Malawi Incident

malawiginIn 1982, on a trip to Malawi with James, I got into a lot of trouble. We were in pursuit of the best Marijuana the planet offered, Malawi Gold Cob from the town of Ncotakota.

Ncotakota is an ancient fishing village on the shores of Lake Malawi, approximately in the middle of that landlocked country. Lake Malawi (formerly Lake Nyasa) is one of the largest lakes in Africa and has the tropical fish that many fresh water aquariums have, otherwise known as African Cichlids.

James comes up with the idea that we need to make this Malawi jaunt and that we should arrive on Independence Day. Malawi was an independent country, and had a leader named President Banda, a president for life.

It was a very conservative country where women could not wear skirts above the knee and men could not have long hair and beards. Politics was forbidden to be discussed in public. So we fly into the capital and purchase a bottle of Pinch scotch (we were looking for Dimple scotch whiskey), a bottle of Champagne, and a few beers, if my memory serves me well.

We immediately take a public bus to Zomba Mountain, the Zomba Plateau. This bus is filled with chickens, people, boxes, bags and us, two Americans wearing our safari jackets that we had customized with the American flag and Rhodesian camouflage emblazoned on the back. We were attempting to look like the Blues Brothers, Easy Rider Vietnam vet look, from an era that we both missed due to the fact that we were only 24 and 22 years old.

We decided to celebrate with the locals on the bus and broke out the Champagne and Pinch Whiskey, celebrating an independence day for the sake of partying. We arrived at the Zomba Plateau and checked into the fanciest hotel we could find. James ordered Tilapia fish for dinner and I skipped dinner.

The next morning we found two young boys to carry our packs up the mountain and sent some other boys to score some Zomba Black (Marijuana). The boys arrived in five minutes with several cobs. A cob is a bundle of Marijuana buds wrapped in the stalk of a cornhusk with a rubber tire twist tightening it. It is then buried in the African earth for drying. This process somehow enhances the THC content, so that when you smoke the weed you hallucinate.

I remember seeing another American traveler on the Zomba Plateau in the middle of nowhere, and not even saying hello to him because I was out of my gourd. The dude was playing the Eagles or some shit. We smoked the Zomba Black and got paranoid.

We then proceeded to a town that had the port where you could catch the boat that travels up Lake Malawi. We scored some more cobs along the way. The cobs cost less than a dollar a piece, as Malawi is a very poor country. We scored purple bud, lime green, Redbud and Malawi gold, but we were in pursuit of the world famous Malawi Gold from Ncotakota. We purchased first class tickets, but there were no first class cabins available.

The boat left the shore at sunrise and we purchased some wine for the journey. James drank too much and was soon throwing up over the side of the boat while I made friends with the bartender on the top deck, even photographing him. James passes out on a lifeboat and I proceed to drink throughout the day.

My downfall was that when James awoke we started smoking some of that Zomba Black. Now my pack was half filled with cobs. One cob could easily last you the whole day. That is all I remember from that day.

What I am told is that it became very dark, pitch black. We were not allowed to be on the top deck after dark. James attempted to get me to come down to second class for the night. I became belligerent and refused to leave the top deck. I fought and battled with James. James breaks his hand on my jaw.

Six deck hands fight with me and win, but I fight them to the bitter end, resulting in me being handcuffed in the hold in the bottom of the engine room. I have handcuffs on both hands and both feet, four handcuffs in all. During the struggle some joints and half a cob fall out of my upper pocket, which the Captain and Police on the boat can’t overlook.

I am powerless, bruised, in pain, and have a wicked headache and hangover. I also have no idea what has happened to me as I come to a few hours later. I also refuse to cooperate in any manner. But what could I do, handcuffed in the engine room? The Captain plans to deliver me to the authorities at the end of the trip.

The Captain has called the police over the boat radio and I am now under arrest. James in the meantime tells the Captain that he cannot hold me prisoner as I am carrying a U.S. diplomatic passport. He makes a deal with the Captain, that if I sign a confession, they will let me go at the next stop.

I am extremely reluctant to sign anything, but I have no choice and James is screaming at me. The Captain drafts this letter stating that I was fighting with the crew and another European man on the boat and some Marijuana fell out of my pocket. In those days I could be doing time for many years with that kind of offense.

There is no telling what my sentence would be, or even if any justice would occur. I was in big trouble and this letter was my temporary ticket out of the present danger. So the handcuffs come off and I sign the confession. It’s about three a.m. and a little rowboat comes up alongside the Malawi River Queen boat. We are lowered into the rowboat with ropes and our packs are thrown to us.

Miraculously, this town that we are dropped off at is Ncotakota. James is thrilled but is contemplating about what to do next. I head off to the nearest hospital and find a clinic. I tell the doctor that I fell off the top deck of the boat, hence all my injuries.

I convince the doctor to give me a Morphine shot. I am in heaven. James in the meantime steals a bottle of Phenobarbital and some Valiums. He attempts to get a Morphine shot for himself, but the doctor doesn’t buy it. James then gives a young kid some cash to go find some Malawi Gold.

We then catch the next bus to another town. While we were in Ncotakota, James tells me that we are splitting up, and he is going in the opposite direction that I am going in. He is abandoning me because now the cops are looking for two European guys in jackets with camouflage and the American flag cut up in pieces on them. We had the stars across the shoulders and stripes down the sleeves with camouflage mixed in between.

James says which way are you going and I am going the opposite. I tell Jim to chill, but he is pissed. We divide up the cobs, with me getting 80%. James calms down when we get to a luxurious hotel. The next morning after breakfast James finds two evangelical missionaries who are heading to the capital city about eight hours away and palms me off on them, not telling me that they are American missionaries. James hitchhikes to Zambia in the completely opposite direction with a German tourist.

I catch the next flight back to Harare, Zimbabwe, arriving one week early from the planned trip, telling my parents that I am back early because I ran out of cash. The next day my dad gets a call from Interpol and a copy of my signed confession. I deny everything, even though they have my signature and passport number. My dad tells me that if I am not careful, I am going to end up in prison one day and he won’t be able to help me.

He then calls James into his office to get James’ version of what happened. James tells all and explains that he saved the day by getting me released through the confession. James is pissed because I mixed the entire weed together, the Gold, the Black, the Purple, the Lime Green bud into one big potpourri mix.

I neglected to say that upon my return to Zimbabwe, I am escorted through the VIP lounge and into the back of a limo, to begin recovering from my injuries, and the fear and loathing on Lake Malawi. Today I have a fish tank full of Malawi fish.

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