Winds Of Change

21 05 2008

Salima Bay

Malawi: Any way the wind blows…

At home, a wind is just a wind. We are rarely excited by prevailing air currents and certainly never wax lyrical over a gale. But when travelling, especially in an exotic locale, we suddenly gush all poetic at breezes and rave about zephyrs, chinooks, sciroccos and mistrals.


When your day is not consumed with overtime, rush hour traffic and reality television, you become more relaxed and more in tune with the natural elements. You notice the subtle differences in light between morning and evening, the stillness of water at dawn and the hum of insects.


However, it is gentle breezes and invigorating gusts that become something very special indeed.


It is a breeze that carries the first hints of sea air as you near the coast or that refreshes at the end of a long hot day. It is a strong wind that invigorates when hiking atop cliffs or near the summit of mountains, or that heralds the approach of a storm. It is a gentle current that transports the tantalising scents of fresh baking and spicy cooking or the perfume of colourful blossoms. And a steady blow that whips up the dust that stings your eyes, or that rattles your tent flaps and signals the arrival of dawn. But in the darkness, when it makes long grass sing, tree tops whisper and coarse scrub hiss it takes on a paranormal quality that resurrects ancient superstitions and fears.


It was a very cool evening on the shores of Lake Malawi near the Tanzanian border and we huddled around our campfire on the sands and hunched against the chill. Our circle was tight as we watched the fire steadily glow and the embers listlessly drift towards the starry night sky. We sat in silence, the lake invisible in its inert ebony and the only sound the occasional crackle of the fire. Everything was still and crisp.


Just beyond our group stood our night-watchman. He was a local man who we’d hired for a couple of dollars and armed with a large kitchen knife to wander around our tents while we slept. He stood quietly just beyond the glow of the fire, and shivered despite the heavy grey blanket that was wrapped around his shoulders.


“Come and join us” someone called to him as we all moved over to make room.


“No, no.” he answered. “The wind will blow me into the fire if I come closer.”


We looked at each other curiously.


“But there is no wind,” we replied. “Come over here, it’s cold by the water”.


Still he refused. Finally, someone got up and led him over. The orange glow of the flames illuminated his face and revealed eyes wide with caution and discomfort. He squatted down amongst us but still seemed ill at ease. No sooner had he joined our circle than a massive gust blew in from the lake. It roared and whipped the sand into our faces, fuelled the fire into a mighty inferno, sent embers flying, and knocked us all off-balance.


The night-watchman bounded to his feet and fled away from our group, disappearing into the darkness. The gust disappeared with him and all was still and silent once more. The fire died down. There was no conversation. There was nothing to say.


Perhaps it was all just a coincidence.


Or perhaps not.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008



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