A Travellerspoint blog

Blantyre City and MANASO

It looks like internet access will be inconsistent and limited from here on out...so less pictures for a while.

On Wednesday Winnie and I were all packed and ready to head to Blantyre! I will miss the Korean Garden Lodge, and the staff have already come to know that I like eating omelettes.

We headed to the WUSC office as we would be leaving with Phil and Jacob. Tendai noticed my Kindle and mentioned they were much more expensive in Malawi, about $250 CAD. She also really wants a BlackBerry torch, apparently BlackBerry is pretty popular in Malawi.

The drive to Blantyre is 4-5 hours long and is very scenic with mountains, fields, and villages. We drove by a large market where on one side of the road is Malawi and the other is Mozambique. Jacob told us a truck driving and flashing its hazard lights means it is carrying a dead body - we saw two of those. At a pit stop Winnie and I decided to take a look around. We saw an area with lots mini-buses and buses. By now we expect that we'll get shouted at and asked if we want to board a mini-bus or buy something. A crowd of fruit vendors realized we were there, and we ran away as they began to move towards us shout (and laugh as we rushed away).

The fruit vendors at the bus started noticing Winnie and I...we ran away

Awww yeaa party time. A night club in a small village on the way to Blantyre.

The drive over was very scenic

When we finally arrived at Blantyre we noticed some differences - Blantyre is far more dense with taller buildings. Apparently it is the commercial city of Malawi and a fun place to be. Within 30 minutes of arriving at our new accommodations, Kabula Lodge which is situated on a hill with a view of Blantyre, we met Sameer, Kristina, and Pippa who are all Canadian volunteers. Sameer will be working with me at MANASO and I met Kristina in September training. We headed with them to a birthday party at Bombay Palace, yes the same restaurant as the night before. There were at least 20 other people in their 20s or early 30s there - most of whom seemed to be medical students from the UK, though there were also people from Germany and the Netherlands. The names are all escaping me...

View from Kabula Lodge

On Thursday Sameer and I walked to the MANASO office and met with their Executive Director, and three other employees who are part of senior management. They want me to work with them to develop a 3 year strategic plan (mission, vision, goals, etc.) and organize a 2 day workshop for ~20 people. As part of this Sameer and I will be travelling across the country next week to Blalaka, Salima, Nkotcota, and Lilongwe. It's intimidating for a number of reasons (especially being female and young) but just have to do my best...luckily they don't expect content knowledge from me but just approaches and compilation of deliverables.

Sameer and Pippa took us around the city which was very nice. Winnie, Pippa and I arranged to go on a safari this weekend to Majete National Park - we might be able to see the big 5! It is very expensive, $650 USD + credit card service charge, and apparently MasterCard is barely accepted here so my money situation worries me.

The Canadian volunteers, and a number of WUSC employees had lunch at a Chinese restaurant - who knew so many varieties of food were available here!

I'm scratching myself a lot and there are a number of small bumps on my arms and legs. I'm hoping its just due to sweating a lot and not due to mosquitos...I am quite paranoid about malaria even though people who have been here for a while aren't.

Posted by Analyst 01:09 Comments (0)


On Tuesday Winnie and I were picked up to go to the WUSC office for orientation. There we met Alice (Program Co-ordinator) and Jacob (Country Director). We learned a bit more about our mandates and about Malawi - apparently there have bicycle ambulances for people in rural areas as vehicles sometimes cannot access those areas. Life expectancy has dropped to 36 years. For lunch we went to the British consulate and met the rest of the WUSC staff, including the Africa Region Director, Phil, who had a number of meetings in Lilongwe that day.

Winnie in the WUSC board room taking pictures of a cup

After lunch we met Peter from CIDA, which was a more informational courtesy meeting than anything. Afterwards the fun part of the day began. We went on a "city tour" which consisted of learning how to take a mini-bus. It seems like a large portion of the population relies on the mini-buses which are privately owned broken down vehicles that chug along and seat any where from 7 to who knows how many at a time. There is a sign on the dashboard that indicated where it is going. You need tell the driver where you want to get off as there are no defined stops. It's like the mini-buses in Hong Kong but much less safe and broken down.

CIDA office


I did see some traffic signs, however I realized there are no traffic lights.

Afterwards another WUSC employee brought us to the market where we bought a Chitengi (1399 MWK / 4 CAD) which is pretty much a 2 yard piece of colourful fabric to wrap around ourselves. It is usually worn by those in more rural areas. We wandered and lots of market vendors shouted "konichiwa" and tried to get us to buy things - they can get quite aggressive.

This is in the market, a guy set up a bridge and charges 20 MWK to cross. It's pretty sketchy.


Phil would be took us to dinner at Bombay Palace. We met a number of other Canadian volunteers, Soloman, Believe and Amanda who are all here for longer term placements. By the time we were done dinner it was 9pm and we got a ride back to our lodge with Phil. The streets were pretty much empty and since there are no traffic lights I would be pretty uncomfortable walking around.

Canadians at dinner

Posted by Analyst 06:24 Archived in Malawi Tagged canadians wusc cida Comments (0)

Landed in Malawi

Landed on Sunday and was definitely happy to be off the plane, especially with a seat like this from Ethiopia to Congo:

Those are my legs, the window on the right, and the blue carriage on the left contained a crying baby.

In Ethiopia I met up with another Canadian volunteer from Vancouver, Winnie, who will be working with the pharmacy department at Munlanje Mission Hospital. On the flight to Congo most of the people who got off were Chinese businessmen - the one next to me said it was his first time to Congo, but wouldn't tell me what he was up to...When we landed in Malawi we exchanged for Kwacha (MWK), Malawi's currency. 1 CAD = 370 MWK.

Two WUSC volunteers, Tendai and Phallys picked us up from the airport and drove us to Lilongwe to pick up some supplies. Then they dropped us at the Korean Garden Lodge where we'll be staying for a few days before heading to Blantyre:

Spar supermarket. 2L bottle of water 340 MWK / 0.92 CAD

Korean Garden lodge - I think 24,000 MWK / 64 CAD per night. There is a small lizard in my room.

Dinner at the lodge restaurant, bulgolgi beef was 3,500 MWK / 9.46 CAD

There are no sidewalks so there are lots of people walking on the side of the road. I have not seen a single street sign so I don't know how people figure out how to get around. There are also no streetlights and its dark around 6pm, though it bright by 6am. There also no public transportation though there are privately owned minibuses, larger buses, flat bed trucks, and cars. It seems like most people walk, ride a bicycle, or take less expensive forms of transit.

Monday was a holiday, Martyr's day, so Winnie and I decided to head to Senga Bay to see Lake Malawi. Originally we had the lodge arrange a driver for 80,000 MWK / 216 CAD, but Tendai's cousin Mike operates a driving company and offered to drive for 45,000 MWK / 120 CAD. We later learned he was planning to attend his cousin's wedding that day, but I suppose a 45,000 MWK offer doesn't come around every day. Senga Bay it is about 120 km away from Lilonge and the drive took about 2 hours as there are people and sometimes animals walking around the side of the road.

Lake Malawi: in October it is clear blue and you can see tropical fish of many colours. It is muddy right now due to rainy season.

Ate lunch at the top lodge in area (5,000 MWK for buffet / 13.51 CAD). A Carlsberg beer is only 500 MWK / 1.35 CAD.

Saw monkeys!

Apparently districts are divided by rivers or mountains, so you know if you've crossed one. Again there are no signs saying what road you're on or area you're in. The drive was quite interesting - it became rural quite quickly with lots of maize fields. Every so often we would pass by small huts made of straw / wood / bricks where people probaby live, and markets where people sell food, or hang out. It is more easy to see why Malawi is one of the world's least developed countries - there were no power lines outside Lilongwe, we saw villagers using water pumps so there is likely no sewage system, garbage is burned as there doesn't seen to be a collection system, and most buildings are run down. There were many people walking around the side of the road, and since things are very spread out they probably need to walk for hours to get where they want to go. Since transportation is limited and agriculture is one of the main economic drivers, its seems likely someone could live their whole life in a village.

Flat bed truck

A market


Villager's herd of cows passing by

Villagers trying to sell fish to Mike. It was two for 2800 MWK / 0.81 CAD

Some numbers:

Used car: 1,500,000 MWK / 4,100 CAD
Cabin on the outskirts of Lilgonwe: 2,000,000 MWK / 5,400 CAD
Fuel: 1.90 CAD / L
Dead fish sold by villagers by the road: 2 for 2,800 MWK / 7.57 CAD
Hand made straw hat on the way to Lake Malawi: 300 MWK / 0.81 CAD

So to buy a car, the straw hat vendor would have to sell hand made 5,000 hats, and the villagers would have to sell 1,071 fish.

Posted by Analyst 13:18 Archived in Malawi Tagged villages lodge lake_malawi Comments (0)

Preparing to Leave

In a few hours I will be leaving for a 5 week volunteer assignment in Malawi, Africa through a program supported by my firm. The program is organized by World University Service of Canada and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation and has sent numerous professional to volunteer around the world!

Having been interested in volunteering overseas for a while, my firm's program seemed like a good fit. However, even if your company does not have such a program, there are numerous international volunteer programs available from TechnoServe, to Engineers Without Borders, to smaller ones such as CTC International - something out there should fit your interests!

Where I'll be going

Malawi is a small landlocked country in Africa and is one of the world's least developed countries. An economy dependent on agriculture, high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and corruption are some of the country's biggest issues. Life expectancy is about 50 years.

A number of people have asked if I'll be living in a jungle, desert, or mud hut. Nope! Instead, I'll be living in the financial centre of Malawi, Blantyre. To get there I will be flying with Air Ethiopia to Ethiopia (13 hours), Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (!?!?...4 hours), and from Congo to Malawi (1.5 hours). Stops will be less than 1 hour long. Once in Malawi I'll spend the first two days in orientation in Lilongwe, the capital city, then head to Blantyre which is a 4 hour drive away.

What I'll be doing
I'll be working with the Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organizations to assist in conducting a need assessment and develop a long term plan. Won't find out exactly what I'm doing until I get there and speak to the organization, though it seems I might do a little bit of travelling in Malawi to conduct field visits. I'm fairly fortunate that there is a long term Canadian volunteer already there who has done quite a bit of work and has apparently planned my tasks out - 5 weeks is really not a lot of time to get things done in a new environment.

What I'm bringing
Shockingly, a trip to Malawi isn't like visiting New York, London, or Hong Kong, so here are some items I'm bringing, based on what past volunteers have told me:

Malaria pills: malaria is endemic to Malawi, so I will be taking a pill a day from the day before I leave to the day after I return. I'm on Malarone, which has less side effects than other pills. Shortlist of side effects I'm glad I have no chance of getting - increased chance of yeast infection, vivid dreams, increased sun sensitivity
Bug repellent: would prefer not to contract malaria
Mosquito net: would prefer not to contract malaria
Toilet paper: a past volunteer mentioned she had no toilet paper for a short period of time, so I'm bringing some!
Pristine Water Treatment Solution: it is recommended to drink only boiled or bottled water. However, in the event someone has no access to either, they can use a few drops of Pristine to help eliminate bacteria
Diarrhea pills: hope I won't have to use them
Disposable underwear: my mother insisted. Apparently they're comfortable.
All sorts of pills and first aid supplies: probably a natural reaction to bring every possible item you can find in the pharmacy when visiting a developing country for the first time. Who knows what mysterious allergies and cuts I will get while working in an office setting!
Kindle and TV Shows: it is not recommended to go out after dark (sunset is at 6pm), so looks like I may be spending some quality time with the Starks and Lannisters from the Game of Thrones

What I'm not bringing

DSLR camera: I normally bring it on trips, however it would likely attract too much attention. Will have to settle for stealth pictures on my point and shoot.
Tablet: wifi is apparently spotty rending a tablet less useful, so I will likely to go without my evening Facebooking, email checking, and game playing.
Self defence weapon: a number of people have asked me whether I'm bringing a knife, pepper spray, etc. with me as muggings do occur. Though as I child I dreamed of being like Batman and taking down the bad guys, any muggers probably won't be intimidated by me and a small knife. Will settle for crying, yelling, begging, and running.
Pants or skirts above the knee: the culture is quite conservative, though less so in the larger cities. Nonetheless I'd rather not offend the people of Malawi in my short time there. Credit goes to my mother for letting me raid her closet to find appropriate clothes.

Feel free to ask me any questions - will try to update regularly though consistent internet access may be a problem.

Posted by Analyst 00:22 Archived in Canada Tagged packing preparing Comments (0)

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