MALAWI AT A GLANCE
WHERE IS MALAWI?
Located in southeastern Africa, it is a country endowed with spectacular highlands and extensive lakes. It occupies a narrow, curving strip of land along the East African Rift Valley. Population: 15.8 million people
WHAT IS THE CAPITAL OF MALAWI?
Lilongwe is the largest city with 1.5 million residents. The second largest is Blantyre.
WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF MALAWI?
English is the official language, but the majority of the country’s people primarily speak Chichewa
WHAT IS THE RELIGION OF MALAWI?
Some three-fourths of the population is Christian. Muslims constitute about one-fifth of the population. Traditional beliefs are adhered to by a small proportion of the population.
WHAT IS THE LITERACY RATE OF MALAWI?
For adult men the literacy rate is 73% and for women it is 59%. Only 35 percent of children in Malawi complete primary school. Only eight percent of them complete high school.
WHAT IS THE ECONOMY OF MALAWI LIKE?
The country ranks among the world's least developed and ranked as the 3rd poorest country in the world in 2018. About 90% of the population lives in rural areas. Malawi's economy is based predominantly on subsistence agriculture and small-scale fisheries. Agriculture accounts for 27% of GDP and about 90% of its export revenue. Top exports are raw tobacco (55%), dried legumes, raw sugar, tea and raw cotton.
OTHER FACTS ABOUT MALAWI
There are two main seasons—the dry season, which lasts from May to October, and the wet season, which lasts from November to April. Nsanje, in the Shire River valley, has a mean July temperature in the high 60s F
Nsima is the country’s staple food and forms the basis of many meals in Malawi. Made from ground white maize flour, nsima is cooked in a pan and then formed into patties to be served with a variety of different flavors. The patties are served up with a tasty sauce of meat, fish and vegetables known as “ndiwo.” As can be seen in the photo, patties are often served as a side dish with freshly caught “chambo” (a fish widely caught in Lake Malawi). Alternatively, nsima can be served as a replacement for mashed potatoes with beans and vegetables. Breakfasts are simple; “Mgaiwa Phala” is a smooth and tasty breakfast porridge, cooked using the maize flour and usually served with milk and sugar. Cinnamon can be added for extra flavor. Tea being one of the major crops, they frequently wash their meals down with tea. Mawehu, an unsweetened, non-alcoholic drink made from the maize is also common.
CULTURAL DO’S AND DON’TS
It is considered risque to kiss or hug in public (between a man and woman) – it might appear to be a come-on to a stranger. This kind of showing affection is only done in private.
Malawians do not hug when greeting each other. It is a nice gesture of respect to bow slightly and/or to hold the elbow of your right arm with your left hand when shaking the hand of someone who is older than you or who holds an important position.
Do not put your hand in your pocket when talking to, or when greeting someone. This is a sign of disrespect. Take your hat off when talking to an important person or an elder person.
Do not say, “excuse me,” when you bump into someone. This might imply that you are telling them to get out of your way. Instead say, “I’m sorry.” (pepani)
Do not refuse a gift when offered to you even though you might think it is not necessary or that they cannot afford it. To refuse a gift would be considered very rude. It says what they’re offering is not important, and denies them the joy of giving.
Do not (whenever possible) tell someone “NO” outright when they ask for something. Delays and elaborate excuses are customary, and much preferred to outright rejection. Relationship is primary.
The same applies to food. You will be offered food almost every time you are in a Malawian’s home. If you do not wish to eat their food, or if you simply are not hungry, it is customary to give excuses why you CANNOT eat, rather than to simply say you do not want to eat. (make EVERY effort to eat whatever you are given, especially in the village)
Malawians are very reserved, therefore it is considered risque to discuss any sort of private issues in public — such as pregnancy. Telling others that your wife is pregnant is considered boasting, and there is a strong belief that the baby will die before delivery if the husband goes about bragging. Likewise, it would be considered nosy to ask another man if his wife is pregnant, even if it is very obvious.
Do not be surprised to see people of the same sex holding hands. This is a sign of close friendship and is quite common — but holding hands with the opposite sex is rarely done. Men: a Malawian man will probably hold your hand at some point – it’s a warm gesture of love and respect and it should be embraced.
It is proper to address Malawian men by their surname
It is a sign of respect if someone offers to carry whatever it is that you may have in your hands. Allow them to take it even if it is not very heavy, because to say “no” is very rude, and will give the impression that your things are too good or too important for them to carry.
Greet everyone before speaking to them — this is VERY IMPORTANT. Ask everyone, “How are you?” before doing business with them or telling them something. Never be in too much of a hurry to tell someone, “good morning.”
Upon entering a room it is customary for the man to go around the room and shake all the other men’s hands BEFORE you get into a discussion with any one person. Shake people’s hands even if you do not know them.
Most Malawians do not mind your taking their picture, but it is polite to ask their permission first. Some will ask for money, but please never give anyone money for taking their picture. It is advisable to just move on to another subject. Especially in Lilongwe, don’t just start snapping pictures of people. Be careful what buildings are behind your subjects. In the capital city it is illegal to take pictures of any government building or military installation. This would include the airport, bus stations, banks, and hospitals.
Don’t be alone at night. It would be preferable to have a group of 3, one being a male. Don’t be in an isolated place alone with a national or with minors. When traveling on public transportation, stay close to teammates taking care not to get separated from your group. Be on guard. Always be aware of what is going on around you. Look like you know what you’re doing. Be aware of your belongings at all times. Hold your backpack in front of you on public transportation. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Don’t carry a lot of valuables on you (expensive watches, jewelry, phones, computers, cameras, etc.) Put money in several places on you (in a pocket, in a backpack, in a money belt.) Carry a copy of your passport with you at all times. You don’t need to carry your passport every day, but make sure to put it in a safe place. Use common sense. If you’re not sure what is allowed, ask your team leader(s) or missionaries.
Currency: Malawian kwacha. One dollar = 727 kwacha
Time Zone: CAT Central Africa Time. 10 hours ahead of Anaheim
Electrical Outlets: In Malawi the power plugs and sockets are of type G. The standard voltage is 230V. The adapters you will need are Type G.
With regard to clothing, MODESTY is of EXTREME importance. Neither underwear nor midriffs may be shown. And nothing form fitting, guys or gals. No scoop neck/ low necklines for gals. Take your cues from the nationals in the varying situations you find yourself.
Work Clothing: Jeans, “scrubs,” or active wear. Yoga pants are permitted if worn with a long shirt to completely cover the rear. Closed toed, sturdy shoes. T-shirts or basic crew necks. No shorts or sleeveless/tank tops for women. Men may wear shorts. Any writing on shirts should not contain anything offensive, crude, provocative, political or inflammatory.
Casual Clothing: Nicer outfit for outings and excursions, like jeans or capris and a polo shirt or nicer crew neck.
Church/Dining Out: Church: Clean jeans with nice t-shirt or polo shirt and tennis, skate or deck shoes for men. Below knee dress/skirt with t-shirt and flip flops or sandals. Note: we don’t want to “out dress” the locals.