Friends and Family

Welcome friends and family! I want this journal of my travels to be as interactive as possible so please, leave comments!

If you want to learn more about the Peace Corps, check out their website.

If you have questions or concerns about the Peace Corps, read the On The Home Front: A Handbook for the Families of Volunteers or the Family & Friends Guide.

Go here to contact me.

A Letter to Family and Friends

Dear Malawi Trainee: Please give this letter to your family & friends, and ask them to hold on to it for as long as you are in Malawi.

Dear Families and Friends,

Greetings from the Malawi Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that I welcome your family member to the Peace Corps/Malawi training program. During the past year we have received many questions from Volunteers and family members regarding communication, mail, and travel plans. As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you some advice and assistance before your family member departs by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest you handle them. Peace Corps service certainly impacts more than just the Volunteer and we hope that this information will help ease some of the uncertainty which affects the families of Volunteers.

The Peace Corps experience can be an exciting, intimidating, and amazing time for both the Volunteer and their family. The Volunteers will learn a lot about Malawi during their preparation for service and throughout their two years of service. This is also a great time for you to learn more about Malawi, which may alleviate some of your concerns.

Below are a few links to get you started in your discovery:
The World Fact book – Malawi: http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/mi.html
The Lonely Planet: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/malawi
The Daily Times Newspaper: http://www.dailytimes.bppmw.com/
Friends of Malawi: http://www.friendsofmalawi.org
All Africa News: http://allafrica.com/malawi/

1. Irregular Communication. (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps’ office in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi) The mail service in Malawi is not as efficient as the US Postal Service; thus, it is important to be patient and understanding. It can take 3-4 weeks for mail coming from Lilongwe to arrive in the United States via the Malawi postal system. From a Volunteer’s site, mail might take 1-2 months to reach the United States. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the United States by a traveler and mailed through the US postal system (Volunteers should bring some US stamps for these opportunities). This leg of the trip can take another several weeks as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the US. There is a truism that you may wish to embrace as uncomfortable as it is, “No news, is good news!”

On average, it takes approximately four weeks for letters mailed from the United States to reach Lilongwe, and may take an additional six weeks to reach the Volunteer’s site. We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also, try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if they have missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes – otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office! By the end of their Pre-Service Training your loved one will be able to send you their specific site address.

For the first eight weeks in country, your family member will be living in a village near the training site (about a two-hour drive north of Lilongwe) and participating in an intensive, immersion style training program where they will begin to learn language, cultural norms, and technical skills necessary to be a safe and productive Peace Corps Volunteer. During this time, they WILL NOT have access to email/Internet but can certainly receive and send letters. Receiving mail during this intense period is most welcome and appreciated by all Trainees. Once they are sworn-in as Volunteers, they will have access to the Peace Corps computers in the office and can reestablish email communication. However, you must remember that some Peace Corps Volunteers in Malawi may not have daily access to email so you should have limited expectations about immediate replies to any emails you will be sending.

Volunteers often enjoy telling their “war” stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is important, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Further, given the lag time in communication by the time you receive certain news, weeks if not months have passed and your family member has moved past a particularly sad moment when they miss you, or that specific illness, and don’t understand why it is that you are so concerned anymore! There are two extremely competent Peace Corps medical doctors and a medical assistant at the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe. In the event of a serious illness, the Volunteer is sent to Lilongwe and cared for by our medical staff. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Malawi s/he will be medically evacuated to Pretoria, South Africa, or the United States. Fortunately, these are rare circumstances.

If for some reason your normal communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for an unusually long period of time, you may want to contact the Office of Health Services (OHS) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-855-855-1961, Ext 1470, or 202- 692-1470. The Office of Health Services will then contact the Peace Corps Director in Lilongwe and ask him to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, critical illness, etc.), please call OHS immediately, so that we can inform the Volunteer. When you call, please tell the operator your name, telephone number, and the nature of the emergency and the Duty Officer at Peace Corps will call you back.

2. Telephone Calls. The telephone system in Malawi is relatively good and service in and out of major towns and cities to the United States is fairly reliable. However, in the interior of the country, where most of the Volunteers are located, there are fewer phones and service is more sporadic. Your Volunteer family member, however, will be given money to purchase a cell phone at the end of Pre-Service Training for use while s/he is here in Malawi. Your family member may choose to bring a better quality phone, but it should be a GSM phone. Cell service is quite good, reliable, and available in many parts of the country. Some Volunteers may have to climb a small hill or walk a distance from their home, but this is a far cry from having to travel several hours or days to get to a working phone as was once the case. Volunteers will mostly use text messaging in Malawi, and you should be able to send and receive messages with them.

Please be aware that the Peace Corps staff in Lilongwe and Washington are not able to assist in arranging calls. Your family member will be able to inform you of their actual telephone numbers once they arrive in-country and at their site. The Malawi Desk is in regular communication with the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe. However, this communication is reserved for business and we cannot relay personal messages. All communication between family members and the Volunteer should be done via international mail, e-mail, or phone calls.

3. Sending packages. Family members and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Please be advised that packages can often take 1-2 months, but sometimes as long as 4-6 months. Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to the high incidence of theft and heavy customs taxes. Be advised that most items with a declared value of more than $20 will be opened and may be charged for duty. You may want to try sending inexpensive items through the mail, though there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend sending costly items through the mail. It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more heavily. The following address may be used during Training, but after their Swearing-In Volunteers typically get a Post Office box near their site:

KEITH MASKELL, PCV
C/O U.S. PEACE CORPS/MALAWI
PO BOX 208
LILONGWE
MALAWI

For lightweight, but important or time sensitive items, we recommend using an express mail service. DHL is one possibility and other courier services may operate in Lilongwe. For more information about DHL, please call their toll free number, 1-800-CALL-DHL, or visit their website at http://www.dhl.com. We advise you to shop around to find the best prices and service options.

If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to:

“KEITH MASKELL”, PCV
C/O U. S. PEACE CORPS MALAWI
AREA 4 PLOT 70
ACROSS FROM OILCOM DEPOT
LILONGWE
MALAWI

**Please include the Peace Corps/Malawi phone number: 265-1-757-157 on all express mail service mailing labels.

(Note: please use online cost calculators before you decide to pack a box and ship it. You can use the USPS estimator here and UPS estimator here. I’ve found that the USPS costs for Flat Rate boxes under 12 x 12 x12, 20 lbs. are substantially cheaper than UPS prices. Don’t be surpised by the costs when you are already at the shipping store counter paying. Also, visit my contact page for other ways to reach me. )

Trying to send cash or checks is very risky and is discouraged. If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange receipt of it.

I hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. I understand how challenging it can be to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate you using this information as a guide. Please feel free to contact me at the Malawi Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions.

Sincerely,

Patrick Koster, Country Desk Officer

Peace Corps
Malawi Country Desk
Peace Corps
1111 20th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20526

Phone: (855) 855-1961, ext. 2323 or (202) 692-2323
Fax (202) 692-2301
E-mail: MalawiDesk@peacecorps.gov

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