African Vignette 11: Crossing Lake Malawi

Here is a bit from my first book, for which this web site is named, about a trip on the MV Ilala, sailing across Lake Malawi from Monkey Bay, Malawi, in the south, up toward Tanzania:


Get Dirty for God. Go Lay a Brick with Team Mission. Thirty or forty kids wearing missionary T-shirts with those slogans came aboard to tour the Ilala at the first stop, Chipoka, from about 3:00 to 4:30.

A boy drew a crowd on the dock putting on a show with two bobble head monkeys on a table. Some people wore lime green sandals and others sold them.

If you ever sail the MV Ilala, choose the rattan seats to port, just above the gangplank, for live theatre immediately below you at port calls. The same seats are great when the port of call doesn’t have a big enough dock for the Ilala to tie up. In that case an incredibly colorful, and incredibly crowded scrum scrambles onto and out of the tenders dispatched to shore. Just below you.

You learn to stake out your deck space. After that first stop, if you didn’t, you’d lose it. The Ilala was vastly more crowded as soon as we left Chipoka.

Immanuel, deck hand, remarked on the Indian owners. I spoke later with Malcolm, the Indian commercial officer, who described Byzantine smuggling ruses he has seen.

In the evening a loud, rollicking, mostly European time broke out around the bar. We joined Richard, a kitchen outfitter, and his girlfriend from New York, the Aussie from Queensland who Mirja always thought was called John but who was named Peter, Martin the Dutch banker with a hankering for a posting to Southeast Asia, his girlfriend the park volunteer who was beginning to feel ill, and Steph and Tom.

We laid back in our cabin late in the morning, until the horn blew us standing and we were in Mozambique. That was at 9:00 and we didn’t set sail again until after 11:00 because officials were involved, and procedures had to be followed.

We couldn’t dock but instead anchored offshore and a flotilla of small craft commenced shuttling over and back to Ngoo, Mozambique.

We heard a splash, turned to see a body fly by the porthole and looked to see it was Tom and Peter the Aussie boy out for a swim. Good idea because it was hot hot hot in Mozambique, early in the morning.

Some Ilala crew predicted that the Mozambican customs men would try to charge Peter and Tom some money – make them buy an “entrance visa” for jumping into Mozambican water – but they never did.


See more photos from Malawi in the Malawi Gallery at

Africa Vignettes is a weekly series most Mondays this summer on CS&W.

Common Sense and Whiskey, the Book – Malawi, Chapter Fourteen

Here is Chapter Fourteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, including a journey on the famous MV Ilala across Lake Malawi. We're publishing each chapter here on the blog (Track down previous chapters here). You can order the entire book for just $9.99 at, at, or direct from EarthPhotos Publishing. Here's the Kindle version (just $4.99). Click these photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Malawi Gallery at


“On your right is area 50. This here is area 28, light industrial area. Across the road there is fertilizer factory and tobacco factory. That is heavy industrial area.”

The national police headquarters came into view on the right.

“That is area 40.”

Just across the street, “Area 43,” Everlasting explained, “Is low industrial. It used to be only area ten, and area ten is still there, but it is full, so they have made area 43.”

“We also have names but our names are too long, so we just say, say, area 12.”

Malawi’s Ministries stood on the left.

“So, is that area 1?”

Logical, I thought.

“No, that is area 20.”

This went on all through Lilongwe.

“Ah, that is area 47. Up there, that’s area 49. National Bank. Bank of the Nation.” The tallest building in Malawi is the central bank.

“This is the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in Malawi.”


When we met, our driver told us, “I am Everlasting.” We sort of looked away, and then we realized that was his name.

Everlasting was a slow, deliberate speaker, easy enough to understand once you got acclimated. His “S’s” kind of trailed off.

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