“Hi, I’m Cheese on Toast!”
I probably should have walked away there and then.
It was a beautiful sunny day at Kande Beach on Lake Malawi. My friends and I lay on the warm sand, chatting, laughing and watching the world go by as the waves gently lapped the shore.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that you were by the ocean rather than a lake. Lake Malawi (aka Lake Nyasa) is the third largest Lake in Africa, and home to more species of freshwater fish than any other lake in the world. It’s so big, you can’t even see over to the opposite side. It’s a stunning place to spend a few days (or more) on a trip through East Africa.
The name Lake Nyasa, was so coined by the great David Livingstone, taken from the local name for the lake – ‘nyasa’. What he didn’t know at the time, is that nyasa simply means ‘lake’ in the local languages, so Livingstone inadvertently called it ‘Lake Lake’.
I sit cross-legged looking out towards the water, when out the corner of my eye, I spot a man heading our way. He’s not quite stumbling, not quite bobbing but not quite walking either. I think it would be fair to say he bumbled towards us.
His name was Cheese on Toast.
Like many of the locals around, he had given himself a funny, memorable name. To his credit, I’ve never forgotten him. He was an odd but likeable character. His baggy clothes hung on his thin frame, whilst his hair poked out from underneath his oversized hat. His bloodshot, smiley eyes and slightly away with the fairies demeanour led me to believe he may have been a fan of the Malawi Gold, but I could be wrong… or not. 🙂
“Want to go on any tours? I can take you out on the lake in a canoe? My uncle has one. Or I can show you round the village?”
We’d already arranged a few things so no-one was particularly interested. He looked at me and changed tactic.
“You want your hair braiding, or dreading?”
Kate, my partner in crime, and I looked at each other, smiles on our faces. My hair is always a topic of interest in Africa. It’s really long, thick and wavy and forms semi-dreads when I don’t brush it. The kids and women always want to touch it and my Rastafarians friends say I’m one of them. He was smart this Cheese on Toast.
“How much is it?” I say.
“For both of us?”
“Erm, we’ll think about it.”
“Ok, I’m right outside the camp, come find me.”
Over lunch we told the rest of the group what we were planning to do.
“Don’t do it” was the general consensus. “You’ll look ridiculous.” But the more people said I shouldn’t do it, the more I wanted to do it.
With these wise words echoing in our heads, we set out secretly, on a mission to find Cheese on Toast. He was, as he said he would be, sitting with his friends at their craft stall, just outside the camp.
So Cheese on Toast and friends got to work on our hair. I watched Kate and she watched me.
I’m looking at Kate and I’m really hoping my hair doesn’t look like that. The worried look on Kate’s face said she felt the same.
After about an hour and a half, they declared us complete, proudly showing us their handy work in a cracked handheld mirror.
Our braids were uneven and we looked ridiculous. But it true British spirit, we said thank you, paid the money we owed and walked back to camp. Giggling all the way.
It was my tent mate who first noticed us as we sloped shiftily into camp. Denise, a native New Zealander is not one for mincing her words.
“You need to get a f*cking bag, for your f*cking head if you want to come back into the tent! And whilst you’re at it, get one for mine in case yours falls off!”
Our new ‘do’s’ were the talk of the camp, even if it was for all the wrong reasons. But as we’d paid $10 each for it, neither of us could face taking it out. Kate spent the next two days in a bandana and I styled mine as best I could. We may have looked ridiculous. We may have picked the worst hair stylists in all of Malawi. And we may have been totally ripped off. But do you know what, it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent! We did not stop laughing for the next few days.
It was even more fun when we took them out… and an impromptu 1980’s photoshoot got underway! Kate’s gonna kill me when she sees this post! 🙂
I know what you’re thinking. Yes I don’t get why the modelling career never took off either?
This post is dedicated to Denise. Love DOBIT x