Apparently I’ve been sucked into the slow pace of life here and have skipped out on my blogging responsibilities until now. In my defense, this is the first time that I have been on a computer that both has an SD card reader and an internet connection actually fast enough to upload photos.

I have spent my time here staying with VSO volunteers that I met through couchsurfing. The VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) is the UK’s version of the Peace Corps but with some key differences, namely that the volunteers are required to have substantial work experience, and that they will take volunteers from anywhere. Through my hosts I have been introduced to the local aid worker community, including volunteers from about every large international aid organization that I’ve ever heard of. It is great to talk to so many people working on different problems affecting Malawi. On the flip side these people know better than anyone just how hard it is to change the status quo. It is pretty depressing to think about how much money and effort has been spent on the continent with such lackluster results.

Looking forward I want to get out of Lilongwe and see more of the country. I am currently looking for interesting projects to check out, and I would love to get a closer look at farming in Malawi.

I also wanted to mention one of the highlights of the trip: Last night I got to play The Resistance with five people who had never played it before! I lost, multiple times, but it was a really good time.

So tonight I leave for Malawi. And while this trip has been in the works for a very long time, it still feels like this day has snuck up on me. It has finally started to sink in. I will be gone for a long time. In a place I know very little about. But that’s exactly what I wanted. And I am ready. So here we go.

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I knew from the start that I would be taking tools. While I would love to have my 4-inch angle grinder on my person at all times, in the interest of traveling light some compromises had to be made.

So here it is, my compact, lightweight, and damn useful travel toolkit.
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If you want to follow along, click on the image it will take you to the annotated version on Flickr.

1. Document pouch. I really could not have asked for a better bag to hold this kit. It’s just the right size and tough enough to protect the other stuff in my bag from my tools.
2. Sandpaper. When it comes to bang for your buck weight-wise it’s hard to beat sandpaper. I have some great metal files, but would not get enough use out of them to justify the weight. Various grits ranging from 100 to 400.
3. Hacksaw blade. This was the last thing I added after realizing I had no way of cutting wood or metal. Hopefully airport security won’t mind (and if they do I’ll only be out about 20 cents). Broken in half to fit better in the bag.
4. Crescent (adjustable) wrench. Again, I love my socket set, but would not have loved lugging it across East Africa. For turning bolts the Crescent wrench is the lightweight winner.
5, 6. Driver bits and 6-in-1 screwdriver. Basically the heaviest thing I’m bringing, so I hope it’s worth it. Gives me the power to open almost anything.
7. 16-in-1 micro screwdriver. Small, light, versatile.
8. Needle-nose pliers. When pliers are combined with some stiff wire one can fix almost anything. These ones were small but solid.
9. Electrical tape. My tape of choice for insulating wires, covering wounds, and taping shut the mouths of angry crocodiles.
10, 11. Wire. Copper for electrical fixes. Steel for mechanical. Wire has a unique ability to stand in for both rigid and flexible parts.
12. Zip-ties. Like wire, but quicker to deploy and lighter weight.
13. A ruler.

What I will be buying the second I get there:
A knife! Hopefully one with replaceable blades, but I’ll see what I can find. Useful for so many things, but not TSA approved.

What almost made the cut:
Vice-Grips. Soooo useful, but also pretty heavy. If I come across a small pair I might throw them in last minute.
Wire strippers. Also a great tool, but not necessary when you have a knife.