Immediately the first characteristic feature upon arrival in Malawi is its greenness. After being picked up by Justin at Lilongwe Airport, the four-hour drive North to Kande saw us traverse rolling hill after rolling hill. In my life, I have travelled Central America, Australia, South East Asia and other parts of Africa as well, and rarely has a place been so full of colour as Malawi. Nestled comfortably between Tanzania to the North, Zambia to the West and Mozambique to the South and East, Malawi is a relatively small, but densely populated little African nation. Previously known as Nyasaland while under British colonial rule, it is one of the poorest countries in the Eastern-Central African region, if not the whole continent. In spite of the socio-economic difficulties that Malawi has battled with over the 6 or so decades since colonial rule, it is widely considered to have some of the friendliest, relaxed locals that one can find in a developing country.
Perhaps the most famous aspect of this country is its Great Lake of the same name. Lake Malawi covers about 20% of the country’s area, providing food, livelihood, transportation and ecosystem services to some 13 million or so people. This lake is home to a family of teleost fish called Cichlids. These little freshwater critters are of particular interest to science due to their massive diversity. The lake holds close to 1,000 different species of Cichlids, all slightly different sizes, shapes and colours and all surviving and behaving in their own unique ecological manner, making it the most diverse lake in the world. Kande Island (less than a kilometre off shore from Kande Beach) alone is home to well over 100 species of cichlids. We also get some pretty hefty catfish (spotted on my second dive), crabs, snails, eels and sponges. There is even a family of otters, whom apparently live on the island and go hunting for fish in the late afternoon. It is a stunning ecosystem, of colour, movement and finesse and it is located right on our doorstep.
I will be based in Kande for the next 9 months, and in this time I hope to immerse myself in the local culture. Most people I have met so far are more than competent at speaking English, however, I intend to learn the local ChiTonga language. I also hope to gain a good grasp of the terrestrial life around here. A fish eagle, a paradise flycatcher and a pied kingfisher are my avian highlights thus far, but I have a feeling that in the forests around Kande there are many more untold natural riches just waiting to be discovered. In summary, the stand out first impressions from my first week in Malawi is the greenness, the friendliness and the diversity. I fully expect these 9 months to fly by.