Friday, August 10, 2012

Maimed by crocs twice...but not ready to retire

 “The crocodile grabbed my foot. I grabbed on to the boat’s edge.  I was shouting for my dear life but my friends were all afraid and just hid in the boat while I battled the beast. I think they thought I was a goner and did not want to risk fighting fate.”
Like reading a picturesque novel passage, the scene that Simon Molesi, 35, of Nsamachi in Balaka, Malawi described was too unreal to really have occurred; but his left leg has no foot and stands like a pestle and on his right leg’s shin are marks of a crocodile’s grip.

There are few places in the world where people on bicycles can collide with hippos standing in the narrow mazy paths in maize fields. It is also very normal for a man to have no grave or a fake one because his body got eaten by a crocodile, welcome to the jungle.

On the northern  side of  Liwonde Barrage that sits on the River Shire is a small town that has come to being mainly because the no nonsense police  there demand that every person on a bus disembark so that they give  the vehicle and the luggage therein a good frisk.

Croc scar
The town lives on fish, big fish, fish most Malawians have never tasted let alone seen. Catfish, fish with mouths elongated like whistles, tilapia and some without English names.  

Even at 3am shadows of people in canoes can be spotted on the vast silent river. All sorts of fishing methods are used: nets; traps; hooks both on floats and with weights.
Shire is a provider for those living along it, but under the murky waters and mingling with the ship and sometimes in the overgrown bushes deathly danger lies, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting humans that get too comfortable in and near the waters.

Liwonde National Park is less than 10 Kilometers from Nsamachi and it’s full of Elephants, Hippos, Fish and Elephants.

Simon Molesi knows too well what to live side by side with wild animals means. He has escaped death by the whiskers twice – he has broken loose from two crocodile grips and still lives to tell the stories.
Molesi's legs or should i say leg?

“On January 1 2010 around 3am me and my five friends were fishing at Nkalawi just inside the national park. As a ring leader I would get into the water to make sure the net we cast was well placed, I had gone into the water twice and when I was about to get back into the boat on the third occasion, I felt a sudden pang  of pain…,” said Simon, a soft spoken father of two.
He knew he was about to die but the thought of his wife and children, the thought of disappointing his fishermen and setting a bad example to the upcoming generation of fishermen, he held on to the boat like a vice and if the crocodile wanted to pull him into the deep, it had to take the boat too

The tug of war between man and beast lasted not more than a minute as the crocodile yanked away half his foot and Simon quickly launched his body into the boat.

Simon narrated his story quietly and to the last detail; the exact time he was taken to the hospital, the exact date he was amputated at the ankle and discharged and how by November he was back to his fishing ways.

The rest of the Shire river has relatively low fish stocks due to overfishing, to get the real fish, one has to go into the national park, illegal but very profitable and at the place where Simon was attacked, one fishing round  can buy one a small car.

“Nkalawi is a dangerous place, I know of more than eight people that have died there, a guy named Charles from Silika village a guy called Kanong’a… even the park rangers fear the place, if you are there they will not follow you but wait for you to go further on or when you are coming back downstream,
Anything can be under the water

"There is plenty of fish there, you can hear fish making sounds on the water like rain, I remember we did one fishing job there and we got K106, 000. I went home with K17,000 the next day we made about K80 thousand and so on,” said Simon.

On the evening of the anniversary of the 2010 attack, Simon was back in the water and after getting in and out of the water without any scare, something happened, it was around 3am on January 1 2011.

“From the blue, a crocodile boomed out of the water and grabbed my right leg and again by the grace of God I yanked away my leg from his grip after a brief struggle,” said Simon.

He described a big crocodile that came out and got its fore legs into the boat trying to grab one of the 5 fishermen and nearly threatening to capsize the vessel. When the crocodile attacked Simon shouted for dear life and in terror but when he fell back and hid away from the beast silence reigned.

Again on this occasion Simon’s mates could not help him, they had fell flat on the boat’s surface as if there had been a bomb blast or lightning.

“We could hear it scrubbing at the boat at both ends at once and you can imagine how big it was, the boat was taking water and no one dared to cup out the water. Everyone was lying flat in the boat,” Simon said.
Liwonde Barrage

The crocodile gave up and by then one person had severed the anchor and the boat was drifting downstream but slowly, Simon said it took a good hour before someone dared to do anything in the boat.

“One of my friends got a bowl and started cupping out the water that was had accumulated in the boat, then someone asked me how badly injured I was and I showed them. My flesh was hanging about in strands and I was bleeding dangerously such that the night’s catch was floating in bloody water.”

Simon went to the hospital again and luckily his bone had not been severed. The doctor asked him to consider quitting fishing, but Simon says he is not retiring just yet.
“There is no other occupation I know out there apart from fishing, I never went to school and I have two kids an orphaned wife and I also have no father - just a mother who also needs my support,” said Simon.

Asked why he has not invested in anything yet, Simon said before the 2010 attack, he had been keeping some money but spent the whole lot during the period his amputated leg was healing. If not for the accident, he wanted to buy some land and erect houses to eventually rent out. He said he wants to leave something solid for the kids.

Simon is an expert fisher, it is why he gets the leading role when fishing but there is something else that he is popular for: Juju.

He claims that he can make crocodiles go away using his charms that he got from his father. He said surviving the crocodile attacks is partly because he is ‘protected.’

“My father gave me this medicine to ward off the beats, even the people around here know that  its why they trust and follow me to Nkalawi and so far no one has been attacked on my watch except me,” Simon says.
Fish in Liwonde is like snow in Greenland

Along the Shire River, people believe that some crocodiles are sent by their witchcraft practicing enemies and to guard this, Simon’s father travelled from Ulongwe just to help the son get ‘protected’ against both natural and man-made crocodiles.

He has a black bottle with grease-like substance, he has a small tea-bag like sachet and pieces of some tree bark and another tooth pick container that is sealed shut. He keeps the charms in dirty paper bag that he keeps somewhere in his bedroom.

“When we arrive at Nkalawi, I ask my fishermen to eat all their food, smoke if they are smokers then I pray to God for guidance and protection. Then one by one everyone has to take off their clothes and apply this paste which I dilute in water to their forehead, hands, belly and legs.

“Then I ask the crocodiles to leave and when I have to get into the water I get this (tea-bag like sachet) into my panties and while am out there I put a piece of this tree on all four corners of this house so that nobody harms my children and to protect us while we are out,” said Simon.

Looking at the way he described Nkalawi, where the probability of stepping on a crocodile when you jump into the after is almost one, Simon has all his faith in his charms. Surely there are few people out that can go into deep murky waters in a crocodile infested area and trust bag of roots to protect them.
Simon’s father died this year in a car accident. He was returning home to Ulongwe after visiting his son, Simon.
Magic gel
The father’s demise has left Simon in a fix: the father never told the son what trees he used to make the paste and the charms, when it would expire and where he can get more when it runs out.

Is this the end of Simon? Will he ever go to Nkalawi where one net cast can rope in a whooping K106,000?

“I know doctors, family and friends are still not believing why am still alive and would really not like me to go back to Nkalawi but look, I have my son Rafiki and my daughter Mervis and a wife who need to eat and I got rentals to pay. I am planning to go back to Nkalawi as illegal and risky as it is, I am trapped and the only way out is if some well-wisher can help me start a small business,” said Simon.
Sachet of life? The bag that goes into his panties to wave off crocs

With the medicine probably expired and no father to bring fresh supplies, having been attacked twice and when everyone has warned him against going back to Nkalawi a place where he knows more than 8 people have been killed by crocodile, it would be interesting to have a video feed of Simon’s feelings as he goes into the water and to see if he will come out to sell the catch.

The locals have a proverb that says it’s foolish to enter an elephant’s crotch twice; Simon has done more than thrice.

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