I HATE PACKING. AND SHOPPING. And I’ve already done this once when I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar [Read Every.Single.Thing.I packed for Madagascar.] When I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar, there was an above average chance that I’d be living in hot, humid coastal environment where casual clothing rules the day. So what I had packed for Madagascar was not necessarily appropriate for a mountainous, land-locked, sometimes chilly, appearance conscious Rwanda.
Much like any future PCV, I googled ‘Peace Corps’ packing lists | Rwanda, and found next to nothing. Very few Peace Corps’ blogs detailing an entire 2 years of service. Maybe a lot of volunteers got tired of blogging? Maybe a lot of volunteers didn’t complete their service? Who knows–it still remains there are very few Rwanda-specific packing lists.
With that in mind, I’ve tried to create a comprehensive packing list. Keep in mind that this is a Pre-Departure List, and I plan to update it once I’m fully installed at my future site.
It has come to my attention that every blog I have read mention that Rwandans essentially have a shoe fetish. Not in a creepy, sexual fetish way, but more in a ‘fastidious about cleanliness’ way. Of all the articles of clothing for a country to obsess about, I get stuck with the country who obsesses about shoes. I hate shoes. I mean I like wearing them, but hiking shoes and Danskos for work are about as fancy as I get. So when I’m reading blogs about how people are packing 6! pairs of shoes, internally I am saying ‘Kill.Me.Now.‘. I’d planned on taking two pairs plus shower shoes to Madagascar.
- Rain boots. These are mostly not necessary, but the only other time I’ve lived in a ‘wet’ environment [which was the Amazon Rainforest], I had a pair, and I loved being able to splash about, walk through mud puddles with reckless abandon, and generally not give a flip about my feet when it’s raining. At home in SC, it rarely rains long enough or hard enough to warrant spending that kind of money. BUT, Target [aka my favorite store that’s not Amazon] entered in a partnership with Hunter in April, and BOOM! I now have Wellies for less than $100.
- Hiking boots. Also probably unnecessary, but I do love hiking. I plan to do it as much as possible. And I love my boots.
- Trail-running shoes. I wear these as my every day shoes [Shoe stylish I am not].
- Athletic shoes. Who knows, I might take up running [Laughs uncontrollably at that statement].
- Casual shoes. For me, these are my brown leather slide-ons [treated with Scotchgard prior to leaving].
- Keen Sandals I’ve had a pair of these since they first came out and I practically live in them in the summer months in South Carolina.
- Teva dress sandals– This model but in black
- Flip-flops–generic, slide-ons that I got from Target.
From previous experience, anywhere where clothes have to be hand washed over a long period of time will inevitably not make it back. I thought I was pretty minimalist when it came to outer clothing. Also, it depresses me to no end that Rwanda puts a huge emphasis on clothing and appearance. At home I wear scrubs, jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt, or during the summer–khaki shorts and t-shirts. Nothing fancy. Nothing stylish. I’m probably going to disappoint a lot of Rwandan mamas.
- one pair jeans
- one pair hiking pants [gray, Patagonia]
- one pair khakis
- two pairs scrub pants
- three button-up shirts [one long sleeved, one 3/4 sleeved, and one short sleeved]. The thing with button up shirts is they never quite look like they are supposed to if you are female with above average sized breasts. Hence when I do wear button-up shirts, they always have another layer under them and I usually wear them more to keep the chill off during the evening than for actual shirts.
- six colored t-shirts
- one long sleeved t-shirt
- one flannel shirt
- one hoodie
- three skirts [all knee length or longer]
- one pair khaki capri pants
- one pair knee length athletic shorts
- one pair yoga pants
- about 42 pair of underwear [not all at once though]
- about 20 pair of socks [5 wool, 5 casual dress, 10 athletic–or there abouts–also not all at once]
- bras [4 sport, 4 regular]
- Down blanket
- Sheets–I brought a twin set and an extra full fitted sheet
- Sleeping bag–something similar to this one, but I bought mine in 2010 and it’s orange.
- Pillow–just one of the many [so many] pillows I have at home. Last item in the suitcase.
- Quick-drying Towel
- Regular beach towel
- 2-1 shampoo/conditioner–either of these are my favorites
- Dry shampoo–for in between washes.
- Bar[s] of soap
- Toothbrush and toothpaste [I have brand favorites so I brought them]
- Kindle — for books, music, movies, photos, ect.
- External Hard Drive – for movies, music, TV shows, podcasts, actual work documents
- Laptop–yes it’s heavy and huge, but watching movies on it is awesome.
- Camera– what can I say–I love my camera, and will physically hurt anyone who tries to take it
- Spices – whatever you like, but definitely salt and pepper. I also brought cinnamon
- Drink Mixes–as many as you can find
- Knives, vegetable peeler, cutting board, measuring spoons/cups
- Can opener
- Ziploc bags/storage containers--Illegal in Rwanda so I’ve got Quart, Sandwich, and Snack + sandwich sized plastic containers [stuffed with goodies on the plane ride over]
- Enamel mug/Stainless steel mug
- Water bottle x2
A Good Backpack – When you are traveling somewhere and you plan to stay overnight, you are unlikely going to bring one of your suitcases along. Travel in Rwanda is done on what is call “squeeze” buses. Bring a backpack that is comfortable to wear and big enough to hold essential items for staying somewhere overnight (extra clothes, toothbrush, laptop, towel, etc.). If you can attach your sleeping bag to it, even better.
Leatherman – Or a good old fashioned pocket knife.
Headlamp – It comes in handy when you need both of your hands at night.
Multi Vitamins – These might be your only source of nutrients when you are eating rice, beans, and potatoes.
Music – It is the only thing that keeps me sane some days. Sometimes you need to shut the door, put in your ear buds, close your eyes and listen to music. I also brought a speaker that is great for when I want extra volume or don’t want to be constricted by my ear buds.
Nail Clippers –self explanatory
Everything else is non-essential. Fill any extra space with things that will bring you comfort, like your favorite candy or pictures from home. I wish I had packed less clothing and more of the essential items listed above
You can get most things in Rwanda, but some things you’ll want to bring from home because they’re either a) expensive or b) low quality. Below are some ideas:
- A raincoat/poncho – Both health and education volunteers arrive during a rainy season, so one of these things will be helpful.
- A swiss army knife – Knives aren’t great in Rwanda, so a portable one with good blades is helpful, especially if it has a corkscrew and can/bottle opener
- Can opener – Most Rwandans stab open cans with a knife, but this is not a great way to spend your time.
- A tide pen – Clean clothes are important, so stick one of these in your backpack to stay right culturally or just to prevent a bad stain from setting
- Stick deodorant – This is somewhat expensive and only available in Kigali. So when PCVs go to Rwanda, it won’t be available to them right off the bat.
- Your favorite shampoo – The generic shampoo here is not great.
- Photos of your friends and family – Pre-Service Training in Rwanda involves living with a host family. Having photos is a good way to break the ice, especially when your communication is difficult in the first few weeks. You could also bring a couple copies to give the host family as a memento and a way to say thanks.
- A couple of good pens – Pens are cheap and easy to find in Rwanda, but they aren’t high quality. If you write a lot, bring a few pens you like and never, ever lend them to anybody.
- Nail clippers/nail file
If you’re planning on bringing some money for vacations (a great idea if you can), bring hundred dollar bills that are 2006 or current. Large bills, which most places define as hundreds only, get the best exchange rate. Money changers and banks will sometimes refuse bills older than 2006 and will often give you a bad exchange rate if they do accept them. Peace Corps recommends $300-500 and I think that’s a pretty good number, considering you can save some of your living allowance every month.
A credit card is a good idea if you think you’ll want to buy plane tickets. Many volunteers end up flying somewhere during or after their service and a credit card makes buying a plane ticket easier.
My take on technology in Peace Corps is that 2 years is almost long enough for your gadgets to become obsolete, so if you’ve already got something useful, bring it. Having something like a laptop is great because it allows you to communicate with friends and family easily (a USB modem and pay-as-you-go internet are cheap in Rwanda). You probably won’t be able to skype on a portable connection, but just to be able to send and receive e-mails is really nice. Electricity is widely available throughout Rwanda and even if you don’t have it in your home, you can usually charge up somewhere in town.
Other than a laptop and camera, I recommend
- An external hard drive – To share music and movies with other volunteers. There’s a great volume of stuff that gets swapped around among PCVs.
- A portable USB flash drive – makes swapping files a lot easier
- Antivirus software for the laptop
The Peace Corps packing list recommends a transformer or voltage converter. Unless you are bringing small appliances, such as a blow dryer, you probably don’t need a voltage converter. Many camera and laptop cords have a black box on them which regulates voltage and says the range that they are capable of handling. Rwanda is 230V. Check your electronics and appliances to see if they’ll be compatible and if you don’t need a converter, don’t get one.
Non-essentials/not for everybody
If you’ve packed all of the essentials and you don’t have extra space, you’ve gone overboard. Most likely, though, you’ll have extra room. Here are some ideas for how to fill it up:
Camping gear, binoculars, art supplies, board/card games, soccer ball, sleeping bag, aloe vera, lotion, a musical instrument (guitar is a popular item), books (English dictionaries are desperately needed, but also bring some for yourself), beef jerky/other snacks, stickers, and if you know how to cut hair, do everyone a favor and bring some shears!
What not to bring
Over-the-counter medications – The Peace Corps medical kit includes multivitamins (pre-natal, lots of iron), Advil, Tylenol, pepto, bandages, antihistamines, decongestants, throat soothers, sunscreen, iodine tablets, malaria prophylaxis, condoms, insect repellent, chapstick, hydro-cortisone cream, antibiotic ointment, and many other essential things. (Do come with a 6 month supply of your prescription meds if you have any, per Peace Corps’ policy on that.)
Peace Corps will also provide a mosquito net and a water filter. For those who are not going to Rwanda with Peace Corps, you’ll want to look into these things based on the length of your stay and where you’re going. Pharmacies here carry a lot of medicines; all hotels have mosquito nets, and bottled water, soft drinks, and beer are available pretty much anywhere.