The Cod and Jackfruit Chronicles

17 December 2017

[Above not-still life:  Children frolicking in the bay at Cape Maclear, Malawi]

As an analyst, I generally refrain from giving advice to patients, figuring that I have enough difficulty making my own best choices, let alone those of others. So I assist them in arriving at their own decisions.  But I’m departing from that posture now, as I have just opened a too-green jackfruit.

On YouTube, the videos regarding jackfruit make them seem irresistible, like a young beauty contestant for DT or a teenage girl for Roy Moore.  Oil your knife blade to keep the latex from sticking to it, slice it open, eat the delicious yellow fruit and roast the seeds, to be eaten like chestnuts. Um hm.

I think the one I bought at the roadside stand was picked too green. What a disaster! Jackfruit are big, up to 150#, larger than durian. Ours was about 8#, 18” long and 8” in diameter, the runt of the litter. It began to rot at one end 4 days after purchase. It did get a bit soft in the middle and there was a faint fruity aroma surrounding the skin, so Linda suggested that I needed to do more than admire and fantasize about it.  This morning I oiled a carving knife and cut in. Latex, incredibly sticky goop only slightly dissolved by nail polish remover (I later discovered), oozed out at an alarming rate. There were no yellow fruit pods inside; it was all a pretty, creamy white. The pods tasted like nothing. The seeds looked, well, seedy. Conclusion and advice, after spending considerable time cleaning up my knife, the cutting board, the sink, and my hands, I suggest you pick your own from the tree or buy them later in the season.  I’ll try again but not immediately.

We are now at the end of a 4 days stay at Cape Maclear, the site of David Livingston’s first mission and in the ‘80’s a major hippie backpacker destination. It is a fishing village stretched along a lovely sand beach and backed by lushly forested hills dotted with huge granite boulders. The beach is on the west side of a long peninsula sticking north into Lake Malawi from the latter’s southern tip. Perhaps it would be best to google it!  We are staying at a somewhat up-market resort, tucked into the rocks at the northeastern-most edge of the village. We have a little thatched chalet with a porch in front looking over the beach, the lake, and Domwe and Mumbo islands. They know how to cook fish here, and it is delicious, but you don’t come here for the food, otherwise. Good quality but dull.  Vietnam, Thailand, and most of Asia (Philippine food lacks the imagination of its neighbors), as well as Europe, are food destinations.  OK, Berkeley, too.

There is hiking and all manner of kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc. Lake Malawi has more species of fish than all of Europe and North America combined. Some 850 fish species! Many are cichlids, brightly colored and highly diverse.  Some raise their eggs, and subsequent fry, in their mouths for protection. One group has a niche of poaching eggs and fry from the mouths of others, a gruesome occupation. Birds and birdsong are everywhere. Many of our regular friends, like hammerkop and reed cormorants and brimstone canaries. Swallows dart in a gyre over the beach at sunrise and sunset, consuming insects. I watched a black-capped bulbul struggle to eat an immense bug. It got the wings off and finally lined it up, swallowing it whole. Poor bug’s mother! If the wild birds aren’t enough, the owner has two gorgeous but noisy macaws in a large cage nearby, squawking in daylight only, thankfully. And two foot long monitor lizards and rainbow skinks crawling all over the granite. Lots of life.

There is a long section of the beach devoted to fish-drying racks and the perfume wafts through the little village.  Some fishermen paddle off in their small log canoes (The tumble-home is so great I wonder how they hollowed them!) to fish during the day, some pull nets into the beach nearby, but most charge up batteries with solar panels, load their canoes onto larger outboard-powered boats and go deep to fish all night. The batteries power floodlights that attract the fish, a technique done in SE Asia, the Mediterranean, and wherever there are photophilic fish, I guess. The point is that at night you see the points of light, stretched out like a necklace, a few miles off-shore. It looks magical and I suppose it is until bad weather.

The lodge owner had a crew build a brick-lined concrete-finished trough from the dining room to the lake to carry runoff from storms. The 8 men miraculously completed it in a day and that evening a huge downpour, the first of the season here, washed all the concrete away into the lake. Plus, the trough wasn’t nearly large enough. So they built a newer, larger version yesterday; it didn’t pour, and the concrete is no doubt curing.

Aside from a painful kayak trip—I don’t have the core muscles to use a sit-on-top kayak—and a vigorous hike up a peak in the National Park yesterday, we’ve relaxed into the place, and into each other. We are refreshed enough to return to Blantyre and work for two days before heading to Chitipe and Karonga in the north for two weeks.

Our work can feel fascinating, can make us feel incredible despair and rage, and we can also feel helpful. Hope for the future is harder to come by and the lack of funds in the system and corruption/bureaucratic sludge is very dispiriting. We sense–we don’t know for certain—that PEPVAR, Peace Corps, and our GHSP teaching program are all threatened by the fools in Washington.  Yesterday Linda read that the CDC has been instructed not to use certain words, like “evidence-based”, “entitlement”, “vulnerable”, and “fetus”. This is 1984-style mind-control, folks. Next the history books will be re-written. Wait, that has already happened in Texas and Kansas re. Intelligent Design vs. Evolution. Keep your TV’s off!

On the micro-hedonistic level, I cannot wait to return to Blantyre for Linda’s cooking and to make smoothies with homemade yoghurt and mangos from our trees.

Time has really stopped here. Huge clouds have massed over the Mozambique (east) side of the lake. Cape Maclear, facing west, is famous for glorious sunsets. Most of lake-side Malawi faces east. Nature is so incredibly diverse, resilient, and beautiful if we could just stop mucking with it. I recently read that there are 8 long-line trawlers on Lake Malawi, doing to it what we did to the Grand and George’s Banks. Where have all the codfish gone? Gone to chowder every one. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?

 

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