I received my nomination to Madagascar in July 2017, moved from the apartment I was living in to the house I now own in October/November 2017, didn’t board the plane to Madagascar in February 2018, re-evaluated the suitcase now headed for Rwanda in May 2018. The suitcase[s] were packed and re-pack 3 times before I even left the US, but the question is, did I do a good job packing? Did I pack the right things? Is there something I wish I had packed but didn’t? Is there enough clothing, or too much? Is my kitchen too ‘extra’ or just ‘extra enough? Let’s see
Let’s start with the bags. I have so.many.bags. It’s unreal. My big green duffel bag’s handle broke during one of the many transfers during PST. It’s now used as a bedside table. The main compartment has stuff left here by the previous volunteer [think mosquito net and some clothes] + clothes that no longer fit me nor can I make them work. I’m using the small pocket on the top at a drawer of sorts where I keep my Vaseline, nail maintenance tools, and my battery operated foot scrubber. I’ve used the larger outer pocket as sort of a trash collector. I gathered so many papers/books, ect during PST that I don’t/won’t use anymore, and I hate the idea of burning trash so I jsut put it there. Out of site, out of mind.
The Osperey Backpack and REI backpack were solid choice which are now empty, hanging on the wall waiting patiently to be put to use again.
Another volunteer and I bought a Target suitcase set the day before leaving [and some clothes], and I have the carry-one size suitcase. The bag is fully packed waiting on its return trip to America in February. It will bring back a lot of things to America that I don’t need, and will bring to Rwanda a lot of things I do need [mainly food items]. I’m also taking home a few things for a fellow PCV that he will pick up upon his return to American.
My checkered tote bag served its purpose in getting my electronics here, but now sits lonely under a table. I almost always use my backpack for quick trips around town and going to the market for the sole reason that I can carry my backpack on my back.
My leather purse will be going back to America. It has literally been used once.
My daily backpack was packed in side another bag. I use this bag the most and honestly it probably won’t make it the two years. I also used this bag for my entire nursing program and paid less than $20 for it in 2014 so I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it.
I have a small canvas bag that I use for my weekly market trips. I bought it at Primark for about 10 Euros in 2012/2013 that is serving it’s purpose well, and I won’t be taking it back to the US
I have acquired two more bags since arriving in Rwanda [I know. I have a problem] One’s a padded tote and the other is more like a small cross body purse. Currently they are serving as wall decoration. I bought them more for souvenirs than anything, but the padded tote will house my computer [if it survives that long] and my camera when I COS.
The green Osprey bag is going back to America and not returning to Rwanda. I plan to have my orange backpack + the padded tote and small fabric purse as the only bags when I leave. The rest are staying in Rwanda and I really don’t care what happens to them.
Clothing [I have lost nearly 25 pounds in the first 5 months so a lot of my clothing is comically large now]
In the terms of every day life, I didn’t pack a ton of clothes. In PC-land, I have way too much clothing.
To revisit I had the following:
Fleece pull-over x1. YES, I could probably use another. My plan is to completely wear this out.
Lightweight rain coat. YES. I use it for wind and rain. And moto rides.
Cardigan x3. Three is too many. I’m taking the black one home [it’s the best quality, and I do like wearing them]; the other two I’ll wear while in Rwanda, but aren’t making the cut back to America.
Blouses x5. I brought them because PC says we need business casual clothing. I’ve worn 3 of the 5. The nicest of the bunch is returning to America when I visit. 2 will be left behind in Rwanda, and 2 [may] make it in the POST-COS wardrobe.
T-shirts x5. YES. Plus I’ll be bringing more when I return to Rwanda… Plain colorful T-shirts. I doubt these will make it back to the US as I wear them everyday and hand washing isn’t kind to clothing. But they are relatively inexpensive at Target, which is where all of these came from.
Hoodie x2. One is returning to the US because it’s too nice for village life, and the other one won’t last/make the trip home. I fully expect it to be in threads two years from now.
Flannel Shirt. MEH. I wear it occasionally. It won’t be returning to the US.
Other miscellaneous shirts x3. Just NO.
Pants x 12.This is INSANE. 6 will probably be too many. To be fair, I didn’t pack 12 pairs of pant, but due to care packages and shopping, I now HAVE 12 pairs of pants [most of which are too big, but I still wear them] The jeans I wore to Philadelphia are way too big and I never wear them anymore. I wore them a lot in PST, so I don’t feel too bad. I have another pair of jeans that were too small when I left for PST, but now fit. I brought one pair of scrub pants, and had 3 other pairs arrive in care packages. 2 gray, 1 black, and 1 blue. The original gray and blue pants now look like clown pants on me. They won’t be returning to America. I bought 2 pairs of pants at Target prior to leaving. One is too big for a belt and the others I wear sparingly. [They are heavy weight brown cargo pants and washing them is a bitch]. I have 2 other pair of brown/khaki pants + 3 pair of gray/stone pair of pants. My plan is to alternate between two pair of pants, hopefully wearing them out [literally… My favorites always break down in the thigh area]. For COS, I want to be down to no more than 3 pairs of pants [possibly khaki/gray only]. I’m hoping to wear the scrubs out even though I love the quick wash/dry capabilities of them.
Skirts x4– I brought 2 –one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue, and have had 2 made. I’m planning to bring at most 2 back with me.
Socks and underwear x a lot… seriously I think I have close to 40 pairs of underwear and 20 pairs of socks SERIOUSLY! A lot of the socks are returning to the US since I only wear wool socks or sandals. I have 12 pairs of underwear in rotation. During training, I took out 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and used those exclusively. Once I moved in to my house, I took another 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and put them in rotation… so now I have 12 pairs of underwear and 8 pair of socks in rotation. At the 8,16, 24 month mark, I will remove the too worn items and replace as necessary. In reserve I have 5 pairs of underwear and 3 pair of socks for my COS trip. I have found that the cotton ones have a much shorter lifespan that the quick-dry kind.
Bras. I have 3 sports bras and 4 regular bras. One of the sports bras is now too big [Yes, I’m losing weight there too]. I fully expect to be down to 2 or 3 at the end of 2 years
Shoes—I brought 5 pair; 2 are returning to the USA, and it their place, I will be adding my hiking boots and another pair of shower/house flops, and possibly my tennis shoes. One pair I brought just for swear in, another pair isn’t practical, and I don’t think the slide ons will last two years, and I HATE shoes that go between my toes [which are readily available here].
Additional clothing: Yoga pants x2, mesh basketball shorts x2… One of each would suffice… Swimsuit not used regularly but glad to have it
I didn’t pack a lot of house things since I knew I’d be living with a host family the first three months. Instead I packed a box, and shipped it to me the day before I left. In retrospect this was one of the better decisions I made concerning packing. Things inside the box included:
Set of knives
Stainless steel mug
A few zip lock bags
A head lamp
Snacks [tuna, peanut butter, hard candy, clif bars…]
Each of these things was worth the space and cost of sending myself the box.
Two sets of sheets [one used in PST, the other not used] Fun fact: I brought twin and full sized sheets. While I did use the twin in PST, the bed I have at my site is essentially a queen. I had to buy sheet anyway.
I quilt/comforter. YES. It was so heavy in the bag, but every day since breaking it out, I’m glad I have it. It’s warm, and I like the color.
2 pillows from home. YES. Annoying in transit, but I’m so grateful to have a ‘real’ pillow.
down blanket and travel pillow YES. I use these when I visit other PCT. It’s nice to be comfy when outside my home environment
Toiletries. YES. It’s nice to have brands my skin is familiar with in an environment that’s not familiar. Leave the make-up at home, but bring quality skin care products. And lotion. Lots of lotion.
Meds. YES. PC does give an adequately stocked med kit, but it’s also nice to have some things of my own because the last thing I want to do is make an hour long trek to the bus station to pick up medicine when I’m feeling sick. I use the PC med refills for things like insect repellent, condoms, lip balm, tampons, and malaria med. Everything else I use my own supplies
Quick Dry Towel–Meh. I rarely use it, but will on my post COS trip.
Decor–I brought 3 flags, USA, SC, and University of Tennessee plus some photos/cards of/from friends back home. These are comfort things I’m glad to have but are not at all necessary. I’ve also used ikitenge fabric to decorate the walls
Curtains–Totally not necessary, but I’m glad to have them
I am over all happy with the household things I have, and the only thing I wish I had was a water bottle. How I overlooked this is beyond me.
Laptop FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, YES. Bring a laptop. It doesn’t matter what kind, but have one. I fully expect this one to not last the entire time, but it makes doing PC reports much easier. Blogging is MUCH easier from a laptop.
External Hard Drive x2. One is a 1TB drive, and the other is a 2 TB. YES. One quit working so I;m glad to have the other one.
Kindle… Meh. I’ve read all the books on my Kindle, but I have an app on the laptop that allows for e-reading. The Kindle is going back to the US
Camera. Yes, but not unequivocally yes I don’t like taking pictures of people so it hasn’t gotten much use yet, but I do plan to use it more when I travel. My smaller camera is returning to the US because I never use it. I have a tiny action camera [think Go Pro knock off], plus my iphone [which I use mainly for music since its not 4g capable], and my cell phone. I have enough cameras
Flash drives x2 32GB each Meh. They are small so they don’t take up much space, but I haven’t used them yet
iphone I was hoping to use this as my phone but since its an older iphone its not 4G capable and the only service I get in 4G so I had to buy a Rwandan phone, but I love using it as an Ipod
External speaker–it quit working after about a month, or more accurately it works, there’s just a lot of static when I use it
Headphones x4 I have yet to use them so why I though I needed 4 pair is beyond me. They will return to the US and I’ll use them at the gym.
USB charger YES. You never know about the electrical grid in the rural villages
Flashlight and headlamp YES my kitchen doesn’t have electricity so I either have to eat at 5p or use my headlamp to cook
Rechargeable batteries Absolutely
Outlet adapters one or two should suffice; I brought 10! of the 2 pin kind [like used in Europe] which is what I need for Rwanda, but apparently places like South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya use different ones.
Power strip I brought it because I had it, but these are widely available in Rwanda
You will hear people say this, and if you are anything like me, you won’t believe it, but here goes anyway: Pack half the clothing and double the snacks of the original packing plan. I legitimately wear the same clothing All.The.Time. 4 pairs of pants would have been sufficient. Maybe 6 or 7 shirts. In a country like Rwanda, villagers wear the same clothing all the time so it’s not weird if you do to.
Let’s begin with: I HATE PACKING. AND SHOPPING. AND WAITING. Add to it that I have already done this once when I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar [Read Every. Single. Thing. I packed for Madagascar] in February. 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’| Rwanda packing list, 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. Comprehensive as in just over 5000 coherent words on what to bring to your Peace Corps’ adventure. Keep in mind that this is a Pre-Departure List, and I plan to update [List updated September 2018 after having spent one month at site] it once I’m fully installed at my future site. The format essentially reads like this:
What not to bring
Let’s start with what not to bring. Peace Corps will provide a twin sized mattress, a mosquito net, a solar lamp, one bucket, one cup and a water filter. PC also provide malaria medication, general first-aid supplies, sunscreen, condoms, and any prescription medicine you have scripts for. They will also treat any acquired illnesses so unless you just want, you really don’t need a full sized first-aid kit [Full disclosure: I brought every conceivable first aid item available and even some that aren’t. I’m also a RN in the US, and will have to be damn near dead or have something unusual come up for me to call the PCMOs for anything. But that’s me…] For those who are going to Rwanda but not with the Peace Corps’, you’ll want to look into these things based on the length of your stay and where you’re going. Pharmacies in most countries carry a lot of medicines; all hotels have mosquito nets, and bottled water, soft drinks, and beer are available pretty much anywhere.
I have a friend that says there aren’t many problems in the world that can’t be solved with copious application of money. I’d apply that to the Peace Corps’ as well. If you buy absolutely nothing new for PC from the time you get your invitation until you leave, and save that money, it should go pretty far in rural Rwanda [not so much in Kigali]. If you’re planning on bringing some cash, bring hundred dollar bills that are 2006 or more current. I’m not sure why this is, but Rwandan banks don’t accept the older bills. Not little headed Benjamins, but 2006 or newer big headed Benjamins. 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. It’s nice to have a stash to supplement the moving in allowance especially if you are headed to a new site and have to buy everything.
A lot of places in Kigali and other larger towns take credit cards so having one or two is a good idea as a back up to cash. Credit cards are also a good idea if you want to buy a plane ticket or stay in nicer hotels while on vacation.
Luggage: I need containers to get my stuff from here to there
1 obnoxiously large, sturdily-constructed rolling duffel bag [ebags mother lode 29″]. If you bring a bag this big, just know that it’s easy to go overweight quickly. My first attempt had this bag weighing in at 75#… ooops [Also, the handle broke during one of the many times this bag was moved during training. It is essentially a 30″ high night stand now and will not be making the trip across the Atlantic with me–the bag is still functional for sure, but the draw of having a wheeled duffel bag was to extend the handle and drag it behind me… so while the bag is very large and sturdy, Rwanda broke the plastic handle]
8 year old 65L hiking backpack that has already seen half the world.
Osprey Porter 46–a 46L bag with backpack straps that can be removed and carried like a tote. This bag does not have wheels, but is otherwise an awesome bag
A tote bag–also a carry-on–In it, I’ll carry a book and assorted small odds and ends + my electronics and sleeping kit.
I also have a school sized backpack packed in the bags and another small canvas/cloth tote that I will use as a market bag.
Rationale: I need a way to get stuff from here to there.
Verdict: I’m glad I have all the bags. I hate all the bags while in transit, but I love having all the bags.
Clothing: 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.
Item: Fleece pull-over x1.
Rationale: Some areas get cool; some not so much. I won’t know until a few weeks in if I’m going to be in one of those areas.
Verdict: It gets quite cool in the mornings during the rainy season in the south and even colder in the North. I’m glad I brought it.
Item: Lightweight rain coat
Rationale: It rains. I won’t have a car so I’ll be walking in the rain. Being dry is preferable to being wet
Verdict: I’m glad I have it both as a rain jacket, a wind breaker, and for covering my skin on moto rides
Item: Cardigan x3. One black; one silver/gray, and one orange.
Rationale: It can get cool. These can spiffy up t-shirts and make me look more professional
Verdict: I wear the black one the most, but do wear all of them especially on those rain-cooled mornings.
Item: Blouses x3. I never wear these at home. Button-up shirts and bustiness don’t mix
Rationale: I may need something nicer than T-shirts
Verdict: I’ve only worn one of these. One doesn’t quite fit, and the other is even too nice for Rwanda and will be going back home with me when I visit the USA next year.
Item: T-shirts x7. Plain, colorful
Rationale: I wear these all the time. Even to work.
Verdict: I love that I have these. I’m bringing a few more when I return from my vacation
Item: Long-sleeve T-shirt
Rationale: Sometimes my elbows get cold
Verdict: I usually sleep in these so I’m glad I have them
Item: Hoodie x2
Rationale: They’re fashionable. They have long sleeves. And a hood.
Verdict: One is essentially a long sleeved t-shirt. I wear it to bed some, and around the house when it’s chilly. The other one is nice and soft and somewhat stylish. It’s too nice for Rwanda to break so it’s going back home with me next year.
Item: Flannel Shirt
Rationale: Because why not?
Verdict: I don’t wear if often but I do wear in around the house as sort of a light weight jacket. I’m glad I brought it.
Item: Pants x 5. Dark brown, dark grey, khaki, dark green, and black + one pair of jeans. Also known as hiking pants. Also scrub pants x1 in dark gray.
Rationale: I need something to cover my butt
Verdict: I’m glad I have the scrubs, and I’ve already sent for more. I’ve already lost 15 pounds in just over three months and while that is good for my overall health, most of my pants are comically large now. I can now only wear the scrub pants and pants that can be belted.
Item: Skirts x2–one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue.
Rationale: Sometimes skirts are more comfortable than pants
Verdict: I haven’t worn them at my site, but I wore them frequently at training. In order for me to wear a skirt it needs to be a special occasion or above 75 degrees. Neither of those have happened yet.
Item: Scarves X3. One teal, one burgundy, and one gray with owls on it
Rationale: They can spiff up an outfit nicely
Verdict: I ended up leaving these at home, and I wish I had at least one, and will be bringing these on my return voyage
Item: Socks and underwear x a lot…seriously I think I have close to 40 pairs of underwear and 20 pairs of socks
Rationale: The amount of socks and underwear I take on any given adventure is directly proportional to the amount of time I have until I need to do laundry.
Verdict: During training, I took out 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and used those exclusively. Once I moved in to my house, I took another 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and put them in rotation… so now I have 12 pairs of underwear and 8 pair of socks in rotation. At the 8,16, 24 month mark, I will remove the too worn items and replace as necessary. In reserve I have 5 pairs of underwear and 3 pair of socks for my COS trip. I have found that the cotton ones have a much shorter lifespan that the quick-dry kind.
Item: Bras. I have 3 sports bras and 4 regular bras
Rationale: I have larger than average boobs and would like to keep them corralled and would prefer do fight gravity a little while longer
Verdict: I wear them everyday so I look for comfort. One sports bra is now too big. The regular bras can be adjusted. I’m glad I brought the different styles, types, and sizes.
Item: Shoes—OMG, shoes. Apparently shoes are a big deal in Rwanda so I’m trying to go with shoes that are easy to clean and durable. To that end, I brought or will bring back the following: Rain boots. These are mostly not necessary, but the only other time I’ve lived in a ‘wet’ environment [which was the Amazon Rain forest], 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. I found an inexpensive pair on Amazon and will most likely gift these to someone when I COS. Trail-running shoes. I wear these as my every day shoes [Shoe stylish I am not]. 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.
Rationale: While I could be happy rotating two pairs in and out, I don’t really care about cleanliness.But Rwandas do. And I’m trying to be culturally appropriate.
Verdict: I still hate shoes, but I’m glad I have all the ones I have. The Teva dress sandals were worn for swearing-in and will be returning to America. Also returning to America will be the Keen leather shoes. In its place will be coming rain boots and hiking boots. The Keen shoes are not practical for two hour one-way treks up and down hills.
Item: Pajamas X1
Rationale: I’m not picky, but I brought a T-shirt I was gifted and a pair of fuzzy pajama pants.
Verdict: These didn’t make the cut, but I will be bringing the fuzzy pajama pants when I return. Some nights are beyond chilly and with no HVAC of any kind, clothing and blankets are what keep me warm.
Rationale: It may get hot. I may not feel like leaving the house. I want to be comfortable
Verdict: I sleep in the shorts and wear the yoga pants when I do yoga.
Rationale: I may get to go to a large body of water at some point. Or a fancy hotel with a swimming pool.
Verdict: I haven’t used it yet, but hold hope that one day I will.
Item: Knives/cutting board
Rationale: Apparently good kitchen knives are hard to come by in Rwanda. I’m bringing a knife set, one small, a small plastic cutting board, measuring spoons, 3 measuring cups [1/2c,1/3c, and 1/4c]
Verdict: I ended up not bringing the cutting board and was lucky enough to be left a nice wooden one. The knives and measuring cups I use daily; the spoons not so much
Rationale: I can’t tell you the last time I grated anything but apparently I will want this; it’s a light, flat, handheld one that doesn’t take up much space Verdict: Surprisingly enough, I grate a lot of things…carrots, ginger, garlic… things I never grated back home. I’m glad I have one
Item: Can opener
Rationale: Opening cans without it is super hard
Verdict: I now have two, and have yet to open a single can with it. There just aren’t a lot of canned things and most things have the pop-top
Item: Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Rationale: I don’t want to have to buy all my water and drink out of a puddle isn’t acceptable
Verdict: I wish I had this earlier, but I’m glad I have it now. I drink between 2.5-3.5 liters of water a day and it’s pretty easy to do when I only have to fill up my bottle a couple times a day.
Item: Vegetable peeler
Rationale: While I rarely peel vegetables at home, the water here must be treated, filtered, boiled, and you must prepare a sacrifice in order to use them. I’ll just peel the damn vegetables.
Verdict: I rarely peel vegetables… I’ll probably end up with a gut full of parasites, but peeling vegetables is a chore I cannot get behind. I do however wash them in treated water, and cook or pickle them long enough that I hope the germs are gone.
Rationale: Rwandan food is bland. I’m no iron chef or anything, but I did bring salt/pepper, cinnamon, Greek seasoning, Italian seasoning, and taco seasoning.
Verdict: I use the salt and pepper everyday. And the cinnamon when I have oatmeal. And Italian seasoning when I make spaghetti. Haven’t used the others yet, but I will. Also I need more pepper.
Item: Zip-lok bags
Rationale: They are illegal in Rwanda and I’m a rebel. Also I use these nearly everyday.
Verdict: I should have brought more.
Item: Head lamp and other solar charged lights
Rationale: The electrical grid is not reliable
Verdict: I ended up bringing two head lamps and one extra solar lamp. The electricity goes out frequently and my kitchen doesn’t even have electricity so if I end up cooking any time past 5:30, I’m doing it in the dark. The headlamps are especially useful for the kitchen. I keep one in the kitchen and one in the bedroom. The other lamp stays in the shower room.
Rationale: I need food. Hopefully the climate is conducive to growing them. They don’t take up much space
Verdict: I haven’t used them yet because I live in a concrete compound, and haven’t figured out exactly how to use them yet. I’m thinking about taking one of my basins and making in a shallow, portable container garden. I can at least grow herbs, lettuce [which is impossible to find], and maybe something like a squash in it]
All these items are in my box that is currently in transit.
Rationale: Why such an essential item is not provided by PC is beyond me, but nonetheless, no sheets provided. I brought a gray pair that Christopher the Cat put a shred mark in, and a cheap pair I picked up right before leaving for $10. Options include a single [90cm], full sized [120cm] queen sized [140cm] and giant [200cm]. My bed at training was a single and my bed at site is the 140cm variety, but because these are expensive, I opted for a 120cm with a little space on the side and I have my PC mattress on top so I’m sleeping like the princess and the pea.
Verdict: I ended up buying sheets here, because I found a pair I like and I have essentially a queen size bed here. The other sheets will return to America with me
Rationale: I brought a beach towel and a quick dry towel and an absorbent head wrap for wet hair. I threw in a couple of wash clothes because they are small and lightweight.
Verdict: I ended up leaving the towel at home, but bought one when I got here. Also I was left 3 towel at my site. I have used all five at some point.
Item: Swiss Army Knife
Rationale: When is this not a good idea?
Verdict: It’s small. I’ve used, but I haven’t needed it.
Item: Sleeping bag
Rationale: It may solve the sheet problem. I may need to visit others.
Verdict: I also left this at home. Camping is not a thing in Rwanda and the blanket I brought is sufficient for visiting others.
Rationale: It gets cold and this one packs up small
Verdict: I use it frequently and is one of the best things I brought.
Item: Quilted comforter
Rationale: It’s warm and homey
Verdict: Even though this was a bitch to pack, and I never used it during training, it is on my bed now, and it is one of the items I am most glad that I brought. I got a full/queen sized one of medium weight and love having it. I almost want to bring it back home when I COS but it doesn’t match any of my decor and I don’t want to carry it around during my COS trip.
Item: Pillow X2
Rationale: I sleep much better with my own things
Verdict: I am so glad I brought not one but two pillows with me. I used one in training and now that I’ve got my own space [and bed] both of them are out. Also Rwandan pillows are crap…either lumpy foam or hard as a rock with no give.
Item: Notebook [composition book x2], travel journal x2, and planner
Rationale: I like to write things and the illusion of being organized makes me happy
Verdict: I could use more notebooks. Mine got wet and are now falling apart. One travel journal is a gratitude journal I write in everyday [even if its only ‘I have a roof over my head’ and read when I’m having down days, and while I don’t use the planner daily, I to at least try to plan out my weeks/months.
Rationale: I am a pen-whore and needed to downsize. Also I like to color code things.
Verdict: I ended up only bringing three. I should have known better. These are now in a care package currently in transit.
Item: Medical equipment–pulse ox, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff
Rationale: These are probably mostly unnecessary, but if I’m going to be in a health center, I’d like to have my own tools.
Verdict: These are wholly unnecessary and will be returning to the US with me. I’ve used the pulse ox a few times and will most likely keep in here. As I’m currently at about 6000ft, it’s interesting to see how my oxygenation is changing as I get used to the altitude.
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. You probably won’t be able to video chat 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 or get a solar set-up.
The Official 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, you don’t need to get one.
Rationale: I rarely go anywhere without it so of course, it was coming with me.
Verdict: I haven’t brought it out yet mainly because I self- conscious enough without it, but as I get to know people and as they get to know me, I plan to use it much more.
Items: Flash drives x2 32GB each
Rationale: I’ve been told I’ll need them. Verdict: Handy for transferring files, not entirely necessary
Rationale: It doesn’t work as a phone but with 64G of songs/podcasts, it’s a no-brainer.
Verdict: I listen to music every day so I’m glad I have it
Item: External speaker
Rationale: My laptop speakers are wretched. Rechargeable speakers are the solution
Verdict: See above
Rationale: Sometime you just need to chill
Verdict: I rarely use them, but am glad to have them
Item: USB charger
Rationale: Electronics need to charge
Verdict: There’s no such thing as too much stored power.
Item: Flashlight and headlamp
Rationale Electricity is sporadic at times
Verdict: Late night walks home and electricity outages have already made these practical. The headlamp is especially useful if I have to cook in the dark when the electricity is out. Also my kitchen doesn’t have electricity so I either have to eat at 5p or use my headlamp to cook
Item: Rechargeable batteries
Rationale: Apparently there’s no great way to dispose of batteries in Rwanda, so I have rechargeable ones for my headlamp and flashlight.
Verdict: They’re amazing
Item: Outlet adapters
Rationale: For my items that have to plug into the wall, I’ve got a handful of light, simple adapters.
Verdict: Glad I thought of these
Rationale: I’m not hugely into make-up, but I have an eye shadow palette, plus 1 lipstick, seemed like a good idea for any dressy events
Verdict: I used it for swearing in and a couple of other times just for the hell of it, but I don’t even look in a mirror daily so make up seems a bit excessive. I’ll keep it just because it’s likely to go bad at home.
Rationale: Apparently stick deodorant is not a thing I can get here.
Verdict: I brought 3.5 sticks. I’m glad I have them and will be bringing back more. I average one stick ever 2.5 months.
Rationale: I’m sure I can find shampoo here if I look hard enough and am willing to pay enough, but who has the time and money for that.
Verdict: I cut my hair super short four days before leaving and the travel sized containers lasted one month. I’m now using my Dr. Bronner’s soap for shampoo as well as soap. It works OK, but I will be bringing back one bottle of 2-1 coconut scented shampoo/conditioner because as my hair grows, I’ll be using more shampoo
Item: Soap. I have both a bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronners soap and a very nice bar of woody-scented soap that feels amazing. I use them both
Rationale: I need to be clean
Verdict: Nice bar soap has been wonderful. I’m not a fan of bucket baths still, but I’m a fan of my soap.
Rationale: My lips are always dry. Burt’s Bees is magical.
Verdict: Yes, you can request these from med supply. No it’s not always available, it’s nice to have a back-up. And some in every single bag and jacket pocket you have.
Item: Dry Shampoo
Rationale: For when I can’t be bothered to wash my hair
Verdict: I’d never used dry shampoo before, but I love it. It smell coconut-like so it reminds me of the beach. It was really good during hot season when the back of my head would be all sweaty 5 minutes after washing it. Now I usually wash my hair once a week and dry shampoo it 2x/week.
Item: Toothbrush and toothpaste
Rationale: I don’t want dentures too soon
Verdict: I have brand favorites so I brought some. I also bought some Russian toothpaste in the grocery store and keep it in my weekend bag. That way if I forget it when visiting someone, I’m not super sad. I love my cinnamon toothpaste.
Item: Nail clippers, nail file, and polish
Rationale: Gnarly nails are not nice. I’ll pick one color to take with me when I COS and leave the rest behind
Verdict: My hair and nails have always grown fast and it’s no exception in Rwanda. I usually cut them every other week and shape on the in between week. I don’t paint my fingernails because it would do no good between the hand washing of dishes and clothes and generally just using my hands more, but I do like to keep some color on my toes.
Item: Travel bottles
Rationale: Lugging big bottles of things around suck, and little cheap baggies leak.
Verdict: They’re small and mine are cute. I use them when visiting other volunteers for the weekend and for the first 10 weeks in Rwanda.
Rationale: They may be my only source of nutrients some days…those days my diet consists of potatoes, rice, and pasta.
Verdict: I brought some gummy ones to supplement the PC provided pre-natal vitamins, and I’m glad I did. I hate the taste/smell of regular vitamins so I’m glad to get a break. In addition to regular multi-vitamins, I brought a B-complex since I’m not eating a lot of grains or eating much meat.
Item: 6 passport photos
Rationale: The Peace Corps said to
Verdict: I only brought 2 because those things are expensive [$15 for 2 at Walgreens]. I then got 6 printed at a shop in Rwanda for 3000RWF [about $3.25]. They are use to establish a banking account, apply for residency visa, and something else that I don’t remember. But you will need all 6.
Item: Purse and wallet
Rationale: You need somewhere to store your cash and backpacks aren’t always practical
Verdict: I bought a nice matching leather set right before I left. I haven’t used the purse much… essentially only when in Kigali, but the wallet stays in my backpack. Now that I’m at site, I don’t carry my backpack everywhere I go so the wallet often stays hidden in my house. I also have a small change purse for the never ending accumulation of coins and small bills needed for motos and transit. I am hoping to be able to take this on my COS trip and use it in America when I return.
Items: Entertainment such as playing cards and bananagrams
Rationale: Because when does a deck of cards not come in handy?
Verdict: I’ve yet to break out my cards [other people have always had a deck too], but I play bananagrams about once a week. It’s great for keeping up my English vocabulary.
Item: Tide-to-go pens
Rationale: Stains are a bitch to get out… especially when you have to hand wash clothes
Verdict: They’re cheap, light, I doubt I’ll regret having a few around. They have saved my life (or at least my shirt) multiple times.
There it is, my complete packing list for Peace Corps | Rwanda. I am also creating two separate lists of things I didn’t bring that I want to bring back when I come back from my US vacation… this list contains mostly food items, but also things like rain boots, and a third list of things I brought, and either don’t need, can’t use, or no longer fit.
My goal for COS is to be down to the 65L backpack plus whatever bag I have my electronics in, and I have no doubt that I can do it. I don’t plan on buying a ton of Rwandan thinks to take back to the US, and most clothing items will not be any good anyway. One backpack and one tote will be much easier to manage than 2 backpacks and 2 tote bags.
More than 1500 coherent words on what I packed for two years in Madagascar from the kind of suitcase I had, and everything I put in said suitcase; don’t say I didn’t warn youI found out in July 2017 that I’d been accepted into Peace Corps | Madagascar. That left me with 7 months to pack and clean out my apartment, and seven months to obsess about what to pack. And this from someone who hates to pack. And someone who hates to shop. And then I went and bought a house in October 2017. And I had already planned vacation for December 2018. So I packed for Madagascar as well as my vacation to Germany/France in December while I was packing up the apartment for the impending move. I scoured other PC blogs’ packing lists–for Madagascar, other African countries, even cold weather Eastern Europe/Asian countries… just to see what I was up against. I put effort into packing. I drudged through Amazon customer reviews. I wandered up and down REI’s aisles without buying a thing. I enjoyed crafting the spreadsheet more than the actual shopping.Not related at all, but a somewhat ironic tangent: I was once in charge of logistics for planning my college’s fencing team flight from Greenville to Philadelphia and securing lodging while in Philadelphia. 13 college students, flying with sabres, foils, and epees constantly reminding them not to say ‘weapons’ in an airport even though that is totally what they are called collectively. Reminding people to pack clothing separately from fencing gear in case bags were confiscated, and yet I forgot socks.Other journeys have similarly been fraught with packing mistakes and my most epic one to date is getting to the airport only to find out I’d brought my recently expired passport instead of the new, active one. Thankfully it was about 1 in the afternoon, traffic was reasonable, and I lived 20 minutes away instead of an hour away like I do now.Before I start the list, here are the premises I’m working on:
Despite popular opinion, this is not a 2 year camping/backpacking trip. I will be living mostly in one place for 2 years. A place that most likely lacks indoor plumbing and electricity.
Madagascar is a poor country. No need to have $200 hiking boots when most, if not all, of my neighbors will be barefoot. All the time.
I’ll forget something. Hopefully, it won’t be my passport. Or underwear.
Packing is certainly one of the most stressful aspects of preparing for service, because you think, “how the hell am I going to fit 2 years’ worth of stuff in 2 bags?” Just so you know now, the Peace Corps country handbook is of absolutely no use. So I put together my own list of what I thought would be helpful. This will hopefully take care of a lot of your potential questions up front, but please feel free to message me or comment if you have a specific question, or if you don’t see something on this list and wonder if you should take it. [Caveat: I am the proud owner of 2 X chromosomes so this is aimed at fellow XX-ers more than guys, but most of these suggestions also apply to men… except, you know, the parts about bringing skirts, bras, and tampons.]
The first thing to keep in mind is that no amount of stuff will make it easy, and no one item will make the difference between having a great experience and a terrible one. The second thing is to keep in mind that even though 2 bags doesn’t sound like a lot, you will still have way more stuff than any of your neighbors have. Having 3 pairs of shoes to carry you for the next 2 years might not sound like a lot, but remember that most people you’ll be living near are lucky if they have one pair of shoes. It is very humbling. Hopefully my suggestions and advice below will help you avoid packing stress as much as possible but help you arrive to Madagascar well-equipped and excited to serve.
So with that being said…
To get the goods to a location, I’ll need bags. I’m allowed 4; 2 checked, one carry-on and one personal item. The checked bags must weigh less than 50# each. Since I usually try to do carry-on only, I did not have a large duffel or suitcase so I bought one from ebags. It’s my go to site for things luggage related. So my four bags are:
A suitcase. A duffel bag. Something big. Something sturdy. It’s going to get abused. It may fall apart; it may surprise me and last my full service. I’ll probably use it as storage once I have a home.
A hiking backpack. I have an old REI one. I’ll probably take the REI one; it’s no longer bright and shiny, and has already proven itself, has a cover, and I know I can pack a lot of stuff in it
A school-type backpack. Can be stuffed to capacity and carry a weeks’ worth of clothing.
A messenger bag. Good for books, notebooks, official documents, plane snacks, travel pillow, ect.
Inside the bags, things will be organized with packing cubes. If you’ve never used packing cubes, they will change your life. I also have two plastic storage boxes, 1 small and one medium. And inside those containers, I’ll have:
Tools: tweezers, nail clippers, razor + blades, make-up brush, Q-tips
Dental: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
Body: bar soap, lotion, razor + blades, pumice stone, deodorant, menstrual cup + tampons
Mini first aid kit
And that’s it.
Note: At training I’ll be provided with a Peace Corps’ first aid kit. Again, this is my pre-service packing list. Overall I feel pretty good about it, but that’ll change: Things will break; I’ll send things home, and hopefully I will have some awesome friends who will send me things while I’m here.