Malawi – Yuen Ho (2012)

Yuen Ho

Yuen Ho, graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, where she majored in economics.  Yuen worked in Malawi this the 2012 summer, interning with a non-profit organization to help develop leadership programs for youth.  Yuen received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Yuen Ho’s travel safety tips:

First and foremost, Malawi lives up to its name as the “Warm Heart of Africa.” In general, people are incredibly friendly and helpful. During my travels throughout Malawi I felt safe and welcomed. However, there are still safety tips to keep in mind to ensure that your experiences in Malawi are the best possible.

Public Transportation: Public transportation just might be the most dangerous thing you encounter while in Malawi. In general, the public “minibuses” used around cities are old and in poor condition, and they are always crammed full beyond capacity. Instead of taking the minibus, opt for taking a taxi or shared taxi. While it’s a little more expensive, it’s safer and usually quicker as well. For longer distances, it is worth it to choose a private coach bus over the public buses. Again, public buses are usually in poor condition with extra people crammed down the aisle. In comparison, private buses will only travel with one to a seat and each seat comes with a seatbelt! The AXA Bus Company is a great pick, and tickets are usually only $4-$8 more than the public option. Also, if a driver is driving too fast, don’t be afraid to tell them to slow down.

Traveling at Night: In general, it is best to avoid traveling at night. The roads rarely have working streetlights and drinking and driving is a major problem. Also, walking at night makes you an easier target for muggings and attacks. If you have to travel at night, always do so with other people or a group and only take private cars or taxis.

Respecting Cultural Norms: As is the case with traveling to any foreign country, respecting the local cultural is important. I found that norms in Malawi can differ drastically between rural village areas and urban cities. For example, in villages, traditional wear is very important and women especially should wear appropriate clothing such as long skirts and shirts with sleeves. However, in the cities, it is normal for women to wear skirts and shorts at knee-level as well as pants and tank tops. Respecting cultural norms is a good way to prevent drawing attention to yourself.

Communication: It’s a good idea to check in with your country’s embassy when you arrive in Malawi. The embassy can keep you up to date on safety issues and events in the local area. Also, when traveling, keep in contact with family and friends and let them know what your plans are.

Health/Food: At least in Lilongwe, there are no water sanitation facilities in the city. Never drink tap water, make sure to always purify it before you drink (boiling, UV light, iodine tablets, etc). Some places, especially in rural areas, will sell you “home bottled” water that has not been treated, don’t drink the water unless it’s been treated. Also, Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia) is a parasite found in Lake Malawi. In some popular tourist areas, such as Cape Maclear, transmission rates can be very high due to the population density. To avoid contracting Bilharzia, don’t swim in the water. However, if you do swim, Bilharzia is easily treated and medication is available throughout Malawi. Just make sure to get checked by a doctor and take the appropriate medicine. Finally, especially in the wet season, Malaria can be a big concern while in Malawi. To prevent contracting Malaria, you should take anti-malarials during your trip. You should also sleep under a mosquito net and apply bug spray when going outside.