Shopping In The Village

Woke up this morning and lounged around. Rich and I thought we should go haggle with the sellers to get some stone carvings, so we rummaged through our backpacks looking for anything else we didn’t want. You see, no one tells you this, but when you cross over the border into Malawi, everything in you pack all of a sudden is worth something. The Malawians don’t have a lot of stuff, so you can get good deals for clothing, etc to trade. In order of importance one should bring: shoes, towels, baseball hats, and t-shirts. Socks, watch batteries and extra backpacks are helpful. The only thing is there’s a trick to trading. Malawians are very relaxed businessmen. They take their time, so haggling can take you well over an hour for one session. (3-4 sessions are usually required) You sit there and haggle over the price, then when it’s a decent price you pull out the goods to trade. We didn’t know this was the best way to go about it, so we’ve been showing the sellers the trading goods first and instead of getting a straight trade it usually knocks 50% off the price. Then you’ve really got to work to haggle the price down. For a pair of river shoes and $3 I got a chair and a statue for my grandmother. For a pair of socks, a nylon mesh laundry bag and $2.50 I got two figurines and a carved boat for my parents. The only thing is that after 2-3 days and 3-4 bargaining rounds later you get really tired and just pay the twenty five or fifty cents you were arguing over.

We’ve also figured out that virtually all the locals can provide at least two of the following services for hire: cooking, cleaning, selling ganja or transport. The local we’ve befriended – Patrick – cooks our dinner and banana cakes, can do laundry, can get us cobs and can arrange to have a boat take us to the other islands. The Malawian people are all really friendly and accommodating, the only thing is that some travellers abuse their position. We’ve met some South Africans who treat the blacks like second class citizens. Worse than any active/pledge fraternity relationship ever was. They just order them around and scream at them. When Patrick wanted to talk to me one of the S.Africans came over and said “That black wants to talk to you.” It was like “black was a noun, not a person. It is disconcerting, so we just don’t hang around S.Africans much. The S.African women are all fine, just the men who are obnoxious.

I mentioned that Patrick was gesturing to talk to me. Mr. Stevens (where we’re staying) has its own stretch of beach where the locals aren’t allowed to go. The locals would constantly come over and try to sell the backpackers their services, so to keep them away Mr. Stevens hires someone to chase after the sellers with a large stick. Corporal punishment – I guess it’s effective. The locals all stand outside invisible boundaries like children playing a game of tag who can’s cross a certain line in the sand.

Patrick’s cooked for us for a few nights, so yesterday ha and I had to go to the village to talk to a fisherman about hiring him to take us across the lake. The fisherman wanted too many Kwacha, but on the way back Patrick took me through the village. He showed me the church, then we went to his hut. It’s made of bricks, coated in mud, with a thick straw thatched roof. The area is surrounded by a bamboo fence, enclosing a few papaya trees in the process. Met his sister and her new baby before heading to the grain grinding building

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