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Preparing for a volunteer trip to Mozambique

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Last year, many of you were very helpful as I prepared for a safari to Kenya and Tanzania.

Now I'm returning to Africa on a volunteer vacation to help at an orphanage in Mozambique. The trip is being organized via a church association, and they aren't experienced at answering the kind of questions I have, so I'm hoping you guys will be able to fill in the gaps!

The trip will be the first two weeks of June, to Pemba (in Northern Mozambique).

Question #1) Does Pemba have tse-tse flies? I'm wondering if I need to exclude dark blue and black from my wardrobe.

Question #2) We are told that we will probably want to supplement our food with peanut butter from home, and supplies from a local Pemba grocery store. Can I assume that any pre-packaged food is 'safe' to eat? We get one chance to shop on the way from the airport, so I'll need to have ideas written down so that my jet-lagged brain doesn't give up.

Question #3) We are told to bring our own mosquito nets. If I purchase a net, can I assume that it comes with repellant already on it, or do I need to treat it myself before I go?

Question #4) We need to bring our own bedding/linens. They suggest a sleeping bag liner (as opposed to a full sleeping bag which is expected to be too warm). Are the silk liners sturdy enough to use by themselves, or will they snag if I use them directly on the floor or on a wooden bunk? Is silk worth the price? Should I bring a silk liner and a cheapo nylon liner to protect the silk?

Question #5)They suggested bringing shampoo with tea-tree oil to help prevent lice. Does anyone know if that actually helps? (I can't believe I'm asking this).

Question #6) There is running water only an hour a day, and no showers, so it's not going to be that easy to wash my hair anyway. Has anyone tried either the dry or the no-rinse shampoos? Do they work?

Question #7) Do the ultra-violet 'pens' actually work for water purification? I don't see them listed on the CDC site, so I'm suspicious, but it sounds so appealing to have a little gizmo to zap the water...

Question #8) Is it worth trying to get a shower in the Amsterdam airport on the way home? How does it work? Do they supply (clean) towels or do I need to supply my own? Is there a safe place to put your carry-on luggage while you shower? Is there a private place to change?

I'm sure that is just the beginning of my questions! I'm eager to hear the wonderful replies that I'm sure I'll get from this experienced and generous community of Africa lovers.

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    Ann -

    How wonderful to hear, though I have little advise, as all I saw was 2/weeks without a shower and not being able to wash hair... you're a better woman (and a good one, no doubt) than me.

    For water purification, do a google for the Life Straws. They're a bit costly when purchased in small quantity, but worth it.

    Silk liners are nice even for the plane, but there are others available of heavier fabric that you can use in combo with the silk... might be a good idea.

    I use Tea-tree oil for various reasons, but can't atest to whether this is good for lice... ugh! Let's hope you don't need anything for lice... ugh! ugh!

    You'll probably be able to get laundry done rather inexpensively (if not free), so I'd take only the worst clothing you have, buy inexpensive t-shirts which you can leave behind. Maybe even leave most of what you bring behind... you don't want to be returning with anything that can possibly infect your home/apt.

    Be sure you get all inoculations, if you didn't for your last visit.

    I'm sure others here on Fodor's will have ideas for you. Though I'm surprised that the group who is sponsoring this trip (as I'm sure they've sent others previously) don't have more substantial answers, i.e., from returnees!

    Good luck!

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    Hi Ann-

    I have not been to Mozambique (yet…its on my must visit list) but I did recently return from a volunteer trip to an orphanage in Ethiopia. ( I was staying in a small guesthouse for $20 per night). I have a few thoughts on things to bring that might be of use:

    headlamp for reading in bed, getting up during the night, etc.

    ear plugs and eye shade

    in addition to the sleep sack and sheet, I would also consider bringing an older pillow from home that you don’t mind leaving behind. Also a towel for bathing.

    Bring the face cleaner towelletes that are pre moistened. These helped to freshen up when the water was turned off.

    I also brought some slippers (the kind you get for free in a nice hotel) to wear around the house. I left these and some older cloths behind with the housekeeper when I left.

    Food: I would think packaged food from the supermarket would be fine. A lot of what you buy will likely be imported in any case. I brought some packaged food from home that didn’t take up a lot of room (that was a good idea, as I didn’t get to the western style supermarket until the end of my stay). I brought some ramen noodles and luna bars/granola bars, as well as some herbal mint tea (in case of tummy trouble. I might also consider bringing the coffee single packs that just need hot water (like a tea bag) if you are a coffee drinker.

    Also bring lots of the handiwipes/antibacterial wipes and/or anti bacterial gel.

    Of course, also bring your own mini-first aid kit: bandaids, mini alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, etc. I actually carried some of this in my backpack every day, and it did come in handy on several occasions.

    Let me know if you also need some ideas for projects, fun stuff to do with the kids. I can suggest some things that were popular with the Ethiopian kiddos.

    Also, have you seen this website about northern Mozambique? Might have some useful info for you.

    Good luck, and please report back when you return.

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    #1--I believe tsetse are mainly found in rural areas. Pemba has about 100,000 people.

    #2--why not take some pre-packaged food (e.g., granola bars) with you?

    #3--you can buy treated or untreated bed nets. Most of the nets that I see for sale are not treated. A treated net is useful for killing (not repelling) mosquitoes that touch the net. For a short-term visit, an untreated net may be sufficient.

    #4--I have a CoolMax (polyester) liner that I use. It seemed to be a good middle-of-the-road choice between cotton (heavier) and silk (expensive). I personally would not bring 2 liners, it seems like that's defeating the purpose. REI sells a "ripstop" silk liner for about $65 as well as cotton and CoolMax liners.

    #5,6--don't know about these.

    #7--I don't personally have a steri-pen, but I know a few backpackers that like them. Just make sure your water is clear before you sterilize it.

    #8--can't help you there. You should ask the church group (I'm curious to hear which group it is) about whether you'll have some type of de-briefing after your time in Moz. You may have a chance to take a shower then. Either that, or check into the Pemba Beach Hotel for a day!

    Hope this helps. I'll be in Maputo, Moz. in May, but I'm guessing it will be a bit different than Pemba.

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    I have a "Cocoon" coolmax liner I got in REI & a silk liner. I love the coolmax one so much better. It is stretchy so moves with you so I find it so much more comfy.

    Sounds like you have a great experience coming up. Enjoy!


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    A few months ago, I got a routine Tetanus vaccine and flu shot at my local community college health clinic. While I was there, I overheard a much distressed young student ask the nurse what she should do about her head lice. To my surprise, the nurse suggested she use Tea Tree Oil. Later, I googled "Tea Tree Oil head lice" and my search yielded many pages on the effectiveness of tea tree oil in repelling head lice. Apparently, many parents have turned to tea tree oil instead of more toxic synthetic products to rid their school age children of head lice. Seems lice hate tea tree oil. If I were you, I would use it prophylactically, so that the head lice never even come close to settling on you! Keep in mind that some folks are sensitive to tea tree oil and can develop contact dermatitis. So maybe do a patch skin test, after diluting the tea tree oil with some other oil. Or try putting some drops in your shampoo, which is what some of the web pages recommend. I would think you might also just put a few drops on your brush.
    I wish I had known about this 25 years ago when I picked up head lice from a headrest on a bus in Brazil (it was a cross country bus ride). Back then, I had to douse my head with horrible chemicals as well as boil my clothes and sheets. I also had to pick the nits out with a fine tooth comb. Believe me, you wouldn't want to have to do this!
    Tea tree oil is also an effective anti-microbial. I always take it along when I travel. I use it to treat cuts, or as a disinfectant.
    You might want to read about its possible side effects on these web pages:

    Will you be taking anti-malarial medication?
    I think mosquito nets are pre-treated, but just in case you have to spray your net with permethrin (or your clothes with permethrin), be careful with it if you have cats (it is only harmful to cats in concentrated doses, but I would not take any chances).
    Good luck and enjoy your trip! I know you will be going there to volunteer but this area of Mozambique is supposed to be be beautiful, so I hope you will have a chance to sightsee as well.

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    Thanks for the great info so far!

    Sandi -- I'm sure that I'll have stories to tell you afterwards. I'm still laughing at your tales of fingernail emergencies. The laundry situation is unfortunately worse than you suspected -- they said to expect to wash your own clothes, in cold water.

    Cruisinred -- you added some good ideas, thanks. Yes, I'll definitely be taking wipes, etc. And I'm certainly interested to hear your ideas about things things that were popular with the Ethiopian kids.

    Gritty -- thanks for your experience with the cool max liner. And yes, I will be taking some granola bars (especially some high-protein varieties). It's also good to know that someone has actually met a real person who uses the steri-pens. They say that bottled water will be available, so I might not bother. I'm still deciding.

    Jules -- thanks for the comparison of coolmax vs silk.

    Bill -- thanks for the shower info. I truly hope that is not the high point of my trip!

    Diamantina-- thanks for the info about the tea tree oil -- it does sound worth bringing. I was planning on bringing some tea tree oil wipes, but I'll also try adding a little to my shampoo. I already experimented with a commercial tea-tree oil shampoo that I don't like very much -- it has a really strong odor (maybe due to other ingredients too).

    Apparently we'll have one day for sightseeing, so that should be quite a contrast to the main part of our trip. And we might be able to get to the beach, as long as we bring some of the kids so as to make it an outing for them as well as ourselves. (And as long as we wear long shorts over our bathing suit in order to be conservatively/culturally dressed.)

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    Hi there,
    This may be of help on several of your questions. We have been to over 50 countries, often backpack style, so we're accustomed to the perhaps more primitive situation you may find yourself in.
    We are leading two Habitat for Humanity International teams to Mozambique in September and October. We took a team there last year as well. We build houses for the Orphans and Vulnerable Children's Program, so we too are trying to do what we can about the multitude of orphans. We are in the very southern section of Mozambique, two hours from Maputo,in a very rural area. So, perhaps a similar situation, but a very different part of the country.
    We have a blog site for our teams, to refer to for many aspects of the trip, including packing and cultural sensitivities. You may find this helpful for what you are doing. I, too, along with other responders are surprised that your organization is not prepared with the answers to your specific questions. Our job as team leaders is make sure that everyone is as prepared as possible, because there will still be many things unexpectedly come along. I urge you to take on some of the leadership role, and share whatever you learn with others in your group. Unhappy, unprepared team members can make it quite miserable for everyone!!
    Our blogsite is
    Enjoy the preparation time, and your trip. Thank you for what you do!

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    Leslie, I took a look at your blogsite, and it sounds like a wonderful trip -- I've briefly volunteered with Habitat in the US, and also did an orphanage trip in Mozambique, so I was doubly interested.

    I was also surprised at my difficulty getting information--I suspect it may have been partly due to some transitioning personnel in the sponsoring organization. In any event, I had an amazing trip. As it turns out, most days there was at least a trickle of cold running water, and we had actual bunk beds to sleep in (already supplied with mosquito nets), so it wasn't quite as primitive as the initial info had suggested.

    The website you pointed me to is a great example of how to communicate -- thanks for sharing.

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