In order to keep the narrative clear, I will continue from May 10, the day I left Lilongwe. I will be back from village trips tomorrow and will continue writing later this week.

I arrived at the airport and signed in with the charter flight company. The woman behind the desk weighed my baggage, then me, then told me I could go anywhere in the airport and that she would come and get me when the flight was ready. She recommended that I go upstairs. This was basically an open-air observation desk that had a restaurant and bar, the bar being fully subscribed at nine in the morning.

I watched a Kenya Air flight take off and saw a pilot go to a small plane and begin to do maintenance. At quarter to ten, not quite being disabused of my North American habits, I began to worry that I had been forgotten. I had visions of the flight leaving for Likoma with all the happy tourists but without me, so I came back downstairs, only to see my luggage still behind the desk at the charter company. Nevertheless the nice woman said that it was time to go, and she would ask the police to let me into the domestic flight boarding area.

Thus it was that I followed a policewoman who unlocked the glass doors and let me into a boarding area that could seat around 100 people. Nobody else was there. "Are you the only one?" she asked, a bit dubious. "I didn't think so," I said. I waited about five minutes, then I saw the woman from behind the desk pushing a cart into this room, with my bag on it. Now that she was standing away from the desk, I could see that she was pregnant. I asked where the rest of the people were. "You are the only one on this flight," she answered. "Which plane?" Of course it was the tiny one the pilot was doing maintenance on earlier.
"Just a few quick instructions," said Jeremy the pilot after making his introductions. "This could be a bumpy ride, so here are the airsickness bags. Also, we will be going over a lot of water, so here is the life vest. Okay? Good. Why don't you get in the front with me?"

Next thing I know I am in the co-pilot's seat, complete with my own controls and disabled steering (I assume it was disabled!). All through the flight I was so tempted to grab it and make airplane noises. I anticipated I would be afraid, since I don't like turbulence at all on jumbo jets, but I actually surprised myself by getting excited at the thought of flying across Malawi in a small plane. Once we got high enough, the ride was actually quite smooth, and the view was spectacular. The hour flew by (pun intended) with my own solo tour of the countryside by air.
Likoma airport consisted of a nice flat building the size of two or three classrooms, with five people inside: a woman who came out and gave the pilot a flight log to complete, and four men inside around a table playing cards. "Drink Carlsberg Beer," the sign on the wall said. "It's Family Fun." After fifteen minutes, a man drove up and told me that we were waiting for other guests to arrive for the boat to Mozambique, but we would drive to the immigration office and wait in the village.
Our jeep sped off on a very rutted and stony dirt road into a collection of huts, stores and schoolchildren walking on and off the road. "Jesus Is King Barber Shop," "Blessings Upon You Grocery Store" and the like, in English and Chichewa, ran all down the road. We slowed down in front of one concrete building with a public service announcement painted on it. It had a drawing of a smiling square with a balloon coming from its mouth: "Ndine Sopo" (I am soap).

Three buildings down from this toward the shore was a long open air stall, with a woman cooking something outside behind it. A man in a military uniform was standing off to one side, and two men in police-type uniforms were in another corner. There was also a man in t-shirt and shorts - they wear shorts in the villages at times. This man was the immigration officer, for this was the immigration office of Likoma Island.

After a few questions and considerable confusion from the police, who appeared to be trainees, about which stamp to use and where it should go, I was sent on my way. At this point it was noon, and I learned that the other guests would not be arriving for three hours. There was nothing to do but wait, so I was escorted to a restaurant right by the shore with the promising name "The Hunger Clinic." I ordered an orange Fanta and waited. And waited. And waited. I knew the waitress was irritated, but my travel companions (two by now) had gone off to buy supplies for the lodge and left me there, while my exit visa had already been stamped. I supposed as long as I left the same day, I was still okay.

After three hours, we were ready to get on the boat with my luggage, two cartons of bottled soda, four cartons of eggs, six containers of gasoline and three of us. We left the village port and set off for the beach at the airport. There we picked up the two guests from Great Britain and set off on our way to Cobue to get our Mozambican visas.

At Cobue, we grounded the boat and all hopped off. It was washing day, and two women were pounding dirty clothes in the lake, while colorful clothes of all sizes and descriptions hung out to dry on vast wooden poles mounted sideways all around the beach. We left the beach and went up a steep and dusty hill on the right, avoiding small children and goats as much as possible. When we reached the top, there was a concrete building that looked a little like a bathroom at a national park. "This is considerate after this long day, but I really just want to get this done right now," I thought. It was the that I noticed that instead of saying "Men" and "Women," the signs read in Portuguese "Immigration" and"Police."

We entered the immigration side, and with a combination of English, Portuguese and Nyanja, all accompanied by the bleating goats just outside, we managed to get the job done - only after I paid for my $30 visa with a fifty and one of the officers has to run into town for change.

Once he came back with the money, we were back in the boat; and soon after passing a few crocodiles sunning themselves on rocks in the lake, we were at Nkwichi, my home away from home for the next three months.

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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013