her knees, recognizing people or greeting properly. At the end of the day she wasn’t left wondering how long it would take to start her brazier or whether she awake in the middle with her house filled with monsters.  Is this what it means to be on vacation?
When she looked back under the water opal and her companion were joined group of small blacks. Darker than black really. They look almost to be made of velvet. For a moment a bright light peered through the cloudy haze.  The sun redden skin on her thighs and shoulder tingled.  Day to day these portions of her were hidden from the African sun, so as to retain her modesty and distinguished statue in the village. The status of ‘tourist’ though had colored these parts of her body quickly. 
She thought as little about the return journey as she could, but now with hours left instead of days she couldn’t keep it from her mind. If we leave early Friday morning, she thought, maybe I’ll be back in the village by Tuesday; if we make it to Chipata tomorrow, Lusaka on Saturday, Solwezi on Sunday. Depending on how I feel after I get all my errands done maybe spend Monday night in town too. She had two dresses at the tailor to pick up, and a box for catching bees at the Prov house, hopefully. Then it was still a bike ride to her house with all her things.  My house… she didn’t even know how much longer it would be her house.  For her to stay in Kamijiji the deal had been that the village had to have all the new bricks made, thatch collected, chim covered and the roof on her chinzanza repaired before she returned, otherwise Peace Corps would be moving her to a new sight.  She imagined what it might look like when she rolled up, but probably it’ll look the same. She thought about what it looked like before she left; wasted thatch strewn about, chicken wire from the pig fence jutting out around the perimeter, pieces from broken animal houses in cluttered piles. I really, really hope they’ve fixed the house. The time away had improved her prospective on what she wanted to work on in the village, and she was excited to get started.  Just gardening and fish farming to start, maybe in six months rabbits and HIV/Malaria intervention and after a year we can start cooking, baking and nutrition. One of her fellow intakee’s had told her that even if her destination was seven or eight kilometers away she walked instead of taking her bike.  Chelsi liked that idea, it would prevent her from taking on too much at once.  Scheduling two or three appointments in a day during community entry had run her more ragged than she had realized. ‘Plus,’ her friend had said, ‘you miss a lot on you bike.  It’s not as easy to wander into a group of people and stay for a bit.’
More and more fish were starting to drift out of the rocks.  Bright orange now joined the bouquet. I could also just stay here forever. She thought about the tropical fruit smoothies from the bar. At just a 1.50$ each she could probably have one a day for the rest of her life.   There was also a dive shop in town that could SCUBA certify her at just 500$, then imagine all the Cichlids I could see. She reach through the water, her hand becoming a little like a fish, shimmer peach.  A brilliant blue came closer to investigate.  The caudle fin of peach wiggled with a bit too much fervor scaring brilliant blue away.  The water was as warm as the air, and with the water so clear, it’s like they’re seamlessly together.  But even after a week she still hesitated before touching it; lifetime in the frozen north had conditioned her to believe the water will always take some a adjusting to.  Except today, today there was no hesitation. Shimmer peach investigated between some of the rocks. 
She rolled around so her back was against the board.  The haze was beginning to thin.  But all good things end, and I’d rather leave while things are still good. Besides there a lot of things I still want to do. She thought about her puppy. I wonder how much Daisy has grown, and if she’ll still remember me.  Chelsi pushed herself up on the board and looked back across the bay.  She could still make out the resort; a large open porch, almost hovering over the water, housing the bar and food service portion and hodge-podge of standalone rooms built from the water’s edge going up the steep rocky cliff.  Her room was the one made mostly of grass and bug mesh with a floor made of planks spaced an inch apart and about ten feet off the ground at the greatest point.  At first she had been disappoint when she found that most of her friends had been shown to rooms made of stone or brightly paint brick but once she realized that the airy style allowed for the tropical breezed from the lake to come through she was content.  Maybe I’ll come back in a year, to get that SCUBA certification, she thought picking up the paddle.  She used it to guide her way out of the rocks back to open water.  The lake was becoming busier now. The time for being alone is over, I should be getting back

Categories: Fantasy, Nature | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “016: Lake Malawi

  1. Sandy

    I want to paddle there!!! :)))
    I’ve only paddled on Lake Michigan and I don’t see any amazing fish :/


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