I’m in a boat on Lake Malawi, a mokoro carved from a single tree. I’m laughing with three kids who balance on the other end: Christina, Clarissa, and Jonathan who’s smile is larger for having lost his baby teeth.
They are being ferried by this mzungu from one part of the beach to another for the sheer fun of it. They laugh at my poor paddling, my wobbly balance and exaggerated expression of panic. They’re an easy audience and we have great conversations because we have so much in common: we all have brothers, sisters, mums and dads; we all have gone or go to school. but not today, today is a holiday, and as much as they like school they prefer holidays and games. So much in common, I tell you.
Ultimately I ask them the question that eats at our core: what do you want to be? Pretty Christina squeals: “A nurse!” Jonathan lisps that he wants to be a lawyer, and Clarissa, the oldest of the three, wants to be that most wonderful of things. “A teacher. Yes, a teacher. My teacher is so nice, she makes me want to learn,” and an image of Clarissa as a teacher comes easily.
For once my vanity hasn’t got the better of me and I don’t steer the question in my direction, for what would I tell them? That growing up is a tumultuous riot, a ride on the white caps and a plunge to the depths? That whatever you want to be now, you may sadly achieve before you achieve some measure of wisdom?
Then I wonder who is wisest, them or me, and I realise what growing up has taught me, and if they had asked I would have told them this: I would forever want to be kid on a boat on Lake Malawi.
With thanks to the excellent folk I have been journeying with on the Mzanzi Trophy, your boating skills on the Zambezi and Lake Malawi were an inspiration.