EMBANGWENI, Malawi that is

Written by Betty Poehlman
with input by Joseph Nyongo



So . . . you want to travel to Embangweni?  Join others who have committed both time and effort to make the region surrounding Loudon Station a healthier and safer place to live.

It is the “Warm Heart of Africa” – at its best.  Friendly smiles, happy hearts, joyful sounds – all to the glory of God!


And, while living and working there, we suggest you make your stay especially enjoyable by lodging at the Donald Fraser Guesthouse, centrally located within 100 meters of the Presbyterian Church or the hospital gates.  The grain bank and the shallow wells depot are around the corner, and the trade centre is just down the road.


There are 14 units. Rooming is provided at a reasonable rate of approximately US $15, ensuite.  Meals are served in the Fraser Guesthouse dining room or boxed for the road.  Laundry, like meals, is available at affordable posted rates.  On average, room, board and laundry will run approximately US$20 daily.

NOTE: Since the value of the Kwacha relative to the US dollar (and other major currencies) has been dropping dramatically recently, all prices listed in this document are listed in dollars. the price in Kwacha will normally be adjusted somewhat as the exchange rate changes.

So, with all your comfort needs met, what else might you need to bring?  Here we go with the A to Z of EMB – Embangweni, that is!


AAttitude – Do not leave home without it.  Your ability to cope with the unknown and to contribute to the work rests entirely with you.  Good attitude equals good experience. 

Action Packers – the trade name for the most coveted possession of Embangweni – are the 24-gallon Rubbermaid containers, costing about US$30 (and up), your predecessors have faithfully carried on their journeys to the Warm Heart!  Bring them filled to the brim, but be sure to weigh them first.  Airlines have unique rules about weight for international travel (usually 50 pound limit), so use your space wisely.  And, plan to leave them when you have completed your travels.  The hospital makes good use of any and others are willing to purchase them for about what we pay for them in the US – a considerable sum for a Malawian.  The reason is simple: the containers provide dry security for food items and are used for safekeeping of valuables.  If Action Packers are not available, then substitute other high-density rubber containers closed by using drilled holes and fast-ties available from places like Lowes.  (If CUSTOMS or AIRPORT SECURITY cut the ties, they are easily replaced using more ties or tape; padlocks are no longer advised with airport precautions.)


BBackpacks are essential for day use.  Regardless of what you carry on in-flight, and large backpacks are a good way to “carry even more”, you will need some kind of daypack for your daily work and travels.

Books are necessary to pass evening.  Bring reading material, perhaps leaving it for one of the libraries.  If you do run out of good reading, borrow something from Full Primary or Robert Laws Secondary shelves.  Bring any extra Bibles, too, as they are always appreciated, especially the Good News Bible (for easier reading).
Batteries are not readily available in Embangweni (and when they are, they are poor quality), so plan for your needs.  And, it is nearly impossible to find AAAs anywhere.  What you do not need during your stay will graciously be accepted by Matron for use in the hospital.


CCameras are essential – not only because you will want to remember Embangweni, but also because persons love having their photo taken.  Digitals are great hits, as some people are not used to seeing themselves.  For a real splurge, take a printer for your digital, thus leaving families with photos – sometimes their only photo – of their family unit.  Equipment can be safely left at the Guesthouse while traveling or working.

Cell phones   There is no landline available in Embangweni so all phone service is through cellular.  The best provider of cellular service is Airtel (TNM is also good) and services can be purchased at the airport.  You will need an unlocked 'International' phone so you can buy a SIM card for about $3 US and additional minutes for another $5 to $10.  If you want to add data for e-mail and internet on your phone, it requires another "bundle" and is approximately $5 for 140 megabytes.
Computers, hum? There is no WiFi at the guest house so to use a laptop you must purchase a "dongle" to put in the USB port on your laptop. Again, Airtel is the best provider (TNM is also good) and will sell the dongle at the airport for about $40 and this generally also provide ample data usage for up to six months.  Discuss with the sales person to make sure the data is included with the dongle. If you do not want to use local Airtel (or TNM) service you MUST contact your home country provider before leaving home and purchase international phone, text and data through your home provider.  If you do not buy their International plan, every use will be viewed as international long distance with international roaming and will cost a fortune.


D – Documents include your Passport and your Immunization Record.  Your driver’s license, if you expect to rent a vehicle or drive on highways, is probably a good idea.  And, of course, do not forget a MasterCard or Visa if you think you might run out of cash and need to find a cash machine in one of the major cities (Lilongwe, Blantyre, or Mzuzu).  It is a good idea to photocopy all documents several times, keeping one or more copies in various locations of your belongings, in the event they are lost during your Malawi stay.  In fact, giving a traveling companion a copy of one’s document might be a good idea, too. The point is that reporting a lost passport or identifying by number a charge card is far easier when you have copies of documents in front of you at the Embassy.  Fear not, you do not need to travel with your documents around Embangweni.  When you cross over into Zambia, if on trips to remote villages or clinics, you will be able to navigate the borders without documents in hand.  Leave them tucked away in your guest room.  In addition, there is registration for alerting the Embassy in Malawi of your travel locations. All this can be done prior to departure thereby ensuring that the State Department knows where to find those expatriated within their country in the event of any national or international disaster. .  You may also want to call your credit card company and let them know that you will be traveling in Africa so that it does not think the card’s use is suspicious, suspending its use.


E – Entertainment is a state of mind.  You’ll find some of your best moments are spontaneous ones spent playing soccer with village youngsters, playing Frisbee in front of the guesthouse, walking a path through the countryside.  Take a few “toys”, some playing cards, or a deflated soccer ball.  You will have instant engagement wherever.  But, back in your room, enjoy your ipod, your hand-held games, and movies on your laptop.  Discretion is always in order as, remember, most Malawians will never have access to such riches.  And, since nightfall comes early – just after 6 pm year round  --  you’ll have lots of evening time to enjoy in the quiet of your room.

(For anti-entertainment, you might like to carry ear plugs, if you are a light sleeper.  Birds begin their wake-up calls, very early – say 4 am.  For some visitors, this has interfered with getting their best nights of sleep!)


F – Food is always on visitors’ list of concerns.  Yes, you will find the food at Fraser Guesthouse amazing – pizza and spaghetti, on request, chicken and rice, on occasion, beans, rice, and dendi (a form of relish), always.  Breakfast will consist of toast, oats, and eggs – pretty much like a breakfast at home.  Lunch may be in a remote village, however, so be prepared for sharing that indigenous meal – probably nsima (their staple cornmeal-like dish), rice, and dendi.  (Carry a plastic fork in your daypack, as you may not always be given a utensil.  Also, some anti-bacterial hand wash, the waterless kind, or baby wipes can come in handy for sanitizing one’s hands, though you will be offered a small amount of shared water for hand washing before any meal in Malawi.)  And water, just carry your own, either purchased prior to arriving at Embangweni (we ask our driver from the airport to stop in Kasungu to purchase bottled water) or from the boiled source available in the kitchen of the guesthouse.  Make no apologies for drinking only your own; Malawians are aware that our stomachs take time to familiarize with the waters there.  We are not expected to drink local water.  And, both Coca-Cola and Fanta are almost certainly available for purchase at most trade centres, gas stations, and the guesthouse. Usually drivers will stop for either prior to a village visit, if you should want to purchase one,

Flashlights or a headlamp is mandatory.  And, bring plenty of batteries.  One cannot count on electricity in Embangweni, or even Lilongwe or Mzuzu, as it is subject to outages, both acts of nature and conservation of resource, so be sure to have “torches” as they are called in Embangweni.


G – Gifts --You likely will be the guest of someone during your visit to Embangweni.  If so, it is proper to bestow some small item upon the household.  Look around for items in your own home that are suitable to give away – unopened or unused table linens are cherished, chocolates are adored, flashlights or folding umbrellas are useful.  And, men always love receiving a tie and women a square head scarf, even if previously owned.  You will become especially fond of some of your Malawian counterparts, whether working in the hospital or out in the field, and you are likely to be given something small, such as a chitenje (their cloth wrap) as a gift on your departure.  It is nice, too, to have something for them – bottle openers, old watches, sunglasses, pens, markers, paper, earrings – things that we take for granted.  And, for the persons who are in your service, the cooks and the cleaners and the laundress, a money gift is always appreciated.

Greetings – Learn hello and goodbye in Timbuku. The exchange of greetings may seem an unnecessarily long string of words, but to Malawians, your effort goes a long way in showing that you are interested in their society and people.  It can also be fun to learn to say “Yewo” an all-purpose sort of word, like “hey” or “okay” delivered with various inflections.  



H -- Heart – need we say more – and plenty of it!


I – Immunizations for visiting Malawi are essential for your own health security.  Start early with immunizations so that you are well protected prior to your arrival in Malawi.  Usually, the following course is recommended by international health professionals:    diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, mumps, measles, rubella, polio, pneumococcal, hepatitis B, and influenza.  In addition, it is highly recommended that you consider hepatitis A, meningococcal, typhoid, and yellow fever immunizations.

Insurance, don’t forget it.  If you should become sick requiring hospitalization, it is suggested that you have insurance that covers illness while traveling overseas.  Check with your carrier.  And, should they not provide the coverage, either ask them to suggest someone who will write a policy for your stay, even if it is only weeks.  Numbers of providers are available through outfits like TravelGard, available over the internet.  Include in your inquiry questions regarding repatriation from country in the event of any major injury (there are previous examples of people being flown out of Lilongwe to South Africa) and coverage for transport back to one’s country of origin. 


J – Jewelry is simply not necessary; leave anything you cherish at home.  Buy a cheap watch and wear a substitute wedding band.  Wear simple earrings.  Like our electronic possessions, we need not display.  


K – Kwacha is the local currency.  While still in the airport, perhaps waiting for your cargo, use the currency window in the airport for your first exchange of $US300.  That should amply cover any expenses incurred incidentally during your stay.  And, should you end up with too much kwacha, there are usually others willing to buy from you, having, themselves, bought too many carvings!   The exchange rate is available on the web:  I suggest making up your own conversion chart while in the air and on the way.  You will be wise and can best protect yourself from some faulty exchange if you have ratios memorized.  Remember that Donald Fraser takes checks so that is one way of minimizing the amount of kwacha carried. But don’t expect to find a First Bank of Embangweni.  It does not exist so think ahead!


L – Layers provide the best solution to wardrobe planning, regardless of the season.  Take the kind of things useful here for layering your upper torso, including long sleeves tees and tank tops. That way you can choose what to wear with or without a shirt or jacket.  Men are always “covered” in long pants, though shorts are acceptable wear during hot season.  Women are safest, culture-wise in calf-length skirts or loose trousers, but layering either with tights or lightweight long underwear is always possible.  Only in the coldest months, prior to the rainy season, would a coat be required – and that is May to July. Hottest mothers are September, October, and November. 


M – Mosquito prevention is essential.  As Westerners, we have zero tolerance for the bites of the anopheles mosquito and why take a chance on getting malaria.  Do not leave home without a prescribed drug to inhibit the disease-borne insects.  In fact, most regimens for malaria prevention start even before arrival in Embangweni, and some continue for an additional 28 days following departure from Malawi.  Get clear instructions from your medical provider or public health clinic what the routine is for your particular prescription, and then follow it completely.  Of course, during your stay, should you have concerns about having malaria – fever, chills, flu-like symptoms -- see the medical doctor in charge or go to the lab for a blood smear. And, ask for a bed net if one should not be evident.  Just remember that malaria is easily treatable early on, but it must be diagnosed!


N – Nutritious snacks and an assortment of “comfort” foods stashed in your room  are nice, but do not think you can live on them. Instead, if you think you might bottom out some afternoon, then a Balance Bar, Hershey, or spoonful of peanut butter may pull you through.  And, you might want to make a food gift to the kitchen, such as bringing the cooks a chunk of cheese, a bag of 16 bean soup mix, some packs of tuna, packets of Crystal Light, butter buds, some ready-cooked bacon or some McCormick’s sauce packets. The cooks love working with new things and you will look forward to something like macaroni and cheese for which you have provided ingredients.


O – Open-mindedness helps. Accept from the beginning that you will not always “get it”. The way things are in Embangweni may completely elude you.  Yet know, like any culture, their ways and behaviors are the result of the way they have evolved as a culture.  While we may think something quite odd, such as men and women sitting on opposite sides of the church, it is customary and comfortable to them. Observe and respect differences, noting that many of their customs and behaviors are really quite lovely such as the hand-washing routine that precedes any nourishment.


P – Personal items vary but it is essential that you plan in order to be prepared.  That means taking an ample supply of grooming products.  That means, for women, taking personal hygiene products, like tampons or pads, as neither are available for purchase.  That means taking ample supply of any prescription drugs, sun protection, cold and allergy medication – whatever gets you though difficulties at home will be needed but not necessarily available.  Plan and do not borrow.  That makes it hard on everyone living with limited resources.


Q – Questioning allows one, when visiting, to express interest and broader understanding.  Decide what you really want to know about indigenous Malawians, their beliefs, their community. Talk to them and be sure you have gotten answers to those questions before leaving.  In other words, focus much of your conversation on getting answer to those issues that intrigue you.  You will be proud of your cultural anthropological research and you’ll endear yourself to others through your interest.


R Rain gear can be as simple as a couple of reusable vinyl ponchos or as elaborate as a water-proof rain coat with a hood.  If you are visiting Embangweni anytime between November and March, bring something along.  Bring an umbrella.  Like a “torch”, every Malawian knows to carry an umbrella for the sudden downpours that occur during rainy season.  Shoes?  Some people wear high-tops in the rain; others wear flip-flops.  There is no one answer, but more importantly, think through what you will wear once your shoes get wet.  That is the challenge.

Resilience is a wonderful quality to develop while visiting.  Arm yourself daily for the unexpected and vow to stand up to opportunity


S -- Shoes can contribute to a successful stay.  You’ll do a lot of walking – miles of walking – so be sure you have a comfortable, well-broken in pair of shoes for walking, whether athletic, hiking, or active wear sandal.  Maybe that shoe can be used for multiple purposes, but be sure to have something suitable to wear to church service on Sunday.  A pair of sandals or casual slip-ons is nice back at the guesthouse and shower shoes (cheap flip-flops) are essential.  As a secondary thought, you may be asked if you intend to leave your shoes on departure, and if so, the asker may be “hinting”.  Consider wearing older, disposable, shoes if you can.  The shoes can be pretty “beat up”, like your work clothing, and leaving behind those items can be a generous gift to another.

Snakes, the object of great consternation among travelers, do live in and around Embangweni.  Spiders, too.  But do not be surprised if your trip passes without even one sighting.  However, if you do come across a viper, best to yield the right of way!


T – Travel books on Malawi are available on Amazon or at well-stocked bookstores.  Try to get one before the journey to read, and then bring it with you.  As you learn more about Malawi, you will want to reference the region, the town, the mountain.  Bring a travel journal, as well, as you will want to write down names of persons and places as well as snippets telling of important impressions. 


U – Universal tools are great resources in your pocket.  A Swiss Army knife or Leatherman with blades and attachments will make you a hero at least once a day to someone.  Remember to check these in your luggage so they are not confiscated by security at the airports. Another thing to bring is a recent appraisal of useful skills you possess.  Why don’t you try writing them down in advance of your arrival.  What can you do? Gardening, sewing, word-processing, accounting, driving, cleaning, sorting, fixing, patching.  Then be open to additional small acts of kindness that present every single day to the visitor.


V – Videos  or newer DVD's, for some, are a great way to share our culture with the people of Embangweni, especially the children whose schools house VCRs (DVD technology is minimally available).  Look through your old Videos and see if you have any to give away, including documentaries, cartoons, the like. (CDs and old tapes are also quite popular for sharing.)

Voltage adapter, to step down appliances from 220 to 110, is necessary if you intend to use any thing electrical in your guest room.  Adaptors are available in any travel store or Radio Shack outlet.  Be sure to see what your computer adjusts to as some are both 220 and 110. If adjustable, then bring a plug adaptor without need for a voltage adapter.


W – Wash-and-wear clothing keeps life simple.  With a little washing detergent, some clothes pins and a cord brought from home, you can hard wash and hang for drying in your room a good portion of your clothing.  Otherwise, guesthouse staff can provide washing, line drying and ironing for a fee once or twice per week.  Note that anything hung outdoors for drying merits ironing, a method of ensuring that the Ptuti fly has not deposited eggs in your knickers, which might later hatch during wearing.


X – X-ray machines and xylophones are among the useful items that have made their way to Embangweni via visitors.  What do you have that you are not using that might bring something eX-tra to the people of EMB – battery powered clocks, discarded calculators, inexpensive watches, kitchen utensils. Look around at what we take for granted and think how valued it might be to another.


Y -- Yellow fever stamping, though not necessary for Malawi, is required for travel in neighboring Zambia as well as other African nations.  Be sure your health booklet is stamped if you plan to extend your travels beyond Malawi.


Z – Zest is vigorous and enthusiastic enjoyment.  It will take effort on your part – vigorous and enthusiastic – but in the end you will say, “I have enjoyed my stay in Embangweni”.


And, we have enjoyed having you at

Donald Fraser Guesthouse!

Safe journey home,

 please come again.



Joseph Nyongo

Donald Fraser Guestlodge

P.O. Box 10

Embangweni, Mzimba, Malawi

cell 0882 952 666

(from the USA 011 265 882 952 666)

Joseph Nyongo