The Lumani – 7 October

We thought that the Ilala was a real experience but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to go through on the Lumani.


At a quarter of the size of the Ilala the Lumani had two levels: the lower level for mainly cargo and some unlucky humans and the top level for mainly unlucky humans and some cargo. The fact that it is smaller than the Ilala has not yet dawned upon the Malawians who try to fit the same amount of cargo on Lumani than they would have on a boat 4 times the size. When Clayton and Matt scrambled down the side of the boat to see how far they were with loading, eyes that were almost unable to move looked back at them in between boxes and bags.

After Likomo before Chizumulu


Let me just take a minute to explain the cargo on the Lumani… The big-ass bags and boxes that came on the Ilala filled with potatoes, cassava etc did not go back empty. No… they went back filled with small dried out fish. The exact same fish they dried in Cape Maclear – the ones that smelled so bad I wanted to gag just walking past it. Now we were surrounded by it. Millions of small fish forced into bags filled to the brim smelling like only dried out fish can.

One little fishy trying to escape

Getting on the Lumani can be summarised with these 3 points:

  1. Our little local boat that we took to get to the Lumani almost tipped over
  2. Clayton nearly lost a hand
  3. Matt pissed of the locals by stepping on their precious fish
Jumping on the box to squeeze it in

Once we were settled in I prayed for a speedy trip while an old lady stood up and prayed for a safe passage. All heads were bowed in prayer and with a resounding AMEN! (which I hoped would also apply to my more selfish prayer) we set off for Chizumulu. I expected that some of the people would get off which would make it slightly more comfortable – we were already filled to the brim. Boy was I wrong.., for every one person that left 5 took their place and along with them came at least 10 bags or boxes of fish. At one stage we went to look if they were taking boxes and bags out at the other side because there was just no way that they could fit more into that boat. They weren’t and surprisingly they did.

During our wait at Chizumulu some ladies from the island came on board, selling samosas, mangwenya, cold drinks, lollipops and popcorn. The lollipops came in handy as an air-refresher for Matt (he was sitting on a bag of fish) who was sticking the lollipop to his nose every couple of minutes.

Clayton stepping over people to get us some samosas

We eventually left Chizumulu for Nkhata bay but 6 hours later we could still see the island while the mainland was nowhere in sight. It was always there when you looked back, like a nightmare that would not go away, reminding you that this ordeal is far from over. Only after another 2 hours the island could not be seen but its silhouette was at that point permanently etched into my mind.

it just kepts coming…. (photo credit Marcia Brunner)

After 12 hours on the water we safely reached Nkhata bay (at least one of the morning prayers were answered!). Once we were off the boat and looked back at it we understood just why the locals pray before they set off. As we silently watched the chaos on the boat we realized just how lucky we were to survive.

The Lumani in all its glory

[A couple of days later the Lumani sailed back to Likomo through a cloud of black smoke coming from the engine. They had to turn around twice to take some cargo off (we could hear the shouting and fighting from where we were watching across the bay at Mayoka).]

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