Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Welcome to Malawi

First off I’d like to say welcome and congrats on getting selected!  You are the few brave enough and crazy enough to wade through the rivers of red tape, paperwork, and trips to the doctor’s office just to find out if maybe you are possibly chosen. 

You are headed to Malawi soon soon (first thing you should know, people like to say things twice, soon- soon, now-now, slow jam-slow jam, you get it), and you will be the group that replaces mine.  I don’t think I’ll have the chance to meet any of you but good luck all the same. If you are thing like me when I came two years ago you are no doubt running around trying to figure out what to bring and what to leave.  Let me offer some pointers;

Clothing- You need a few pairs of pants, t-shirts, underwear (bring extra underwear) and one nice outfit.  That’s pretty much it..The clothes you bring will not get you through your two years so let go of the delusion right now. You just need to get through homestay.  After that you can buy clothes pretty much at any market in the country or in any of the big cities. 

Shoes- One good pair of sandals, I live in my Tevas, as my tan lines will tell you.  I also have tennis shoes, hiking boots and a good pair of dress shoes.  Personally I just hate washing socks, so I never wear real shoes.  If I were more motivated or had someone else doing my laundry then, maybe I’d wear the real shoes more often. 

Phones- Peace Corps will tell you that they don’t recommend you bringing an internet phone to country, they’re dumb, bring one. Most communication with the office is via email and while it’s true you don’t absolutely need one, they are super nice to have.  I recommend Blackberry, I love mine, I spend 2000 kwacha a month and get all the internet I can use, texts cost extra but for internet it’s good and Blackberry has a good signal here.  You can bring one and get it unlocked in country or you can buy one here in Lilongwe, for about $150 or so. I do not recommend bringing an iPhone, I’ve heard from other PCVs that the signal is not very good. There are also cheaper internet phones you can get here in Lilongwe.

Computer- Yes. Bring one. It is really nice to have some kind of entertainment at site. Rainy days are boring and during the aptly named rainy season there are many, reruns are a great way to kill time and lift your spirits.

External hardrive- Again, yes, bring one. Your computer will fill up quick but bring a case for it because they don’t like being bumped around too much

iPod- I love mine, it has music, podcasts, audiobooks on it and I listen to all of them

Kindle- if you are a reader then I think this is a good one to have. There is a good library in the office but traveling with actual books is hard so a kindle is nice to have, bring a protective case for it.

Headlamp- Bring a good quality one, you don’t want to be out a headlamp, they are really important.

Insurance- insure everything. I mean it, this place is rough on your stuff, especially electronics.

US Dollars- Bring USD if you can afford it, it’s nice to have as a safety net or vacation money to spend or money to bring a pet home at the end of your service.

Solar power- Decide if you want it and get this sorted out before you come.  If you want to buy a panel before you come that’s probably a good idea, better quality.  The set up I have is pretty simple, the panel charges a small 12volt motorcycle battery.  The battery then steps down to a cigarette outlet like you have in your car, then I plug in a USB charger to it and I charge my phone and ipod at home.  If you want to do something like this but charge the computer as well then you will have to buy a charger for your computer that you can plug into a cigarette outlet, like if you were charging it in your car.  You don’t want to mess with converters.  You lose a lot of power running it through a converter like that. 

Solar shower- don’t bother

Pressure cooker- bring one! I love mine, you can cook beans it is way faster than normal (8 min. vs 40 min) and meat comes out really tender
A good frying pan is nice to have as well
Knife- bring a good pocket knife and a knife sharpener

A basket for the front of your bike- Bring this!!!! I cannot stress this enough, especially for the envrio volunteers!! You will live on your bike and while yes you have a rack on the back of your bike a basket is amazing.  You can carry so much more stuff (read: food) this way.  It isn’t hard to pack, you put it in your duffle and put stuff in and around it, easy peasy. 

Zip Ties/bungee cords- extremely helpful, it’s how I keep my basket attached to the bike

Spices- Two years ago I would have said don’t bother, you can buy them here, then the prices for everything went up a ton.  Bring some kind of flavorful salt, an allspice, basic stuff, parsley, basil, oregano, or if there is anything special you like.  Yes you can restock here, but these will be nice to get you through homestay.

Health supplements- If you have any vitamins you are taking and want to keep taking them then bring a few months worth when you come, this should hole you over until mail starts coming in. I take a multivitamin and Biotin and a hair/nail supplement.

Camping stuff- I recommend a tent, sleeping bag and a sleeping pad.  They come in handy.

Snacks- these will be great through homestay, dried fruit, beef jerky, whatever you enjoy.

What to put it all in?- I brought a backpacking backpack and a duffle bag and everything fit great.

I also recommend a regular backpack that can fit all your electronics, laptop, camera, kindle, ipod etc.  You do NOT want to be separated from these during the flight over.  In Johannesburg they love telling people that the cabin is full and they take any rolling suitcases or dufflebags and check them.  Odds are extremely good that if your electronics are in these that you will not see them again.  You want to keep them with you at all times.

 If you haven’t looked for discounts for Peace Corps volunteers then google it, there is a wiki page somewhere with a huge list of who offers discounts and how to get them.  Big names too, North Face, Coleman, Teva, Chaco, even Apple and Dell.  You should look into it.

You are bringing your life with you for two years, many of the things you bring will break or wear out over those two years but you do your best when you start out.  If you have to cut something out, cut clothes. Clothes are easy to get here, other stuff not so much.  Enjoy the time you have left in America. See your friends, family and have fun. Try not to stress about it and enjoy yourself!


  1. thanks for the list. i'll be leaving june of this year to malawi and i've been researching like crazy on what to pack on top of dental/medical appointments, as you might understand. i'll be a chemistry teacher. do you have any advice for a teacher?

  2. Hi Leslie! I'm not a teacher but I asked around and here's what I know. Professional dress is important. If you're going to be a science teacher maybe you could bring some magnets or a small science kit, these things will not be available in most places. Also, check out, she is a teacher up North and she said you can email her at