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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Flowers found on the Shores of Lake Malawi - Cape Maclear
JUNE 25, 2007

Crime & Punishment :: Our Day in Court

Not really being a beach person, by our final day on Likoma Island I was itching to get moving. All our books had been read, and with the Ilala expected anytime between midday and midnight, it was hard to fully relax. Thankfully we had organised a lift around the island with the Kaya Mawa boat, saving us a good hour and a half walk with our packs on.

The boat came ten minutes after we had ordered our dinner. After wading through the shallows and climbing aboard we were taken out of the calm water of the M'Bungo Bay towards the Mozambican end of the island. The water was extremely choppy and at times Donna was in tears thinking we would be swamped by the waves. It was pitch dark and we were motoring along without lights. At one point our driver did pull out a torch to navigate through some rocks and under a suspension bridge linking the main island with some of the smaller rocky outcrops.

Thankfully the water calmed as we entered the straight between Mozambique and Likoma and we coasted along the crests of waves. This was all fine until the motor stalled, drifting dangerously close to the rocky shore, in an effort to fix the problem our driver managed to unhook the fuel lines sending petrol spraying over the motor and around the rear of the boat. This did not do much for Donna's nerves.

After some hasty repairs we were back underway, however a little underpowered. Rounding the final point we entered the bay of M'Bamba, the Ilala nestled in the harbour, lit like a Christmas tree and surrounded by smaller boats plying passengers back and forth between the shore. We pulled directly alongside and without a hassle managed to climb up the side and onto the lower deck. This time around she was relatively empty and we made our way up the ladders to the first class deck.

After a cold beer and a hastily prepared meal we hired a mattress for the night and settled in on the deck of the boat. There were only a few other passengers on the first class deck so we moved to a vacant space away from the throbbing engine. A few hours later we awoke in the harbour of Chizimullu Island, a relatively short stop before the four hour leg to Nkhata Bay.


It was 3:30am when I awoke, standing over Donna was a smallish man, her day bag in one hand, a young boy in the other. Through extreme tiredness I could not react, however in the back of my mind I heard Donna asking him what he was doing with her bag. As the sleep wore off I realised he was one of the ship's crew members and had just caught the lad rifling through Donna's day bag.

As we were joined by a policeman and members of the ship's security they started going through the boys pockets, out came our passports, the small camera, a mobile phone. Security kept asking if we had everything back but with people yelling at the kid, and having only just woken in the middle of the night it was madness trying to work out what was going on. I realised he had taken the camera and phone from my day bag which was still at my feet. On closer inspection I realised more things were missing. A quick look around the deck where the boy was hiding revealed more of our belongings. Over the next few minutes we managed to track down everything he had taken.

It turns out that while we were sleeping he had crept up from the lower deck, hidden behind the large crates of life jackets and started going through our bags. Crime has been a big problem on the Ilala lately so they had placed a 'troubleshooter' on the deck. He had seen the kid going through Donna's bag and nabbed him in the act.

After a while, the Captain joined us on deck, when the boy refused to talk he started belting the kid about the head. A policeman, who happened to be on the boat tried to say he could not do that, all the Captain said was - this is my boat and we do it my way. They then marched the kid into the wheelhouse. Later we found out they had stripped him down, searched him and scared the shit out of him with a flare fired out the window. He gave up the names of his 'gang'.

A second policeman, on his way from Likoma to Nkhata Bay for a court case questioned us briefly, taking down our particulars and the lists of the items stolen. When we pulled into Nkhata bay at five in the morning, before the Ilala docked we were escorted down to the cabin deck and led onto the life boat. The boy was with us (handcuffed), as were two members of the boat security and the policeman.

As the lifeboat was lowered into the water, people on the 'slave deck' started jeering the kid. We were then taken to the pier and as a group we were walked through the crowd waiting to board the Ilala, up the main street of town and into the police station. The boy's blood soaked jacket was discreetly thrown into the lake as we walked up the pier.

I actually felt good that the boy had received a bit of a beating. I expected him to get a slap on the wrist and to just go back to his ways, and the fact that he had been so close to us while we were sleeping and had been going through our personal belongings really pissed me off.


Being a Sunday - it took a while for the police to get into action. We were seated in the waiting room for an hour until CID were called in. It was hard to take the matter very seriously, the police were dressed in shorts, t-shirts and thongs (flip flops), our statements were hand written on blank A4 paper. When we asked to keep the more expensive items he had taken, the list was copied onto a separate piece of paper and duplicated with carbon paper. We pushed them to finalise the matter as soon as possible as we only planned on staying in Nkhata bay for two days.

On Tuesday morning we got our day in court. Because we were tourists, the Malawians were very keen to make an example of the boy. We were walked from the police station though the back lots of Nkhata to the court house. Now if you have ever seen LA Law or The Practice, you have the absolute wrong image in your head. The court house had no walls, the seats were basic wooden benches, the roof was made of chipboard however most of it had fallen down revealing the wooden beams of the ceiling and no, the judge did not wear a wig.

The actual court case was not much better, even though the lad pleaded guilty, the case still took the best part of two hours. The trial was in English, and then translated into CheChewa for the benefit of the boy and his mother. From the get go, things looked dismal for the courts system in Malawi. We started out as case number 160, this shocked the judge who asked for an explanation. The court registrar explained that there was no stationary left so he could not get the correct case number. The judge then said "ok, well let's just make it ten".

Slowly the facts were stated to the court, then our Prosecutor gave his version of events (we had to try hard not to interfere as he got a few of the major details very wrong). Then Donna's bag was presented as evidence and each of the items was listed for the third time and placed on the evidence table.

All was going well for the prosecution until the Judge asked the accused if he was forced to give his confession. When the boy said 'yes', there was a hush through the room. He was then asked if he was assulted and again the boy said 'yes'. We had nothing to worry about though, the Judge merely asked if the boy if he was guilty and when the boy said yes then nothing more was said on this matter.

Finally the Judge called an end to proceedings to deliberate. While we were waiting for his verdict, our prosecutor and the boys translator were passing notes back and forth, just as the Judge prepared to announce the outcome the translator burst into laughter at one of the notes.

Obviously the outcome was guilty, we got all our items back and had a happy ending to the story. We left town before the judge delivered the sentence, the court was waiting for a report from social services although juvenile detention was on the cards.


Nkhata Bay was not all bad. We stayed at Mayoka Village, after three weeks of a fairly remote existence it was nice to be back with other travelers again. Mayoka had some great food, and a very good party atmosphere. With the other young drinkers it almost felt like being back at Uni again. We were staying in a little chalet on stilts over the lake, and it was with much reluctance that we packed our bags to head north to Livingstonia.

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Your Comments

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Sounds like a lucky escape for Donna and Matthew

Anonymous - Jul 08, 2007

Hello Guys, Whats a question? Your website is great, where do you find the time. It seems like you had fun in malawi, will you be wary of little boys in the future? Where was the nearest Australian High Commission at the time? Maybe a room sweep for items of security might suffice in the future?

Sickman - July 01, 2007

I have looked round everywhere... Do you have your Australian number? Is this a quest for me?

Heath - July 01, 2007


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