Namrata is a talented creative, originally from India but who's lived most of her life in Malawi. Her international experience hasn’t stopped there as she is currently studying in South Africa. Namrata shares her experiences of life in Blantyre with Expat Arrivals – how easy it is to make friends and how important it is to understand the local culture.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am originally from Gujarat, India. I was born there.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: I currently have a home in Malawi (but spend most of my time in South Africa for university).
Q: When did you move to Malawi?
A: I have lived in Malawi since I was six months old as a first-generation Indian whose parents relocated to Malawi in the 1990s. It has now been just over 20 years. My father moved for work, following in his father's footsteps, and my mother arrived after marrying my father. Currently, my father is a business owner in Blantyre.
Living in Blantyre
Q: What do you enjoy most about Blantyre? How would you rate the quality of life compared to India or South Africa?
A: I enjoy the sense of community the most in Blantyre. Everyone knows each other and there is a sense of collectivism that is very comforting, and I haven’t found that yet in South Africa. I have only spent a maximum of three months at any time in our home in India, and quite frankly I prefer the amount of mobility and comfort I have in Malawi compared to India. Our Malawi home is more spacious and it’s less crowded. Generally, life is more affordable and sustainable than in other countries due to locally grown produce and proximity to many resources, meaning that we consume less fuel and live a cleaner lifestyle.
Q: Any negative experiences?
A: I suppose the only negative I can list is the fact that there are not that many things to do in Blantyre town beside some small restaurants, cafés and curio shops. Leisure activities are often at least an hour’s drive away. This is different from my city in India, Baroda, where we have a lot more leisure activities and shopping facilities.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Malawi?
A: Food is relatively cheaper in Malawi.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Blantyre?
A: I have never personally used the public transport system due to always having access to a car. Generally, public transport is used and catered more towards local Malawians.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Blantyre? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: I would say healthcare is one of Malawi’s weaker links, having few specialised doctors. Mwaiwathu and Seventh Day Adventist are both good hospitals, and there are some good private doctors.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Blantyre or Malawi? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: A major safety concern is theft and break-ins. It is hard to say what area is more susceptible to them as it is possible anywhere. A safe living condition would be to live in an estate (such as Press Village) or perhaps in a block of large townhouses that are all within the confinement of a communal gate.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Blantyre? What different options are available for expats?
A: Housing in Malawi is affordable compared to other countries, with larger housing options for rent upwards of six hundred US dollars. These houses generally have three bedrooms and two bathrooms with a garden and occasionally two living rooms as well as a relatively large kitchen.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Namiwawa, Sunnyside, Mount Pleasant and BCA hills are good areas of Blantyre to live in.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Blantyre?
A: I think people generally live quite cohesively, given that there is no mistreatment and disrespect toward local Malawians. During political tensions, there may be some issues although this is rare. Due to the fairly large international community, people are generally accepting of one another, so discrimination for me personally has been rare.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Yes, it is easy making friends in Malawi as new people are generally accepted with open arms into the community. Meeting new people for me always happened in the school environment so it happened naturally.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: My friends are a mix. They are either local Malawians who I went to school with or expats who came in during my school career where we then became integrated into each other’s lives. In terms of making friends, all it takes is respect for the culture and to be aware of microaggressions that manifest in the form of speech or actions.
Family and children
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in Blantyre?
A: The city has some great family-friendly restaurants, like KwaHaraba which has a large bookshelf and many curios to buy from. Another good place is Bombay Palace for incredible, authentic Indian food. Jungle Pepper and Hostaria are both fantastic Italian style restaurants. Caffe Grazia, Millie’s Artisan Bakery and Mijn Kitchen are great places for the international ambience. There are also great nature reserves and the lake is nice for a weekend trip.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are four main international primary schools and three main high schools which foreigners usually send their children to. Saint Andrew’s Primary, Phoenix, Hillview Primary School and Southend Primary School are the main primary schools, and SAIntS, Hillview High and Southend High School are the main high schools. They all take on an international curriculum.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Blantyre or Malawi?
A: Be patient, the pace of life is slow!
►Interviewed May 2020