Malawian Memories – The Ilala

With all the hoopla surrounding the wedding and my increasingly impending adulthood, it’s been difficult to carve out any time for reflection or genuine relaxation these days. Almost every thought I have is about the future and what’s next on the ol’ To Do list. I’ve become a little weary of our civilized lifestyle lately.

A few weeks ago, while searching through my iPhoto, I stumbled across this gem from my first trip visiting Mr. Rathroy in Malawi (his name was just Russ back then).


That tall drink of water standing in the middle is Russ and that’s my head bending over in the corner. In all likelihood, I was looking down at my feet as they disappeared deeper and deeper into Lake Malawi and contemplating the inevitable moment when they would say there were already too many people on this boat – we would have to stay behind.

Insanely enough, it never came to that. This 22 person boat had already well exceeded its capacity before I hopped on and at least another 15 people climbed aboard behind me. With standing room only, I clung onto my sandals with one hand and onto Russ with the other while we chugged into the depths of the lake. I think I closed my eyes until we were hoisted onto the freight ship, the Ilala, that would take us to our destination.


We had one chance to catch the Ilala. It only stopped once a week and irregularly. If the Ilala hadn’t shown up, our only other option would have been to hike the 8 hour trek from which we had just come a couple days earlier. I had never seen real dehydration until I watched a friend’s legs spasm on the trail, until I noticed that I could no longer put a sentence together or produce saliva, until a fellow hiker broke down in dry tears over the impossibility of completing the hike. With no food and no water left, this was about the fourth time I truly thought I could die in Malawi. The overpacked dingy brought the tally to 5.


Spoiler alert – we survived. Sometimes by what seemed like uncomfortably narrow margins. But the adventure I experienced in Malawi, the simplicity and peril and hard work required to survive lit flames beneath me. My decision to make the trip once was life altering, and once I concluded that I would return, I knew that I could never come back to the life I had been leading before Malawi.


If you’re wondering how we got off the dingy and onto the Ilala: They rolled out a little ladder for people to climb up and onto the ship one by one. I kept my eyes closed and held my breath each time one person stepped onto the ladder and the overcrowded dingy tipped deeper and deeper to one side.


The original intention of this blog was to capture stories from Malawi. It is, after all, where Team Rathroy really began. The posts have quickly transitioned into tales of our current lives – homeownership, engagement, raising a dogchild, working more than full time, etc. – but I’m feeling nostalgic for the simplicity and straight forwardness of an African village and there are many Malawi stories that have yet to be told.

Interested in hearing more?

8 thoughts on “Malawian Memories – The Ilala

  1. Haha, firstly, I love that the first response is from your soon to be husband. Secondly, I’d love to hear more of these stories, but I also don’t want to miss out on the current stories either 🙂

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