Step 1: Take a bike taxi on an early Sunday afternoon down to the lakeshore from the town of Nkhotakota . Walk along the beach and find a few Malawians sitting in a line, steadily and rhythmically, hand-over-hand, pulling on a rope that leads out to the lake. Wonder what exactly might be at the other end of the rope, and approach to find out more.
Step 2: Accept motions of man in straw hat to sit and join in on the pulling. Keep thinking that the end of the rope will soon reach the beach. Keep pulling with the friendly Malawians, even once you realize that the other end of the rope is a couple hundred meters down the beach being pulled on by another group of Malawians. Have your curiosity and investment in process so high that you keep pulling even when you realize that middle of the net is actually visible, and still very far out on the lake. Ignore understanding of claim from man in straw hat that they will be pulling till 6 in the evening.
Step 3: Keep pulling for about 2 hours or so.
Step 4: (not required) Attempt small conversations and questions with friendly Malawians in a mixture of the local language (Chichewa) and English.
Step 5: Do not be discouraged once you start pulling the actual net in, it seems full of holes, and there doesn’t seem to be any fish caught in it.
Step 6: When the last bit of net is pulled in and there are actually some fish in it, accept offer of fish from man in straw hat. That’s it! So easy!
This seemingly small catch was actually the total of a full days work for at least about 12 Malawian fisherman. It really doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’m not sure if this was considered a good catch or not. They had placed the net out early in the morning and had been pulling since then, much longer than the time that I was there for. I almost felt bad taking a small bag of fish, based on my comparatively small efforts. They even gave me the few slightly larger fish that had been caught with the tiny ones.
I’m not sure if I was the first westerner to join in on the fishing in the same way, but they undoubtedly didn’t expect it to happen, and it was most definitely a source of conversation and entertainment for all the Malawians present.
The village family I’m staying with was very happy to have the fish, and were extremely surprised when I explained that I hadn’t paid for them because I had helped pull them in from the beach. They commented that it would make a good story for people back home, and so here it is.