Mia Ratkiewicz and Alysha Parsons, Sarah Martin
Helpful hints from girls plagued by transportation disasters
- Bring your passport for all travels outside of Blantyre to avoid being temporarily detained in a small village just long enough to watch your bus drive away without you.
- Be prepared to be an hour early for a bus that will almost certainly arrive two hours late packed so full that you have to stand the whole way. Be ready to be patient and frustrated.
- Use the African bus system only ONCE for the experience and allow yourself to learn the hard way that it is so worth it to rent a car.
- If you use Canda Car Hire (across from hospital by chicken place and car dealer) request NOT to have Victor as your driver. He managed to get drunk, hit a cyclist, knock the mirror off the car, and then request money from us to pay the hospital bills (even though he left the biker bleeding on the side of the road). Finally, he drained our gas tank to bribe the police officer to write a fraudulent police report, leaving us 25 km from a gas station in Cape Maclear. Somehow he is still employed there … after all he said he “had a good ride.” We left him in Cape Maclear.
- Drive yourselves on weekend trips to eliminate the bad driver variable, but be prepared for the new risk of car trouble, which might leave you stranded in another small village with a broken fan belt and an overheated junky 4-by-4. If you use SS Rent A Car (right by Home Needs, home of the mango milkshake) you can count on them to bring you a new car as fast as humanly possible. Make sure you have a number to call if you have car trouble.
- If you do choose to drive, be ready to be hypervigilant in order to deal with the following Malawian road hazards: chickens, goats, bicycles carrying entire families, hitchhiking men in uniform with daughters who are men, snot rockets, bicycles carrying loads of coal, minibuses passing uphill and around curves or simply driving towards you head-on for no obvious reason.
- Be careful, always have a cell phone (with charger), expect the unexpected and embrace all African transportation nightmares because they make great stories if you live to tell them. (Just kidding. You will live but you will find yourself praying for a safe return.)
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon coming here, but I can certainly say I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, there were times I was frustrated with the hospital and system, but I won’t let that detract from the great experience it was. I am very impressed with the people of Malawi. For a country so poor and wanting for resources, the people are always happy, smiling and friendly. They never seem angry or harbor ill will. I am also amazed by their toughness and perseverance. They certainly outdo most Americans there.
I leave here with a greater appreciation for simple things like Betadine that we waste in the U.S. and you have to beg for here.
I consider myself a much richer, more patient and lucky individual since before coming here.
Nothing anyone said could have prepared me for all that I experienced. Being here is totally what you make it. I encourage everyone to take their time in Malawi and make yourself an adventure — you don’t have to try too hard. At Queen’s you can see and do things that aren’t possible at home. You will want to laugh, cry and shout at some of the things you see and do. I certainly have a newfound admiration for simple things like proper suture, scissors and good lighting.
Our Most Favorite Things in Malawi
- Mango milkshakes lassis and juice at Home Needs, a vegetarian Indian restaurant on Glyn Jones Road near Mt. Soche Hotel and SS Rent a Car
- Richard, the most dependable taxi driver on earth. Call him at 09950174. He knows the house well.
- Ali Baba’s for delicious fresh juices (pineapple and passionfruit) and an incredible chicken fajita. It’s located on Haile Selassie right by Lambatts
- Open Arms Orphanage, next to Maky’s restaurant. Have to take a cab at all hours because road is dangerous
- SkyLinks Travel for booking flights out of Malawi and for traveling afterwards. Call Yvonne 09408965
- CCAP Hut on Mt. Mulanje has semi-comfortable beds that allow to sleep peacefully without worrying about rats
- Saver’s Choice Grocery has items you won’t find anywhere else and gives prizes for big enough purchases. Tricky to get to but Richard knows the way (it’s on the way to Limbe past Shoprite). Too far to walk, definitely take a cab.
- La Caverna is very close to house in Mandala across from filling station. Gallery has so many cool things to buy. Café has great lunch and lattes.
- Cottage on Zomba Mountain. We stumbled upon this by chance while staying at Ku Chawe Inn. It is located just past Ku Chawe on the same road as the wood carvers market. Look for signs for Montage Cottage. Sleeps 5 people, has kitchen utensils and fireplace, on top of a hills surrounded by beautiful gardens with an amazing view. Call Sato, 01524565.
- Dedza Pottery has adorable chalets, great food and the best coffee in Africa. Don’t try to do this as a day trip unless you rent a car.
- The waterfall (Likhubula) at Mt. Mulanje. Definitely have your guide take you there. Remember your “swimming costumes.”
- Mvuu Camp. Get a family chalet. One night is enough because you’ll be awake most of it listening to hippos and birds.
- Getting back to the house ALIVE after a weekend away.
- Simoni’s peanut butter cookies.
To everyone who comes in the future, I hope your experience here was as wonderful as mine. You will have so many surreal moments and hilarious adventures. You will feel so alive and grow so much! Enjoy it all — it goes by much too quickly.
I have definitely felt a whole range of emotion. I have a huge respect for the people that live here and the daily struggles that they go through. I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity.
Good eats, good sights, bad allergies. Start drinking the water on day one … you’ll be fine.
Definitely overwhelming the first week but once you let everything sink in, it is a life-changing experience. Be flexible, be open-minded, stay in the present always and enjoy the beautiful country.
What a perfect way to end your medical school career! I could not have asked for a better experience.
My top things to do in Malawi
- Safari in Zambia with Mick! Probably the best weekend I’ve ever had.
- Carlsburg tour – lots of free beer and I don’t even like beer.
- Cape Maclear — a loooong trek but worth it. Find an “express” minibus; it was much better that way. Also, consider buying an extra seat for luggage so you have to squeeze so tightly.
- Sit in Terrie’s back yard on the porch and drink tea.
- Sit and eat at La Caverna café (and buy out of their store). Espresso affogato is wonderful, with chocolate cake, of course.
- Haggle and trade at the market downtown.
Rast Raughs in Marawi
- Best group outing: Carlsberg NON-tour + a nameless student’s fall from trying to scale the living room wall
- “Oh, it’s getting really hot in here” — Sam, as he was getting peed on at Open Arms
- “I saw my first gay couple today. They were holding hands.” — Jeff, on one of his last days here
- 4 bottles of gin, 5L box of wine + blackberry Sobo
Jeff and Kim Fountain
This experience has helped us grow as physicians, individuals and as a couple. Great times were definitely had, but it was the “inconveniences/adventures” that made us stronger. We hope you take the opportunity to enjoy, grow and learn as much as we did during this experience.
- Be flexible
- Go on safari with Mick! Great times!
- Never pay for a minibus before you reach your destination.
- Take the Carlsberg tour (especially if you’re constipated, hahaha)
- Remember No. 1