My house is a two room brick structure surrounded by concrete with with a tin roof. It has intermittent electricity, and there’s no wi-fi to be found. So how do I manage to blog from my rural Rwandan village?
Here’s what I have in the way of technology:
a simple laptop, case, and charger
SIM card for buying mobile data bundles
a smartphone I bought in Rwanda
a USB to micro-USB cord
Gone are the days of firing up the laptop, connecting wireless-ly to the cloud, and writing while also uploading and editing photos. Gone are the days of having 10 tabs open at once. After some months of trial and error, these are the steps I now take to produce one blog post:
Charge the laptop fully either while having electricity or at the health center.
Draft and edit blog posts at night in a Word doc.
Plug phone or storage drive into laptop and grab images for said blog post.
Walk 4 miles (uphill both ways –no snow–) with laptop, cell phone, and USB drive into Huye, go to the nicest Catholic boarding house around [or second option a coffee shop with spotty wi-fi], buy a Fanta or milkshake depending on my location, add mobile data to my phone, and take a seat.
Set up a hotspot
Copy and paste posts onto WordPress, upload photos and add tags. I usually upload a month of posts at a time and set the to auto post every Sunday.
I can, and have, written and published many posts entirely through my phone. I prefer to type on a computer for quantity and quality writing.
This set up works OK… Not great…Not perfect but it gets the job done. I for one will be glad to returning to the land of Starbucks and free wi-fi sooner rather than later.
One of the things I said before joining Peace Corps was ‘It’s not as if I am going to prison; I’m volunteering. I can leave if I decide to leave.”
Well, as a result of the Peace Corps’ sharing spirit, I was recently gifted Seasons 1-6 of Orange is the New Black. [In return, I contributed The Americans Seasons 1-6 to the vast share drive that is Health 10]. In case you are just as out of tuned with pop culture as I am, Orange is the New Black is a book [and Netflix series] about life in a women’s prison. [Also I now want to read the book]. Turns out Peace Corps service is a lot like prison. [For the record, I have never actually been to prison or even jail so my observations on similarities are solely based on my 5 months in the Peace Corps and a TV show].
How exactly are the Peace Corps and prison similar? Glad you asked…
Getting to our intended destination involved a lot of scary moments on various forms of transportation with the final leg of the journey being ‘greeted’ by an peppy official and all the volunteers being bleary eyed and hungry.
First stop after customs and baggage retrieval was the nunnery where we were promptly segregated by sex and fed a communal dinner in near total silence.
First day deer in the headlights feeling: After a first night of sleeping on uncomfortable, lumpy, mattress, the new PCT is fed communal breakfast and promptly split up into groups, and interrogated [interviewed?] by several officials about health history, ‘what makes you happy?’ ‘how do you cope with stress?’ and ‘why did you decide to join Peace Corps’. Upon first arriving in prison, the main character author discovers a plethora of rules and regulations that she doesn’t understand, isn’t allowed to question, and needs to follow to the letter. I feel like that applies to PCVs both in the sense of expectations from Peace Corps the organization and from the host country in which you are placed. Things that make no sense to you at all (in prison: you sleep on top of the covers; in Peace Corps | Rwanda you aren’t allowed to ride a moto on a paved road even if the paved road is a shorter distance and safer.
Strange hook-ups: “We are a group that would never mix if not for our common affliction”. I heard that somewhere once or twice, but it’s applicable for both prison and the Peace Corps. Some times its just a hook-up. In the Peace Corps, the need for affection is strong; while in prison, the need for protection is real. Hook-ups happen; they are frequent, and often occur among people you would never suspect. People who wouldn’t given each other the time of day on the outside become cozy bedfellows on the inside.
The Rumor Mill: Everyone knows everything. Never has the adage “three can keep a secret if two of them are dead” meant so much as in the Peace Corps and, apparently, prison. Want to keep something private? Tell NO ONE.
It takes one to know one: Friends [parents, significant others, other people on the ‘outside, loving kitty cats] will never really know what it’s like to serve either in the Peace Corps or prison [or military but that’s outside this scope of post] unless you’ve been there. Having supportive people on the outside is important, but sometimes there are things that can only be expressed to another PCV/prisoner.
Pushing the boundaries: Very few things in my world are black and white; very few things in Peace Corps [prison] are any shade of gray. This leads to some interesting decision making choices on the part of PCVs such as myself. While I am not stupid, and have no desire to run to the capital city, drink, and party all night in a night club, other ‘rules’ in my opinion are a little more fluid. Both PCVs and prisoners like to test those boundaries. One key difference though, pushing the boundaries too far while in Peace Corps will get you sent home early while pushing the boundaries too far in prison keeps you from going home.
Focusing on the outside too much or forgetting that there is an outside: I’m still early in my service so things are moving at glacial speed, but I am acutely aware of what’s going on on the outside. My best friend is having a baby in 3 days. 3 days! and yet it will be another 10 weeks until I can meet the little munchkin. People are celebrating holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving and Election Day none of which are even on the radar in my little Rwandan village. My kitty cats are going on without me. Friends are graduating, going off to college, starting new careers, and I’m… weighing babies… every day. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp have been lifesavers for these slow days, but on the flip side, what am I missing? On the flip side, there are other volunteers who are so immersed in site-life that you wonder if they realize that this [Peace Corps] is only temporary. Either way, prison or Peace Corps, you have to find a way to come to terms with ‘imprisonment’ [service]. You have to navigate the fine line between staying on the staff’s good side and integrating into the local community yet not getting too comfortable and forgetting that another world exists on the outside.
Care Packages/Visitors: The presence or absence of one [care package] can make or break your entire month, and having a visitor can give you enough energy to get through the darkest times.
Release date: In both prison and Peace Corps, you know your sentence before going in. While prison sentences can vary depending on several factors, Peace Corps service is almost uniformly 27 months which is about 800 days. In Peace Corps, you get time off for good behavior [aka vacation days] and since its impossible to close out service for an entire group at one time, someone gets to be first and someone has to be last. For example, my official COS date is August 14, 2020 [only 644 days away] but I am hoping [praying] to be released a little earlier than that. Time will tell.
Applying to the Peace Corps is an arduous process even with the ‘new’ system rolled out in 2014. My guess is they make the application process so difficult because serving is so difficult. If filling out the require paperwork makes you break into hives, then there’s no way you will be a successful volunteer. I’ve had a lot of questions about what the application process is like and what my specific timeline was so I thought I would write it down as best as I can remember according to my own memories and my “real’ memory, courtesy of gmail, which records every important incident in my life. Fair warning. This is long… and there’s no pictures.
September 24, 2016: While watching a football game one Saturday, I randomly click over to the Peace Corps site just to check it out. Peace Corps was something my 11 year old self wanted to do, my 21 year old self almost did, and 31 year old self came up with a bunch of reasons not to do. Randomly decide to apply to Peace Corps while watching football. I choose the ‘go anywhere, do anything’ option.
September 29, 2016: Placed ‘under consideration‘ for Healthy Youth Program in Lesotho. Undecided about if I want to work with ‘healthy youth in Lesotho’ but decide to continue on with the application process.
Nothing happens for three months and I essentially decide Peace Corps is not for me
December 27, 2016: Get a request for an interview with the Lesotho placement officer. Looks at remaining slot and notice only one available that could possibly fit my schedule. 8A, January 3, 2017, after a 24 hour post-call shift.
January 3, 2017: Interview with placement officer for Lesotho position coming off a 24 hour on call shift where I’d worked 16 hours and been awake for 36 hours. Don’t remember anything about said interview other than in lasted 30 minutes [They said to prepare for 1-1.5 hours]
Feb 28, 2017: Received news that I’m not going to Lesotho [not surprised; not sad]. Decide I would reapply.
March 1, 2017: Re-submit PC application. This time I chose HEALTH and Madagascar, Guyana, and Mozambique. I was also open to Central Asia/Eastern Europe and South America. North/West Africa was a no-go.
March 3, 2017: Placed under consideration for Community Health Volunteer in Madagascar. Excited, like I wasn’t about Lesotho.
May 5, 2017: Interview with placement officer for Madagascar. Interview last 1.75 hours. I was reminded to dress and act professionally even though it is a Skype interview. Wear pants even if the other person can’t tell because what if this one time, I have to get up to answer the door or the cat starts acting like an idiot and I need to throw him outside. The only thing I am told is get some recent ‘health’ volunteer experience. I reply that I am a currently a RN, and have been working in health care for 10 years. If I’m going to do any volunteer work, it won’t be in the ‘health’ sector since I’m already in it 48+ hours a week. I was told that was acceptable.
July 29, 2017: Receive invitation for Madagascar pending legal and medical clearance, and I only have three days to accept. Mind you the invitation was sent on the 27th and it’s about 2a on a Sunday morning. Have no one except my much older coworker to talk it over with, and decide ‘what the hell?’ I push the ‘i accept button’ and sent a return email.
DO.ALL.THE.THINGS [Physical, mental and physical health, get a PAP Smear, have dental probings done. Have about a gallon of blood drawn because they keep adding tests]
November 16, 2017 Receive MEDICAL CLEARANCE
November 26, 2017: Quit one job in preparation for leaving for Madagascar.
January 2, 2018: Receive LEGAL CLEARANCE; get excited in earnest about leaving for Madagascar on February 25 [right after my birthday!]
I spent 1 year, 8 months trying to get in the Peace Corps and as of today, I have 1 year, 10 months remaining to serve… Barring natural disasters, or any other as of now unforeseen legitimate reason to leave Rwanda.
When I was preparing to go into Peace Corps|Madagascar, I read a lot of PC blogs from a lot of countries and I found that there are a plethora of “Day in the Life of a PCV” posts out there. At first, I read them with fascination, completely hooked on every activity.
5:30am – Wake up. My thoughts: Wow! They get up so early! They must be so productive! I’d also like to point out that this was my usual bedtime for non-working days in the US. I am the epitome of a night owl. 6:00am – Start cooking breakfast. My thoughts: Wow! I wonder what they’re eating? How do they cook? How long does it take? I’ve never really been one to eat breakfast… mostly because that’s my bedtime.
7:00am – Fetch water. My thoughts: Wow! Fetching water! Just like Little House on the Prairie!
I know. I am a Peace Corps nerd.
Truth be told, my day-to-day life in the Peace Corps is, not unsurprisingly, much like day-to-day life in America. We get up, we do what it takes to eat,, and clean up. We work, we sweat, we come home, we bathe, eat again, and we relax. We have days off, we travel, we come home and panic about how much work we have to catch up on. See? Just like at home.
Well, almost. Peace Corps life, while much like life at home in some ways, also has its dramatic differences. I think a lot of people really wonder: just what are you doing over there aside from your assigned job? Today, instead of the hour-by-hour breakdown of my daily routine, I want to give you a glimpse of what fills my days.
I’ve never been one for routine, but in rural Rwanda it’s all about the routine. Here, I rarely use an alarm clock. Instead, the roosters go off around 4:30am, and continue pretty steadily and increasing incremental volume until around 5:30am when I am awake and just procrastinating getting out of bed. I usually get up around 7 or so depsite the roosters cockle-doodle-ing for hours[In Ecuador, it was the monkeys howling, here roosters. At least the monkeys are cute. I threaten the roosters with my soup pot]
First order of the day: eating. Like many volunteers, I try to organize meals around what will involve the least amount of dish washing and water consumption. For me, this is generally a piece of bread and a fruit, usually a banana or sometimes an apple. I don’t drink coffee or tea so it’s usually just 500ml of water to go with it. On the mornings when I have a wild hair to do something crazy and have extra time or Saturday or Sunday, I may whip up a batch of pancakes complete with hot chocolate. [<—–This does not happen often].
After eating, it’s usually time to haul water. I use about 80-90 liters of water a week, all of which must be hauled by hand or head from about 150m away. I usually haul water 2x/week. 50L at a time. [of course during the frequent water shortages, this chore become infinitely easier as there is no water to haul] Then, I have to treat and filter my drinking water. Next, I may glance around and find dead insects or any number of other deceased night invaders. Sometimes I find a dead mouse head if SadieMae [the friendly compound cat] has been a good cat instead of a lazy cat.
Finally, it’s time to dress myself for work and head out to the clinic. Or maybe someone has given birth overnight and I’m doing baby measurements. Or maybe I’m going to the market to buy some vegetables. Maybe I have a meeting, and everyone is likely to be two hours late. Either way, these work related activities can take up a good chunk of the day, and as a rule it’s always longer than I expected it to take.
By mid-afternoon, if it’s not raining, the sun is hot and it’s time to ‘rest’ or in my case get some chores done and cook my big meal of the day. This means dishes, laundry if I’m getting desperate for underwear, taking a bath if I’m feeling extra ambitious, and hauling the water to go with those activities. Laundry must be hung to dry, and it can take a few hours to hand scrub sweat stains out of T-shirt sleeves.
As the sun creeps lower in the sky, I might fire up my the stove. I’m still wary of cooking with gas. I have a somewhat not-so-irrational fear of blowing myself up. Then, cooking. I never know what I want so often I boil water and cook vegetables or something easy. Finally, just as the mosquitoes are coming out, I’m headed under the bed net. I use this time to edit pictures, blog, write letters,talk to my US peeps, or read. Sometimes I read for fun; other times I’ve got my nose stuck in medical books. I’m usually in bed no later than 9pm, but often don’t actually try for sleep until 11p or 12a. (Once a night owl, always a night owl).
So there’s a day in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Rwanda. And this is just a village day. Conference days are really different.[Breakfast at the ungodly hour of 7a; meetings all day] Travel days are different in that they involve a whole lot more sitting and gnashing of teeth [get to bus station, buy ticket, wait for bus, sit on bus, arrive to Kigali. change buses,ect] . Each of us do the same chores and daily routine activities that we did back in America, but here, these things can take half the day instead of a few minutes. Take laundry for example: instead of wadding up my dirty clothes, tossing them in the machine, pouring in soap, and walking away and doing something else for a bit, laundry here can take hours. I have to first haul the water, get the clothes soaked and soaped, scrub until my knuckles are raw, do a whole rinse cycle in a different bucket, then wring everything and hang it to dry. While you learn little tricks to cut down on the time consuming nature of these activities [like soaking your clothes in a bucket of water and soap overnight], maintaining ourselves at our sites takes a lot of our time and energy.
Work, which can vary with the day of the week, takes up the other large bulk of our time. Babies come when they want whether a meeting is scheduled or not. Screenings can take all day. For example, if a mom/baby doesn’t show up to a scheduled meeting, we have to chase them down. Is the baby OK? Are they eating? Is mom OK? If it rains or there’s a funeral, your whole daily plan might fly out the window and you have to start rescheduling things all over again.
Day to day life here is full of little joys, little disappointments, and lots of the regular things we did back home, but now we do them Africa-style. In Peace Corps, no one day is quite like the next, and if you ask me, that’s the best kind of daily routine.
Happy Labor Day. These random holidays like Labor Day and 4th of July and Memorial Day has never really meant too much to me. Working in health care, days like these are really just regular days. There’s no such thing as ‘holidays’, or at least not in the traditional sense where I’d get the same days off as everyone else and get do things like hang out at the lake with friends or enjoy cook-outs for the holiday. So in that sense joining the Peace Corps has been interesting. At one point or another I’ve celebrated every American holiday outside America, and some countries’ holidays inside that country. But nothing can replace celebrating the holiday in its original form… And while I’ve only been gone from the USA for a few months, there are still things I miss. This post is from my previous travel blog from when I spent 16 months traveling around South America (with some updates from what I’m missing now… Some things change; some never will… like my love for good pizza).
Pizza Pizza is probably my favorite food on the planet. Back home, I probably ate pizza 3-4 times a month. Not always the same kind or from the same place, but pizza (and a salad when I’m feeling healthy) has been a staple in my diet since the early years and I don’t suspect it leaving any time soon. I did find pizza goodness in Buenos Aires and Mendoza; however most of South America and all of Rwanda has been a huge disappointment in terms of pizza. Bad crust, bad sauce, strange ingredients. I can’t wait to hit up Barley’s Taproom or Sidewall’s or the Mellow Mushroom for some good pizza with olives, feta cheese, spinach, and tomatoes.
One of my Peace Corps goals is to make a pizza… a delicious pizza like the one pictured below.
Watching American sports. I am a huge sports junkie and I miss meeting up with friends to watch March Madness, college bowl games, or stressing over Tennessee football. Fall is always the hardest because college football in nearly a religion in the south, and I am a follower of the sacred University of Tennessee. Watching my favorite teams at odd hours via slow internet streams just didn’t cut it, and while going to sporting events where I am is a small comfort, I am never going to follow Mexican bullfighting, Venezuelan baseball, Peruvian football, Rwandan basketball, or Buenos Aires polo when I am at home. [Although I happily watched Super Bowl XLV live.]
I am grateful that I was in a country that was a soccer loving one with time time zones close to the original for some of the world cup matches. Before joining the Peace Corps, I had hoped to score tickets to World Cup|Russia, but watching the games in this tiny corner of the world where soccer rules, is great for international bonding.
Food variety. If I ever eat white rice again, it will be too soon. Seriously, that seemed to be the hallmark of almost every single meal I’ve eaten over the few months. I wasn’t a big fan to begin with, but having it on the plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner got old. Fast!
One of the staples of Rwandan cuisine is–you guessed it–white rice. It’s no wonder I never eat this in America.
Free, non-carbonated water in restaurants. Again, this should be self-explanatory. Plenty of places offered free snacks, but free water? Not a chance.
Public transportation. Even though back home I do not live in an area with good public transportation, I like going to places where it’s accessible and easy to use. MARTA in Atlanta has gotten me where I needed to be on more than one occasion. Subways in Rome, New York, London, Moscow and Buenos Aires are amazing. If I didn’t live in a rural area, I’d be all about using light rail (like Seattle’s metro link that whisks me to and from the airport to the center of town without issue) or whatever was available. Motor bike taxis, bicycle taxis, mini buses, cars nearly falling apart, and cabs—not so much to my liking.
Knowing where to find things. Again, yes, you can buy just about everything you need on the road even in tiny remote villages in the middle of nowhere. But finding those things can be a challenge. In most of the places I visited (and Madagascar is no exception), daily essentials were spread out among many smaller stores and it took me days (or weeks) to figure out where to go for what I needed.
Not paying to use the toilet. Or even finding a toilet when needed. I think this one is self-explanatory. Fun fact: did you know that, according to The Guardian, the top 10 worst places in the world to find a toilet are in Africa. One is Madagascar [4th worst place in the world to find a toilet] and two of Rwanda’s neighbors also make the list [Tanzania and Congo] and there is a World Toilet Day (it is November 19th if you’re curious), dedicated to keeping everyone’s shit corralled so that fecal contamination of the water supply as well as diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route are diminished.
Another Peace Corps’ goal: to make myself a luxurious toilet where my knees don’t creak every time I must use it or in emergency situations, shit does not splash on my shoes/feet.
Respect for people’s time. Even though I am not a scheduler by nature, I do appreciate time. At home, when someone says “let’s meet at 8:00,” they generally mean “let’s meet at 8:00.” If they are running late, they will call or text you to let you know. We have a basic appreciation for people’s time and not wasting it. Such was not the case while I was traveling. Nothing seemed to start on time and someone saying they would meet you at 8:00 meant hopefully they would be there by 9:00 – likely with no contact whatsoever to indicate they may be late. When we were planning anything that include non-Americans we always gave a fake time. 7:00 meant 8:00 or so. Indeed, most people didn’t arrive until closer to 8:30. I think this just reflects a more laid back attitude, but as someone who hates waiting around for no good reason, I will take the American way every day.
I have found a general lack of respect for time in nearly every corner of the globe… except Germany and Switzerland… oh how I love that place; they are so punctual.
American men. I know many women love over foreign men. Heck, I have even dated foreign men [One abroad, one who had moved to USA], but overwhelmingly, the foreign men I have met [mostly Italians and Hispanics] are overbearing, controlling, condescending, and overprotective. I do not like being yelled at or whistled to in the street. I do not like being asked if I ‘want to fuck’ because those are the only English words they know. For me, that machismo attitude is such a turn off! Give me a good old American guy who can see a woman as his equal and appreciate her independence. A guy that smells clean, wears cologne sparingly, and bathes regularly. A guy who wears baseball hats and khakis rather than skinny jeans, and who is at least my height (5’9). If he has green eyes and curly hair, well, I’m a smitten kitten.
Free wi-fi: Wi-fiis slowly making its way down south, but it is not always free, nor is it always reliable. It brings me back to the Ethernet cords I had in college. Or dial-up. Both make me appreciate how prevalent wi-fi is in the USA. [and Canada and Europe]. 2018 hasn’t brought many upgrades to the poorer corners of the world.
But what I miss most about being away from the USA, is people and kitty cats …co-workers, friends, and family + Lucy and Molly.
It’s a question I ask myself daily, sometimes hourly, and occasionally every few minutes.
I have been in Rwanda just under two months and have spent all that time save one week in our training village of Rwamagana learning Kinyarwanda and how to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, because as of now, I am still NOT a Peace Corps Volunteer, merely a lowly Peace Corps Trainee. The one week not spent in Rwamagana was spent visiting my site aka the place where I’ll be living throughout my two years of service, and let me tell you, during that week I asked myself the above question about 100 times.
What the actual f*ck am I doing here? Where the h*ll am I? Why isn’t there any food? How can I get the f*ck out of here? Why am I headed to yet another bar when I’ve told this person I don’t drink? Is it too late to go back to work at my [nice] job in America? The one with awesome co-workers? Or my house with my [oh-so-comfy] bed? Or my kitty cats? Why did I think becoming a Peace Corps volunteer was a good idea anyway?
Before applying to the Peace Corps in 2016, it was something I considered while I was in high school. And then again after college. It was part of the reason I studied foreign languages in college. But as LIFE tends to do, it got in the way and I saw my immediate post-college years running away from a bad relationship [quite literally as I years 22 and 23 on the run in Mexico–and Belize–and Guatemala–and El Salvador…you get the drift] and then running towards a career [any career]. 24 would have been the perfect time for me to join the Peace Corps. I was mostly unencumbered by responsibilities. I was nearly fluent in Spanish. I’d spent much of the last year and a half teaching English as as Second Language in various places to various groups of people. Aside from the political aspect [and while PC claims to be apolitical an overwhelming majority of PCVs lean democratic], at 24 I was a Peace Corps’ poster child–a person with just enough life experience to still see the good in everyone and still want to save the world. I was a person unsure of my life and career goals. I was exactly the type of person that the Peace Corps seems to attract.
At this stage of my life, my 20’s have long passed [thankfully]. I am about as apolitical as they come, and I while I have a career as a nurse, no one in their right mind would call me a professional do-gooder. I am as sure of my career and life goals as one can be when FATE is involved.
So what am I doing here and why I am I doing this exactly?
I’ve written about that a couple of times already, but even though there are several contributing factors, at my core, I want to help people. And yes, I could ‘help people’ without putting my life on hold, and moving 7800 miles and three continents away, but where’s the adventure in that? To date, I have traveled in 54 countries [although none in Africa until now], but never really lived in one area other than the upstate of South Carolina for a period longer than four months [except that one time, I moved to North Carolina, but my LIFE was still firmly ensconced in South Carolina.] My reasons are as varied as any other PCV’s reason are, and yes, at the end, I hope to get something tangible in exchange for my service.
But when was the last time you met anyone who has been to Sub-Sahara Africa, let alone lived there. I know a few people who have visited a handful of countries, mostly in East/Southern Africa, but on the whole, not many people I know even consider Africa [as if it is one country instead of one rather large continent consisting of 54* individual countries] as a vacation destination. And Rwanda? If not for this Peace Corps opportunity, I can almost guarantee than I would have never set foot in the country. And I like to consider my self a traveler and not a tourist, and in my mind that means doing my best to experience the great touristy parts of the world, as well as the places that are off the grid. And in 2018, Rwanda is still off most people’s grid.
“I want to help people.”
And I really do want to help people. I’ve worked in healthcare for most of my adult life. If I didn’t truly want to ‘help people’ there are a lot of other, less strenuous, less soul-draining professions out there where I could probably make more money, have a better life-work balance, and certainly not spend all hours of the night awake.
But American healthcare is complicated. The overwhelming majority of my co-workers want to ‘help people’, yet we often know that whatever we do–whether it’s a life-saving measure in the Emergency Department or Continued Care in a Rehabilitation Department–it’s a stop-gap procedure. Yes, SOME people do GET IT. Some people see it the catalyst needed to do massive behaviour change, but for the most part, Americans are repeat offenders in the health care system, and generally speaking look to blame their problems on others.
Now I’ll get my chance to work with patients who really want and need help. Of course, creating behavior change is still going to be hard.
The Peace Corps, as one of their central missions for each volunteer, encourages each person to share their story with people in America. A blog or Instagram account is an easy way to do that, but also writing for the local paper or sharing my story via local meetings would accomplish this goal. In addition to writing about my experiences in Rwanda as a Peace Corps volunteer, I’ll be doing a presentation in at least one elementary school classroom during my service.
Ok so there is no official 4th goal, but for me, joining Peace Corps’ is a way to slow down in inevitability of life. People say the older you get, the more time flies, and at this stage of life, I’m starting to see that. The pressure to settle down, get married, have a career is intense. Momentum is carrying me along and sometimes I can’t seem to stop it. Of course, there are less dramatic and more practical methods of changing habits and behaviors than moving to a remote Rwandan village e for two years. But where would be the fun in that?
Before signing up for Peace Corps, my only knowledge for PCT acronyms were PCT=Pacific Crest Trail. Alas, the Pacific Crest Trail has absolutely nothing to do with becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, but becoming a Peace Corps Trainee has everything to do with becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. So after jumping through all the hoops between the point of application and getting on that place, one does not if fact become a PCV at that point. Nope, at that point, one becomes a PCT… a mere trainee, and lest you forget that, Peace Corps staff will take every opportunity to remind you that you are in fact, just a trainee.
So Staging—what I like to refer to as the first circle of hell.
It goes something like this… You arrive at the hotel where staging is occurring and sign in. This a big deal as it marks the ‘official entry’ into Peace Corps’ world. Staging itself is the most benign part of training. You meet your fellow ‘trainees’. You learn about Peace Corps history. You do ice breakers. You think about what makes a successful service. You get about $100 from PC to feed yourself during staging. After the day is over, if your group is like mine, you go to a big dinner. For us it was California Pizza Kitchen, where I in fact, did not order pizza. I had salmon. Yes, I know the absurdity of ordering fish at a pizza joint, but it was quite good. Then after dinner you break into smaller groups, and head over to the neighborhood Target to buy new clothes, and any forgotten items [I went to Target 3 times in less than 24 hours and still forget to get a portable power supply, but I did manage to get 3 Caramel frappuccinos. Priorities, I say].
Then its a good night’s sleep in the last nice hotel for the immediate future, a 3 hour bus ride to JFK airport in New York City, checking in, waiting around, boarding the plane for Brussels, flying 8 hours to Brussels, having another layover, boarding the plane to Kigali, another 8 hour flight, going through customs, being picked up by a dude [dude = country director as we found out later] wearing US Embassy credentials, and finally eating dinner and crashing at our nunnery.
Not exactly enjoyable, but certainly not terrible… just like the first circle of hell.
Days 2 and 3 involved getting ourselves safely to Kigali–an adventure by itself. Our bus was about an hour late getting to Philadelphia. Then the driver wasn’t really sure where he was going so he was on his phone both as a GPS and texting. There were a couple of close calls where he tried to occupy a currently occupied lane, but we made to JFK airport without incident.
While yes, we are all legally adults, and have a fair amount of life experience, I thought there’d be a little more assistance in the getting from Philadelphia to Kigali, but nope, once we waved good-bye to the desk officers, we were on our on. We departed the US with 24 Peace Corps Trainees and arrived in Kigali with 24 Peace Corps Trainees so I call that a success despite sitting in the last row of seats on the trans-Atlantic flight [they don’t recline… at all]. Nearly 24 in-transit hours later, we were reunited with out bags, successfully passed customs, and were whisked away to the convent.
You may think I’m kidding when I say convent, but no, out first two nights in Kigali were spent in a Catholic convent/ Jesuit priest retreat [thanks US budget cuts]. The nuns were nice, the food was basic, but entirely edible, and there were flushing toilets. I call that a win.
We spent most of the time in Kigali being herded around like cats, interviewing with several people about several things, setting up Rwandan bank accounts, getting an intro into the Kinyarwanda language [it’s hard], and getting up-to-date on shots. Then just as we’re getting comfortable at the convent, we are whisked away again–this time to our training site which will be our home for the next three months.
These three months consist of a lot of language training and some basic ‘how-to survive in Rwanda on your own classes in health and sanitation.
Friday ended with us being placed in our host families which I lovingly call –being dropped off at the pound.
For more months than I care to remember, I’ve been preparing for departure. Preparing to say my good-byes to a life I’ve spent the last few years carefully crafting. All the government required paperwork, the new purchases that are a *must-have* [like a nifty head lamp], and setting up Lucy and Molly for their own little adventure. I have had a suitcase partially packed for 6 months. Who does that? A neurotic person who has prepared for not one but two different Peace Corps service stations, that’s who. Add to that the time I’ve spent researching Peace Corps | Rwanda and attempting to teach myself some vocab in the local language, and I have basically been making myself *slightly crazy*.
But I have not forgotten some important advice given to me from my Madagascar stage-mates: spend as much time with friends and family as possible before leaving. I’m looking at these extra three months as a gift. I got spend Spring Break with my favorite little people. I’m continuing to work to save up money for adventures [maybe I’ll get to Madagascar after all]. I get to spend one last Spring/early Summer in South Carolina which is much preferable to the constant heat and humidity of July and August. I’m going hiking and doing short trips with friends. Taking ALL THE PHOTOS for the memories and also for the house decorations.
Basically, these last three months have been a gift wrapped up in a neat little package. The little people and I have spent more time together. I found out there’s going to be another little person come November. I got a few more house projects done.
This is the week of good-byes. Good-byes to co-workers. Good-byes to friends. Good-byes to Best Friends. Good-bye to kitty cats. Over all, I feel a lot more prepared to leave than I did when I was scheduled to depart for Madagascar… Let’s all hope I can still say that next Monday.
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.
Hi, I’m Michelle and this is my own little corner of the interwebs where I write, share photos, and interact with others in the blog-o-shpere. So in addition to that–Who am I? I am –in one way or another– the following: hiker + backpacker + swimmer + pediatric respiratory therapist + registered nurse + avid traveler + cat parent + gardener + photographer + medical science junkie + adventure-seeker + DIY enthusiast + voracious reader + history and science nerd + football fanatic + aging athlete + wannabe chef + trying not to succumb to the trappings of a 9-5 life. And beginning in 2018, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda.
Everyday life doesn’t have to be routine. Anyone can do just about anything he or she wants to do– sometimes one has to find creative ways in doing it. Sometimes one has to tear down the barriers that might stopping them. Everyday is an opportunity to choose your own adventure. That is what I ultimately write about.