Bodies littered the filthy, open deck. Colourful sarongs tucked in close beside stunned chickens, and giant bags of God knows what. It still amazed me that live chickens could be found everywhere. You saw them scratching in the dirt around rondavels, at market waiting to be plucked and fried, or sold to another for the same treatment. They were a common traveller on buses, and here too on the ferry sailing South to Monkey Bay.
The large checkered polyethylene bags, that were always stuffed to bursting, were an anomaly as well. They could hold a traveller’s entire worldly possessions, or more likely, their wares to hawk at the market. Always dirty white with a blue or red pattern, they adorned women’s arms and heads. It struck me that the men usually travelled much lighter, leaving the heavy work to the women.
Chickens and plastic totes were not the only thing that the women travelled with. Everywhere you looked, babies clung quietly to women’s backs or chests. You never heard them crying or making a fuss, but perhaps that was due to their close proximity to the most important person in their lives; Mother. These mothers seemingly did not even notice the addition to their load. Babies were a constant and just a part of who these women were. It was only age that released them from that burden.
The men on the other hand, had it comparatively easy. No babies or children clung to them, and luggage was left to the women. They could be seen engrossed in a game of bao just about anywhere. Even here, I could see a few games set up in various corners of the ferry, before we even left shore. Their factions were boisterous and held the air of a party. I wouldn’t doubt that a carton of Chibuku or two were being imbibed. They loved their shake shake, but despite giving it a try, I was not a convert to the millet beer. The taste of the sludge was not worth the possible effects that could be gleaned from drinking it.
I was not offered any now though. At present, I was curled onto a little bench that I clung to. We had left Nkhata Bay at 3PM. There was to be a stop at Senga Bay and a few other little ports, before we reached Monkey Bay at 6 or 7AM two days hence. It was a very long ferry ride and my white legs were the only ones that walked this boat. I was a ghost amongst a sea of black travellers. Curious eyes followed any movements I made, but the shy women made no attempt to speak to me. I pondered that it was not their place to speak, and certainly not to a foreigner. My inner voice gave thanks that I had not been born to their reality.
Without Brett by my side now, I silently watched the world go by. I prayed that my pack would not disappear overnight, as I shivered through the misty darkness on deck. I was glad to have it too, for the cool night air found me digging for extra clothes to put on, so I would survive my ordeal. The warm bodies of sleepy chickens looked inviting now, as I mentally willed warmth into my chilled limbs. And while I could have looked into an inner cabin for the voyage, my pockets were thin in change. So many others were willing to ride on deck, hence I deemed that I wasn’t above it myself. I looked around at the others that huddled about and couldn’t help but contrast our stations though. Comparatively, I could have afforded better accommodations. Elusive sleep screamed my folly.
It would be a long unpleasant ride, ever vigilant of the filth and thieves that potentially lurked everywhere, but as long as this ferry did not sink, as the other had done a mere month before that, I would survive.