10 things to pack if you are going to rural Malawi
Life in Malawi is not that different than life in Europe in many ways. The shops in Blantyre (the former capital of Malawi) carry many of the same items that you can find in the shops in Porto or in Riga. So, if you forgot to pack something, don’t worry – most probably you can buy it in one of the bigger cities.
However, there are a few things that are hard to find in the shops. Also, if you plan to spend several months in the countryside, or in a village where transport is hard to come by, it makes sense to be prepared. You don’t want to spend a lot of time getting yourself to a bigger town to go shopping.
We asked some recently returned volunteers who have spent time in Amalika in the south and in Mzimba in the north for advice: “What should you remember to pack, if you are going to spend six months in rural Malawi?”
After quite an interesting discussion they settled for the list we are sharing with you below. There are a few “must-have” items and some “good-to-have” items on the list.
Packing list for Malawi: Here you go!
A warm sweater
Yes. A woolly sweater or a good fleece jacket. It does get cold in “Africa”, contrary to European beliefs and stereotypical images of “Africa”. Something that will keep you warm on chilly nights is a “must-have”. Unless you want to wear your sleeping bag or blanket.
It does get hot as well, though. However, you need to cover up and wear long pants – especially if you are a woman. Hot pants, shorts and other skimpy clothing is a no-go. So, the second item on the list is: Loose-fitting comfortable long pants that you can move around in. also on a hot day.
Option: Invest in a chitenje. A chitenje is a rectangle of fabric (generally 2 x 1 metres), usually with a colourful pattern, worn by women around the waist. That is what Malawian women wear.
Another “must-have” are boots. Good, sturdy boots which will protect your feet when you walk on muddy roads and across rough terrain. Boots made for walking and preferably boots you have had for some time so you know that they are comfortable. You really want to avoid blisters!
Torch or headlamp
Good to have: A torch. Malawi is blessed with having very little light pollution, so you will experience amazing starry nights. On the other hand, it is great to have good torch or even better: a headlamp, when you need to go to the loo in the middle of the night.
Flask or thermos
Good to have: A small thermos for your drinking water. You fill it in the morning with cool water and it will keep your water nice and cool.
Next, some items to do with your health and general well-being. The first one is a must-have: Sunscreen and/or sunblock. These are hard to come by in Malawi. Most people there don’t need them. In the beginning of your stay you need to take care not to get burned.
Option: Consider packing a hat that will protect your neck and ears. Of course, you can buy a hat in Malawi. However, you will need to protect yourself from sunburn from day one, so it’s practical to bring one from home.
Next up is mosquito repellant. Mosquito nets are easy to purchase locally, but it is harder to find good mosquito repellents. Again, you want to be protected from day one, so make sure you have some repellent with you until you figure out where to buy it.
Good-to-have: Painkillers. Take a glass of a brand that you are familiar with and which you know suits your needs. No need to experiment with this one, and a box of painkillers doesn’t take up much space.
Good-to-have: Pro-biotics or similar which can help you adjust to an unfamiliar diet.
The last tip is a very important one: Bring a hobby. Yes, that’s right: Something to do at night in a place where there is no wi-fi, no internet and no television. It gets dark at 6 pm and you can’t really move around in most places.
Think of all the wonderful things you can get done while you are off-line and prepare for it. So, bring a deck of cards if you are into poker. Bring your knitting if you love your handicrafts. Bring your favourite films. Or a sketchbook and colour pencils so you can capture the images of your day.
Take a few good books you always wanted to read and if you are smart, ask your friends to bring some as well. Arrange books swap evenings or readings. Bring a small radio, or an ukulele or a flute.
one more thing…
Generally, do not pack too much. Most probably you will wear the same few sets of clothes every day. Most things that you need, like toiletries and clothing, you can buy locally. This is also a good way to support the local economy.
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