Our recent short break at Senga Bay introduced us to the fisher folk of Lake Malawi, toiling in almost biblical conditions to make a living from the overfished stock of the third biggest body of fresh water in Africa.
This means that the dozens of humble mud-brick homes are packed together into narrow alleyways reminiscent of medieval England. Only four of the houses had ‘iron sheet’ roofs – evidence of the economic challenges – with the rest having traditional grass thatch. In the rainy season the lake level rises to flood the narrow strip of land and provide the all important irrigation that allows the village to grow their staple crop of rice, and then a crop of vegetables for ‘relish’.
Later in the week, as Mhairi and I looked down from the Senga Hills, the little village with its narrow strip of fertile land looked strangely familiar – so reminiscent of those crofting communities in the Highlands of Scotland, where folk who had been cleared off their hereditary lands were forced to eek out a hard living at the edge of a much colder sea.
Most of the fishing is done from dug out canoes which the fisherman balances on, not in! It is quite a sight, seeing them expertly balance as they sail without a keel, or stand to bring in their nets.
We had the privilege of meeting the village chief as he sat mending his nets. He greeted me and, as I looked into his character-filled face painted the darkest ebony by the sun and the wind, I was reminded of just how hardened those first disciples of Jesus must have been as they too made a living harvesting fish from another sun drenched fresh-water sea. How wonderful is a Jesus who can make fishers of men out of any and all: whether a rough and hardened fisherman, or a compromised and venal tax collector.