Thursday, July 12, 2012

Packing for Africa -2012

This is from a teacher that was here - her blog here

Packing For Africa: Part 4

After having lived in Malawi for almost a year, I think a follow up to my pre-Malawi packing posts is in order.  This is a lengthy post primarily for future ABC missionaries, but anyone else who might be interested in how my dutiful packing actually turned out may find this post insightful and maybe a bit entertaining.

I'll begin with the following statement.
  • Most anything you need CAN be purchased in Lilongwe, BUT...  
    • you may not find what you want when you want/need it so patience is a virtue.  If you've got something you need or really enjoy owning, bring it with you. 
    • it's going to cost you.  Most goods cost between 50% and 100% more. 
    • made in China is not the same thing as made in China, for Africa.  I am still amazed at how often items that don't seem like rocket science to make (like a pencil), don't actually work. 
Now for a revision of my first list.  Larger items are best if you are sending them on the container.  Otherwise, it will be too expensive to put them in your luggage.  Mailing items is very expensive and there is a chance they won't make it to your doorstep (maybe someone elses, but no one you would know).

  • Cookbooks with scratch recipes. I have the Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker.  These didn't make it in my luggage, due to weight restrictions.  Honestly, I haven't missed them.  The Internet comes in handy for finding recipes (when it's working).  I suppose it depends on how serious of a cook you are.  Then again, ingredient options are rather limited, rendering most American recipes rather useless.
  • Clothing for pretty much the entire time I am there. It's hot!  You can buy second hand American clothing very cheap.  However, new clothing is low quality and comes with a high price tag.  This is especially true when considering children's clothing.  One missionary had a child's onsie come apart after one washing because it was not stitched but glued together.  It gets cold here at night during the dry winter"ish" season.  Bring warm clothing, too.
  • Extra socks and underwear as local detergents are harsh on clothing. True.
  • Shoes (running, hiking, dress, walking, sandals) With all the rain here, I'm considering buying a pair of Crocs.  Most of my shoes stink now.  Shoes are probably the most important item to bring as shoes here are very poor quality (and very uncomfortable). 
  • All medicines Absolutely! The over the counter selection is very limited.  Consider bringing vitamins, too. 
  • Contact lens cleaner solutions, saline (got to love Costco). Haven't checked to see if this is available anywhere here, but if it is it won't be consistently.  Plan ahead.
  • Toiletries If you have certain items you really prefer, then yes.  Otherwise, you can buy shampoo, conditioner, etc. at reasonable prices.  Exceptions: expect to pay between $10-$15 for a small can of shaving cream, razors are only single or double blades, and travel sized items are nonexistent.  Bring any cosmetics you want, especially if you have fair skin.
  • Tape – all types (random - apparently not readily available) Mystery solved! This is one of those items that is sold here that doesn't actually work.  You can find tape (masking, duct, transparent) here, but it doesn't actually stick.  Crazy! 
  • Scissors You could skip
  • Batteries and chargers – all types You can buy batteries here, just bring specialty items and chargers.
  • Flashlight I like my small Maglight but you can buy flashlights here. 
  • Camera This is one item I wish I would have spent more money on.  I've never taken so many pictures and videos before.
  • Teaching Supplies (that's a whole other list) Most classrooms are pretty well equipped.  Highly recommend dry erase markers and mechanical pencils.
  • Sunglasses, glasses, extra glasses (good thing my prescription has not changed in the last decade).Yep.
  • Stamps Haven't used mine yet, but if you need something mailed in the U.S. it helps whomever is carrying it back for you to have postage paid already.
  • Laptop, printer Both are a must.  Include extra ink.  Academy printers don't always work, so if you're a teacher this becomes a necessity if you create your own lessons.  On the other hand, many teachers don't have a printer and figure out a way to deal.  I suppose it really is a personal preference.
  • Smoke detector Houses do have them, don't bring.
  • Water filters Initially helps with the taste of the water, but you do get used to it.  The houses all have special antimicrobial filters.
  • Head lamp – power outages average 3X/week Still recommend.  However, power outages are almost daily and usually only last 10 minutes or so till the generator kicks on.  Note:  this only applies if you live on campus.  Power outages can last an hour or a whole day otherwise.
  • Reusable containers, towels, napkins, bags Plastic containers are pretty decent here, towels can be purchased, napkins made (cheaply), and bags can be purchased, too.
  • One piece swimsuit (prefer one that isn't scary ugly) A tankini is completely acceptable.
  • Book day costume (Halloween type costume) I'd ordered one but it didn't arrive on time.  I was lame to not have one nor was I really equipped for a make shift costume either.  This event is a big deal.  There is also International Day.  A patriotic themed costume is fun for that.  Note: dressing like a pilgrim is a bit frowned upon given the issues with "pilgrims" to South Africa.  The use of a costume really only applies to academy staff and students. 
  • Mosquito repellent You can buy that here, but packets or travel sized bottles come in handy while traveling.
  • Spices Lots of spices here but limited seasoning packets (and they're very expensive if you do find them).  Consider bringing taco seasoning and parmesan cheese. 
  • Good hair cutting scissors (nervous about what this implies J) Don't bother.  You can get a good and inexpensive haircut here from a few places.
  • Chocolate chips (very expensiveTry nonexistent.  Bring them.  Even if you're not a chocolate addict, sometimes you want something that "tastes like America." 
  • Electric kitchen appliances Depends on your level of cooking expertise.  You can find them here.
  • A good pot and pan (quality is hard to find) You can buy decent pots and pans here now.  Then again, if you're a serious cook, you may want to consider bringing them.
  •  Water bottle/thermos bring a leak proof water bottle, coffee thermos, and I would recommend a CamelPak too if you're into hiking.  You'll drink way more water here. 
Other Items to Consider
  • Towels and Bedding - This may depend on where you are living.  The people that lived in your home before you may have left linens behind and you can use theirs.  Contact ABC to see if this applies to you.  If nothing was left behind you may want to consider bringing your own.  When you arrive after two to three days of travel all you're really going to be interested in doing is showering and sleeping.  You probably won't be up for a trip to the bank to exchange money and then shopping for overpriced linens.   The other option would be to see if you can borrow this stuff till you can purchase it.  I brought my own, but I wouldn't call it necessary.  Again, planning is everything here.
  • Travel sized items & travel friendly clothing - Given that you're in Africa you'll probably want to do some travel while you're here.  You'll want a bag that can't fit under your seat on a bus and doesn't have to be checked on an airplane (roll aboards - almost always get checked now).  The issue being that if the bag isn't in your possesion, count on someone rifling through it (even if there is a lock on it). Theft is highly likely if you travel through Johannesburg (a.k.a. Joburg).  Don't put anything valuable in a checked bag.  You can't buy travel sized items here, so stock up (at least on the containers).  Quick drying/multipurpose clothing (so you can wash it in a sink) that can be squashed in a bag is ideal. 
  • DVD's - so this genius thought she could download tv shows and movies to her computer to save space in her bag. hahahahahahahahah.  Ha!  Have I mentioned that the Internet connection here is slow?!  A three minute YouTube video can take 3 hours to play.  Music and podcasts take awhile to download (but tolerable).  The good news is that many people here have a lot of movies, but not much for TV shows.  Maybe recommending someone bring DVD's is a bit for my own benefit,  but I've got a stash to lend out, too. 
  • Games - Good times when you probably won't have a TV with a satellite subscription.
  • ebook Reader - This is definately optional, but you may find that once in awhile you actually will have time to read a book.  Granted there a quite a few theological books on campus to read, but you may appreciate something from another genre now and then. You can download books to your computer and the Kindle app is great for that.  I have a Sony ebook reader that I really DON'T recommend.  While the Sony eReader is a bit cheaper than the Kindle (hence the reason I got it), the books cost more, there isn't as much of a selection to choose from, and many can't be downloaded outside of the U.S.  If you're going to do this then I suggest the Kindle.  Many staff members here have one and love it.
  • Speakers - I threw a compact stereo onto the container last year and have really enjoyed having good sound.  If that is not an option for you, I would recommend speakers that plug into your USB port on your laptop and run off of power from your computer.  
  • Mobile phone - If you have a mobile phone that you love, you can bring it and probably have it unlocked (this may limit your ability to use it in the U.S. again).  This is assuming that your SIM card is accessible.  I know that some Droid and Palm phones don't have accessible SIM cards, however, SIM cards can be cut to fit the iPhone.  Otherwise, a new (ancient style) phone, will run about $20 (heard of these but never seen one for sale) - $60 (more likely).
  • Compact umbrella - It rains a lot and having a small umbrella that can be stashed in a purse or bag helps.  You can buy large ones here that double as canes if need be. (What? You don't need a cane!  Bring a compact umbrella then).
  • Travel packets of hand wipes/hand sanatizer/tissues/mosquito repellent - Sanitation isn't the same here and I haven't seen these items for sale. 
  • Cups and coffee mugs - Cups and mugs tend to be small here (I feel like I am drinking from shot glasses and teacups).  This is really a personal preference and more realistically a very American preference.  I brought a bigger coffee mug and love it.  I will be schlepping another larger mug back with me and larger drinking glasses (acrylic).  Sometimes more is more (and better). 
  • Long shower curtain and liner - curtain rods tend to sit a bit high around here.  I have heard others note that their shower curtains don't even make it to the height of the tub, leaving quite a mess in the bathroom. 
  • Over the shoulder bag - While I don't feel like people are out to grab my purse, I definately felt more comfortable with an over the shoulder bag when I first got here.  The largest bill is only worth $3 and only a few places accept cards.  Your going to feel like you just robbed a bank with the amount of cash you'll carry with you and it takes awhile to get used to. 
  • Bibles - Bring your favorite study Bible and a smaller Bible as you'll be bringing it to various events.  Those that have brought only a small Bible, to save space for packing, wished they would have brought a larger study Bible, too. 
Stuff to forget about.
  • Binders (and sheet protectors) - I brought them to organize all my files, assignments, etc.  Paper is A4 here so a standard binder is just not big enough. 
You could absolutely bring only a carry-on and purchase some version of most things you appreciate here. Your American life won't translate no matter how much you bring and that is all part of what makes the experience great.  Everything mentioned above is just a suggestion to make your stay in Malawi a bit more comfortable, but you'll be fine without those items.  After all, they are just things and don't we all have enough stuff?  Additionally, just getting off of an airplane with a carry on is going to make you far richer than most of the citizens of Malawi anyway.   Living in Malawi makes you realize how most of what you own isn't really all that important and that you were probably more materialistic than you ever would have noticed otherwise.  Granted we are humans and our desire for stuff, comfort, and luxuries doesn't really ever subside, but living here has helped to keep the materialistic side of me in check.  

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