Sunday, May 17, 2009

Clultural differences-things you should know

I want to use this post to share with you different cultural things that I have observed and learned while living in Africa. Since there are so many, I will just name 10 of the cultural differences that I find to be most important to know if you are planning to spend time in Malawi.

1. Greet everyone: When in Malawi, it is best to act as if you are in the Southern region of the United States. Everyone, even though they may be a stranger to you, should be treated as a good friend. Always acknowledge someone you pass by. When seeing a friend about a bit of business, it is important to greet them and ask them about their family and their work. You should never get right to business. Take your time getting to the point.

2. Physical affection: It is not common for Malawians to hug or kiss each other in public (even married couples). For women, when greeting a friend, a slight bow or hand shake (with your opposite hand supporting your elbow) is acceptable. Men will shake hands but not with an up and down motion like in America. Think of it as a secret handshake, one you can only learn once experiencing it with a Malawian. It is not unusual to see people of the same sex holding hands. You will often see men holding each others hands while walking down the street. It is a warm sign of affection and means nothing else.

3. Keep quiet: Do not speak bluntly about personal things. Pregnancies are not to be discussed, even if the woman is obviously showing. If a husband speaks of his wife's pregnancy, it is believed that the baby might be cursed and could die before it is born because of the husband's bragging. (we learned this last year when Dan and I openly spoke about our pregnancy...thankfully, our gracious friends at ABC educated us on this subject before we offended anyone).

4. Don't say "NO": It is rude to outright reject someone, even if they are asking for money. Excuses or even delayed reactions are best. When asked for money, simply say "sorry" or "don't have, maybe next time". If you are offered food that you cannot eat (or may not want to eat), it is best to explain why you are unable to eat instead of saying "no thank you". In every possible situation, eat what is given even if you feel it is Fear Factor material.

5. Always take it: Gifts are to be accepted with one hand out and the other supporting the elbow. Without this posture, you are seen as greedy for just taking the item from the giver. Always accept gifts, even if you suspect the giver cannot afford to give such a gift. Rejecting a gift is very rude and will communicate that the gift was not good enough for you.

6. Keep hats off and hands out of your pockets when speaking to an elder. It is considered rude to stand this way.

7. Seated separately: When visiting a Malawian church, you will notice the men and women are separated. However, as an expat visitor, it is okay to sit with your spouse and family.

8. Move it: When in church, it is normal to dance during worship. Also, do not be alarmed if people start moving around the chapel during worship. Think of it as doing the "train" dance and join in. It is also common for groups of people to randomly start up in song. Make sure to stop and enjoy what you hear.

9. Family first: Always be prepared to stay longer than you are used to when visiting a Malawian's home. It is customary to have a meal or at least tea if you have visited their home, even if it was an unexpected visit and you were hoping to just drop something off or do a bit of business. Malawians are very welcoming and will treat you like family. Likewise, always be ready to serve food or drinks (and no-water does not count as a drink) to someone who might unexpectedly stop by your home. It is not unusual for a Malawian to surprise you with a 2 hour visit to your home on any given day.

10. Be flexible: Malawians are often late to any given scheduled appointment or meeting because of number 9. Family and relationships always come first. Malawians will stop what they are doing to assist another person, even if it means missing their own appointment. Be flexible and ready to call off any plans you may have had in case your friend doesn't show up.

Long term or short term-these are the goods!

People come to ABC from all different walks of life. There are families who come with small children. There are newlyweds who just scored a new apartment's worth of stuff. There are singles fresh out of college with nothing to their names. Personally, I came as the newlywed straight out of college. This June, I will be leaving as a small family.

This list was compiled by Amy and I with the input from a few others (including a guy-just trying to cover all our bases). We wanted to provide anyone coming with a list of things we WISH someone would have told us to bring. As well, we tried to put these items into categories depending on your "type". This is not to pigeon hole anyone, but rather to help you know more specifically what you can and cannot find here in Malawi depending on your hobbies or preferences. To begin, we have a few notes to the two most general "types" of people who come to ABC.

Type 1. If you are a one to 2 year commitment (short termer) - When packing, try to remember you are in temporary position. Once you are here, you'll see that there is a lot you can live without. Try to figure out what you are willing to leave behind and bring the essentials. However, the days move slowly and a year might seem like a short time in theory, but believe me, it FEELS long. Those homesick days come often, so make sure you bring items that make you feel at home.

Type 2. Long term (3 years or more) - Live life to the fullest! Consider putting items on the container.  Talk to other missionaries about items they have brought and ones they waited to buy once in Malawi. It is more important for you to recreate a home here in Malawi if you are staying longer. Living in a foreign country where everything is different can really wear you out. You need to have a comfortable place to relax and get away from the stresses of the day. Home will be this place so make it your own.

If you love to cook and spend time in the kitchen, you will want to bring:
  • A chef knife
  • A large non stick pan
  • a good cookie sheet
  • A large pot
  • Cook books with recipes from scratch - Velveeta and Campbells do not exist here.
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Your favorite spices or hot sauces
  • Ranch dressing packets Spaghetti packets, Macroni and cheese packets(don't bring noodles- got plenty), ovaltine, coffee and teas (chia or starbucks - freeze them and they last forever), propel powder packets or crystal light water flavors. These things are very light and don't take up much room and you will be glad you have them!
  • Bring your comfort food, gum, and really know that it will make those days when you miss home better.

If you are a girl (especially a girlie girl), you will want to bring:

1. Clothing - Because you will want to feel good in your clothes even in Africa
  • Dresses- At least two that come to the knee or below. There are nice restaurants, graduations, banquets, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. Don't just bring thrift store garb. People do dress nicely here.
  • Shoes - comfortable ones to walk and teach in, dressy, flip flops, hiking, slippers (your floors will be dirty, even if you mop everyday). You will want shoes for every occasion just like at home. Also, bring shoes that are good in the rain. Crocs are good for this as well as the villages.
  • Work out clothes- There are a lot of extra activities to do here on campus as well as off. Be prepared if you are athletic or like exercising, tennis, hiking, volley ball, running, or ultimate frisbee.
  • Jeans, khakis and capris- Things have changed here. Women are no longer forced to wear only long skirts. In town and on campus, pants are fine. At the Academy, female teachers are allowed to wear pants that are not jeans. You will want them for the end of the year during the cold season.
  • Bring 3 pairs of sunglasses. You will loose them! Target has great cheap ones!
  • Jewelery, rings, earrings- It is okay to wear these things. You will see ABC students wearing nice jewelry, too. It is good to leave these things on campus though when you are spending time in the villages.
  • One piece or modest 2 piece bathing suit and beach towel
  • Sunscreen- don't go cheap because the sun is SO strong here. Don't worry-you will still get a tan while wearing SPF 50.
  • Warm clothes-Bring at least 3 sweatshirts or sweaters because it get cold when it rains and then during the cold season near the end of the year (April - June)
There is new South African clothing store that just opened in town called Mr Price. It has a better selection for women than men. The quality is comparable to Old Navy and the prices aren't bad.

2. Toiletries (If you are picky about these things)
  • Face wash and moisturizes (you can't get much here)
  • Hair products-You can find name brands, but they will cost you a pretty penny.
  • Straightener and Blow dryer
  • Pads, and tampons (they are so expensive here)
  • Your favorite deodorant and perfumes
  • make up
  • Nail polish (you can get pedicures and manicures here but you might want your own color)

Household/Life items and Comfort Items
  • Towels - Pool towels and home towels. The only towels here are paper thin and very expensive.
  • Bedding - You will spend more time in bed than you ever have before. The Mosquitoes come out at dusk. By 8pm, you will be so bothered by them that you will just want to crawl into bed and watch a movie. Having your own sheets and a quilt that you love will make you feel very at home.
  • Scented Candles- you will not find these here. If you are staying throughout the holidays, make sure you bring at least one candle that smells like spice or pumpkin. It might sound strange, but it will get you through the holidays as it doesn't feel like Christmas here when it's 100 degrees!
  • Games - bring your favorite board game people love to play. People often get together on campus and play games, because there is nothing else to do in the evenings.
  • Music- Bring your Ipod, your Ihome, small portable speakers like these ones that are usb connected.
  • Pictures- Bring frames or just photos to put on your Fridge. This helps when you are missing your family and friends.
  • Hobby supplies- If you have a hobby like scrapbooking or art, make sure to bring supplies so that you can continue in this hobby. You will have a lot of time on your hands.
  • Books- If there is a must have novel that you've been dying to read, go ahead and bring it. Books that you absolutely love should maybe stay at home in case you want to bring a lot of souvenirs home. There are a few families on campus who are happy to lend out books from every genre. Take advantage of that.
  • Movies/TV Series - You will watch your shows and then trade with other people on campus.

If you are a Man...
  • A good dress up shirts for teaching, dinners out
  • Suits- Not everyone has a suit, but if you do, bring it. If you have any intention of preaching (even if you do not, someone may ask you anyways), you will need a suit jacket.
  • Shoes, dress shoes that you can wear every day, tennis shoes (general sports) flip flops, Crocs or sandals.
  • A good hat that you actually like and will wear. It is sunny!
  • Sunglasses
  • Bring any hobby stuff- Tools or sports equipment are hard to find here. If you hope to do something specific, come prepared.
If you have kids-
  • Bring lots of play clothes- most kids are play hard here.
  • Church clothes
  • Black shoes for school and boys need a black belt- they go through them quickly here
  • Gym shoes and play shoes
  • There favorite toys from home - they will miss them when they are here
  • Rain Jackets and rainboots
  • Any hobby items you know that they would like.
In general, be prepared for your job that you were called to do. Teachers, bring stickers, books white board markers and any other items you couldn't live without as a teacher. These things are great to send on a container, too.

For anyone who is coming to ABC, I hope this has helped you to narrow down the long packing list you may have already started. By no means do you have to bring every item on this list. We just wanted to offer our two cents from our own experiences, hoping it might help you to make those difficult decisions on packing day. God bless and we are praying for you!