July 1 2018

Wait, you’re still not a volunteer?

Wait, you’re still not a volunteer?

Ahhhhh, PST…Pre-Service Training.  I refer to it as Boot Camp, and our instructors take every opportunity to re-enforce that yes, as of now, we are just trainees.  Yes, the Peace Corps is about as far from the Army [or other military branch] as imaginable, but this 10 week period of training is very much the same. The preparation was even a little bit similar.  I cut off 10 inches of hair, paired down my wardrobe, started doing a lot more walking, and evaluated and re-evaluated each item that made it in to the suitcase[s] .  OK, not exactly the same as the Army….

6 days a week, we are in training nearly every daylight hour. We spend between 2 and 6 hours, depending on the day, learning [and practicing] Kinyarwanda; the remaining class time is learning about the Peace Corps’ mission, health and safety sessions, practical things [like mopping with a squeegee, cleaning shoes, sweeping the grass, and chopping the grass with something reminiscent of a metal hockey stick], the Rwandan Health System, and the government’s initiative to improve children’s health, focusing on the first 1000 days [essentially from conception until age 2—also the reason we are here].  It’s exhausting and I’m in bed nearly every night by 9p [unless there is a soccer match on—then I sacrifice for the greater good].

I’ve recently started doing Yoga again, every morning at 6:30am.  My last few months in America, I got sedentary, first sidelined by illness, then a lack of motivation.  A few of the other trainees go running; the last time I ran, I broke two bones so I’m starting with Yoga. I don’t want to have to be med-evac’ed before evening becoming an official volunteer.  The Kigali marathon is in May each year, and some of the trainees are training for that.  I’m focusing on the 10k that is also being held at the same time, and maybe next year, the half marathon [Small goals].

Previous and even current volunteers will tell you that PST is the worst.  The 6:30pm curfew. The 6 days a week of classes.  The language learning.  All of it, combined with the unfamiliar diet, the decrease in calories [especially protein], unfamiliarity of the culture, the inability to do simple things that we’ve all previously done before, having to rely on others for nearly everything, will produce some of the highest highs and lowest lows imaginable.  [I spent part of one afternoon crying in a latrine mostly due to lack of food but also being frustrated by the language, and despite several attempts, I. COULD. NOT STOP. Hopefully, this was a one-time meltdown.] And even now, with only four weeks complete, most of our group will say, ‘I cannot wait to be at site [wherever that may be]’.  However, we still have six weeks of training remaining until we can take the oath of service, hang out with the ambassador, pretend to be fancy, and be on our own.

I am one of those who anxiously await trading in the (T) for a (V) and finally becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.


Helpful Peace Corps Acronyms

Like many government organizations, the Peace Corps loves it’s acronyms, so in an attempt to clear things up here is a list of a few of them and their meanings  (also I try not to use them exclusively). I’ll update as I learn more:

 

COS: Close of Service / Completion of Service

ET: Early Termination (Leaving service early,  I.E. deciding to terminate service anytime sooner than the COS conference)

HNC: Host Country National

ICT: In-Country Training

IST: In-Service Training

Medevac: Medical Evacuation

NGO: Non-Governmental Organization

OMS: Office of Medical Services

PCMO: Peace Corps Medical Officer/Office

PDO: Pre-Departure Orientation

PCT: Peace Corps Trainee (PCV’s prior to Swearing In)–> what I am currently

PCV: Peace Corps Volunteer

PST: Pre-Service Training

RPCV: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

VATs: Volunteer Assistant Trainers (Volunteers who help train new volunteers/PCT’s during PST)

Other helpful non-acronyms terms

The HUB:  Where most of the PCT classes are held.  Additionally, we have language class in small groups at our instructors house.

Staging: When all the new PCT’s meet and receive their pre-departure orientation before flying out to their country of service. Typically lasts 24 to 48 hours.

Swearing in: This is when PCT’s become PCV’s! Happens at the very end of Pre-Service Training, this is when PCT’s agree to uphold the goals and standards of the Peace Corps.

Site: A PCV’s official community where they live and work for their 2 years of service.

 

June 24 2018

World Cup and Making Friends

I described the process of being matched up with host families as being puppies at the pound.

Imagine this:  You are placed in a room with about 50 people who you do not know, where everyone is speaking a language you do not know.  All you can do is listen for your name.  And when it is called, you meet up with the representative of the family who will raise you for the next 10 weeks.

I met my Mama, and her first words to me were ‘Parle vous francais’.  Sadly I answered ‘un peu’ and thus began the quiet weekend.

You see, this pairing up happened, for us, on Friday, after just two days in Rwanda, and a fledgling vocabulary consisting of ‘Hello, my name is… I am from America’  ‘Good Morning [evening]’ ‘Good Night’ ‘What is your name?’  I’ll admit to being terrified and saying, to myself, ‘what fresh hell have I engaged in now?’

As much as I want to be settled, I selected a few outfits, 5 days’ worth of underwear, two pairs of shoes, all my electronics, and my pillow. I left a lot of my things at the training center and was grateful that I did.  My Rwandan family’s house is small, and my room is much smaller than I am accustomed to, and even with my two small bags [think carry-on sized] of clothes and electronics, I have more material things than they do.  The Peace Corps’ gave us a 20L jerry-can, a 5L can of water, and rather large water filter.  Additionally, we received a bucket, a small cup, and a bottle of bleach. My goods were loaded in a Peace Corps’ truck, I climbed in after Mama, and then we left.  Approximately three minutes later, we arrived at my new house for the next 10 weeks.

Obviously not my house, but an actual view of the palm trees I can see from inside my house

The quiet weekend began as soon as I set foot in the house.  Having  exhausted my fledgling Kinyarwanadan vocabulary and not knowing any English, Mama and I didn’t talk.  I went about setting up my room, ripping the plastic off my brand new Peace Corps’ provided [twin] mattress, setting up my Peace Corps’ provided water filter, and trying to make my Spartan accommodations as homey as possible [it didn’t work].

After about an hour, I hear a knock on the door, and in accented English, I hear “Michelle, do you eat lice?”  Appreciating the English, but not the sentence, I remained silent. Another knock, “Michelle?”  I reluctantly opened the door.  Greeting me enthusiastically with ‘I am Deborah, your host sister.  Mama wants to know if you eat lice?’

It took a few seconds for me to reach back into the dark areas of my brain and remember that sometimes, English as a Second Language learners sometimes mix up Ls and Rs.  After remembering that, I replied, “Yes, I eat rice.”

With Deborah’s help, I learned that in Rwanda, I have a 25 year-old brother who live in Kigali [we’ve never met] and that she is Level 2 at the local school [I’m not sure what that means although there are six levels].  There is not Papa, and I know enough to ask, that when someone says someone is not here, don’t ask questions. [Although seeing as how Deborah is 14, it’s impossible that he died in the genocide that occurred in 1994].


The past two weeks of living with my host family has been challenging. Kinyarwanda is a difficult language with a lot of letter combination that my mouth isn’t used to making. While I can memorize words and may even know what someone is asking me, I lack the vocabulary to make a reply. I also lack the grammar skills to formulate my own questions so I rely on using the infinitive form of every verb along with helpers such as I like, I want, I need.  It makes me sound [and feel] like a somewhat illiterate 2 year old child.

The family eats foods much different than what I am used to eating, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as many vegetables in a two week period in my life.  [Although my new strategy of heavily complimenting any food that is remotely ‘American’ seems to be working; I’ve had spaghetti with tomato sauce twice] As a result and with the additional task of walking everywhere, I’ve lost about 10 pounds.  This is not a bad thing, and I have more pounds [kilograms?] to go, but it has resulted in none of my pants fitting me anymore.

I expressed my love for tomatoes and sauce on top of spaghetti noodles, and my prayers were answered

Chores are done differently.  I wash my clothes by hand with a bar of soap, and hang them on a clothesline to dry.  Cooking is done on a charcoal stove. Grocery shopping is done daily or at minimum every other day, and with a lack of refrigeration, left-overs are just re-boiled the next day.

Integration has been slow for me partly because of my introverted nature, partly because of my acute awareness of my fledgling Kinyarwanda, and partly because of the compactness of my host family.  I was thinking I have absolutely nothing in common with these people, and nothing to talk about, but last Wednesday when I inquired about maybe, possibly [ pretty plesase] watching the opening match of the world cup, I was greeted with an enthusiastic  ‘YEGO’.  You see, Mama is an avid soccer [football] fan, and she was worried that I, being American, wouldn’t be interested.  Sitting there in the small living room on Thursday night, huddled around the 13” old-school style TV, watching Russia vs Saudi Arabia with my Rwandan mama, I finally felt at home.

Mama engrossed in the latest soccer match. She even makes an exception to the ‘eat at the table’ rule during World Cup play.
June 17 2018

Being Lost

I’ve been trying to finish this post for a few months now. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much trying to put in my words how I feel about fear. But I’m going to try, let’s do this…

Does anyone else have an annoying voice in the back of their head that only appears when it wants to cause you doubt, discomfort, or most importantly, fear? Nope, just me then?Fabulous. Hearing voices [just one voice ya’ll, I promise] at an age where things shouldn’t bother me,  and publicly admitting it?

Even better.

You want to climb Mt. Kilaminjaro?

Voice in my head – you definitely can’t. You’re not strong enough and you’ll probably fall off it.

Want to go to the Middle East or visit Stan?

Voice in my head – who do you think you are? You’ll probably be murdered.

Think you’ll be a good Peace Corps Volunteer?

Voice in my head- You’ll be the first to leave

Dream of becoming a nurse practitioner?

Voice in my headyou’re a horrible nurse.  Why do you think someone would choose you to be their healthcare person? Why bother trying? GAH.

Thanks so much, voice in my head. I really appreciate the support.


I don’t really know how this happened, but somehow over the past few years, fear and doubt have crept into my life in a way that I have never experienced before. And you know what? It absolutely sucks.

I used to jump into everything life offered me with complete abandon. Now? not so much.

I’ve hiked trails that are 6 inches wide, climbed really sketchy mountain, and traveled even when I had literally no money to my name, knowing deep down that things always sorted themselves out in the end.And for the most part, they did.  And while I had plenty of terrible travel screw-ups over the years, things always worked out. I have always believed that fate smiles on those who take chances.

But what happens when you start to worry more and take less chances?

Oh crap.

But somewhere down the line, I started to become more afraid of things that never scared me before. Whether it was something physical that I now considered dangerous or going after a dream that seemed too impossible, fear has set up its own little pup tent in the back of my head and made itself at home.

 

Age, I imagine, is a key factor. Isn’t that what people are always saying? You grow more cautious as you grow older? Well, I reckon the journey to becoming fearful doesn’t matter as much as what the hell am I supposed to do now?

Seriously, WHAT?

Do I just warmly embrace my newly found caution and fear, or try and get over it? Or attempt to strike a healthy balance between the two. I like to think I’ve always been a curious person. I always want to see what’s around the corner, want to know why things are the way they are, and am eager to try new things. For the most part.

However, fear has decided to join the party and often now gets in the way of my bigger curiosities. I want to see what’s at the top of that mountain but I’m afraid I can’t get there so I don’t try. Or sometimes I’ll compromise and climb a smaller mountain.

Confession – I’ve become a bit of a wuss. I’m afraid every time I try something new. I find that I really have to force myself now to try new things.

Oh how many times have I beat myself up for not fitting in. For being off beat and goofy. I’ve known that I was a little bit different from an early age. I’ve always skirted the norms of polite society and cultural standards.  It’s even harder adapting to a culture that is not your own.

As I sitting here, reflecting on fear and how it plays a part in life, thoughts such as I’m not smart enough, brave enough, talented enough, experienced enough, skinny enough, young enough, ect. Enough is enough.

What I am is a creative, passionate, loyal, loving, empathetic person. A person intrigued by life, fascinated by philosophies, and curious enough about the world to go explore it. I am so much more than the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, and the size of my ass.

Fear is complicated. Obviously. And even more so when it brings along its friend self-doubt.

Fear will always be there. A healthy amount of fear keeps up from petting the black mamba. It’s not a question of becoming fearless but learning to accept that fear is there, it’s part of your life and it’s not going anywhere, but it should NEVER be in charge or have a say in making creative decisions.

It’s time to be brave, y’all.

At the same, I’d like to think that travel has helped me deal with fear. For example, there are some things that never occur to me could be scary that I do all the time because I’ve gotten so used to them traveling.

The obvious example to this is the fact that I travel the world alone. As a woman.

In fact, I think that’s something that truly surprises people and when I share that little tidbit to folks I meet on the road, I am often met with skepticism and the usual “wow aren’t you afraid?”

But I digress.


Every trip I took taught me something. Every screw up I have had has taught me a lesson. I suppose in a weird way it taught me confidence, not something I have in abundance, that’s for sure. But I am confident with my ability to travel.

I learned to deal with travel fears early on, and now I need to learn to deal with my other fears, mainly the fear that I am not physically capable of doing something I want, like a hard hike or rafting the Nile. But also how to deal with my fear that I won’t be able to go after my big creative dreams.

I think people who travel are inherently brave at heart. You pretty much have to be to step out into the unknown, right?

And if I were truly a wuss, would I have joined the Peace Corps?  Would I have gotten on the plane to Kigali? Would I have left behind everything I know for an extended period of time.  Probably not.

So perhaps, I’m just being hard on myself.

June 10 2018

What is a PCT?

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.

June 10 2018

Language Learning and Settling In

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.

Imagine this time 23 others and you’ll have some idea of how we looked as a group head through JFK airport.

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.

June 8 2018

Alive and Well

Yes, I am in fact, alive and well.  I’ve been in Rwanda for about a couple of days now, and I have lots to say. Unfortunately, a lack of Internet and computer/electricity access has made it difficult to communicate with those of you back home.  When I get the chance, I’ll actually post some updates about what I’ve all been doing so far, but for now, rest assured that I’m alive and healthy, and have yet to injure myself.

Feel free to call/text me!  Or write me or mail a package full of goodies, if you really want to spoil me!

 

I’d suggest going through Google or What’s App. I need wi-fi access for Facebook messenger and that’s a hot commodity.  All incoming calls/texts are free for me!!!  But for me to call you, well, it costs a lot…

June 2 2018

Last Night at the Hideaway

It’s Saturday night.  I’ve just work my last shift, and for now, I am alone. Blissfully alone.  I love my friends, I do, but as an introvert, being around people is exhausting, and tonight, tonight, I am blissfully alone.  Tomorrow night, I will say good-bye to even more friends.  And to my kitty cats. But tonight, tonight I am alone.  Just me, Lucy, and Molly in the hideaway. On my last night at the hideaway, I watched the series finale of  The Americans, my favorite TV show over the last six years.  How fitting that the series ended just prior to my departure.  Lucy, Molly and I curled up on the couch watching my favorite Russian spies.  So many things are going to change in the next week, the next month, the next year.  In the words of my favorite characters, “I’ll adjust.’
“I worry if I’ll ever learn Kinyarwandan.  If I’ll ever learn to cook without the use of a microwave. If I’ll learn to ‘live’ without the luxuries I’ve become accustomed to having. If I’ll make friends.  If the people in the village I get assigned to will  accept me.  If I will do any good.  People say to write down your expectations of what your Peace Corps’ Service will be like, then crumple up that sheet of paper and throw it away.
 

I’m going to miss this girl more than I should

I have never regretted my decision to serve in the Peace Corps. I first heard of it in high school. I met a middle aged man who’s name I’ve forgotten. He was unemployed, staying in a homeless shelter, and lived with disabilities. He confessed that if he could play his cards all over again, he’d absolutely do this one thing: Peace Corps. The idea stuck with me, as well as the concept that I had more privileges than others, and the idea that I had a moral obligation to use my privilege to lessen the suffering of others.  And at this stage of life, I have the skills to do so.

Two years is a long time, but yet, it’s not. Life will go on in America; just as it will in Rwanda whether I am there or not. I applied to the Peace Corps in September 2016. I was invited to serve in July 2017, and I  depart for Rwanda in  2018.  Nearly two years have already passed.  The relationships we make in life is all that we have.

May 26 2018

Saying my good-byes

Fact: good-byes are the worst.

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*.

Ice cream is always a good idea

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.

I went hiking on the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee in May.  It was an awesome spur-of-the-moment hike.
Concerts on the lawn with friends
Took the little people to the zoo
Went hiking in the cold with the little people… they were troopers
We had much nicer weather on Spring Break
And then I hiked the Foothills Trail all by myself
And I got to see an amazing sunrise on top of Jellico Mountain, Tennessee

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.

Enjoyed some picture perfect days
Made a Lucy-approved walkway out of patio pavers
Planted some flowers–hopefully they will establish roots and still be thriving when I return

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.

May 19 2018

Until we meet again

A lot of Peace Corps’ Volunteers post photos and /or videos about their Peace Corps’ homes–and I plan to do that as well.  But this one is a little different.  While I’ve still got a few more days until I depart for Rwanda, I wanted to celebrate my new home, and what I hope will be my home for many years.

 

I acquired this house in October 2017.  At the time it became available, I had already been in the Peace Corps’ application/clearance process for a year. So while I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be joining, I’d already been through a lot of the steps.

When I moved in it look like 1990 made a pit stop and never left.  The walls were cranberry-colored and they had put wallpaper on the cabinet doors. The oven/stove combo dated back to 1970.

Wall-papered cabinets? Not the best design decision

One of the first things that happened was a new metal roof.  While a new roof was needed, the decision to go with metal was my own.

Next up, was a lot of wallpaper removal and painting.  And patching holes.  And more painting.  I got my ‘Africa’ room done first.  It needed the least amount of surface prep so it was relatively quick to paint the accent wall ‘Moroccan Red, and the other walls ‘Ethiopia’.  With curtains hung and furniture from my previous living space, this room served as my bedroom for the first few months.  It’s the smallest of the three bedroom, and now functions as a guest room… you know, should anybody living more than 50 miles away visit.

In the beginning… Wallpaper removal. Cranberry walls

Then I worked on my ‘office’.  While I don’t do a lot in here, I do have my big, comfy chair, and my desk in here. I’ve since added a bookcase and a long dresser.  I have a TV/DVD which is almost never used, but this is where I come to study [file papers, scrapbook, ect…].  My favorite wall is the checkerboard wall in orange and white representing The University of Tennessee.  I also have my college diplomas hanging in here as well.

The Checkerboard Wall… a mighty pain to paint that, but it looks spectacular now

The living room and kitchen/dining room took a lot of time.  The walls are mostly veneer paneling that I’ve painted over.  When I do my major remodel post Peace Corps, walls are being moved and it’s all becoming drywall, but for now I went with a blue accent wall [Caribbean Blue] and a moody gray [London Fog]. I’m using a muted orange as an accent in the living room.

Travel Wall!
Muted orange couch and curtain. Black kitty cats fit in nicely.

For the kitchen, I went with a more neutral shade of gray, concrete counter tops dyed black, a 3D aluminum splash back, and a muted gray subway tile in the dining room and counter top I created next to the oven.  Around Thanksgiving/Christmas, I got new appliances [stove/oven combo, dishwasher, refrigerator] in a slate finish.  I painted all the upper cabinets bright white and lower ones gray.  I finished the look with a industrial knob pull on all the cabinet doors.

First meal cooked in the new oven: baked spaghetti
New oven, gray walls, industrial-style door pulls, and wall decorations
Black concrete, aluminium splash-back

My bedroom is green with brown accents and the bathroom is a hot mess of mis-design that I can’t even deal with until I knock walls down and do a re-design, but at least I have a shower, a working toilet, and a bathtub should I feel compelled to use it

I’m most proud of the walkway and flower beds I added in the time from the original Madagascar departure until the current Rwanda departure.

I’ve got big plans for the back yard space including a screened in porch off the bedroom, adding a breakfast nook off the kitchen, and creating a ground-level patio and fire pit.

The house itself is pretty modest by American standards, but most impressive by world standards.  I’m not exactly sure what my living situation will be in Rwanda, but I am guessing Lucy and Molly will have a higher standard of living that I will.

May 12 2018

Packing for Peace Corps | Rwanda

 

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:

Item:

Rationale:

Verdict:


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.


Money

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

  • Items:
    • 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:  BrasI 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.
  • Item: Additional clothing:  Yoga pants x1, mesh basketball shorts x1
  • 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.
  • Item:  Swimsuit
  • 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.

Kitchen/household:

  • 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
  • Item:  Grater
  • 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.
  • Item:  Spices
  • 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.
  • Item:  Seeds
  • 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.


  • Item:  Sheets
  • 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
  • Item:  Towels
  • 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.
  • Item:  Down blanket
  • 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.

Office/school/work supplies:

  • 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.
  • Item:  Pens
  • 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. 

Electronics:  

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.

  • Item: Laptop
  • Rationale:  I use it everyday at home
  • Verdict:  I’m glad I have it even though I don’t use it every day
  • Item: External Hard Drive x2. One is a 1TB drive, and the other is a 2 TB.
  • Rationale:  I take a lot of pictures and watch a lot of movies.  Also there’s no such thing as ‘too much storage’
  • Verdict:  One connection cable has already started not connecting so I’m glad I have the other one  that also has some media on it.
  • Item: Kindle
  • Rationale: E-reading is not my favorite thing, but weight restrictions prevent me from bringing an entire physical library.
  • Verdict: I sometimes read a book a day and this has been a life [and mind] saver.  Also you can trade files with others. I now have nearly 30,000 e-books.
  • Item: Camera
  • 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
  • Item: iphone
  • 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
  • Item:  Headphones
  • 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

Toiletries:

  • Item:  Makeup
  • 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.
  • Item: Deodorant
  • 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.
  • Item:  Shampoo/conditioner
  • 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.
  • Item: Chapstick
  • 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. 

Personal/miscellaneous:

  • Item:  Multi-vitamins
  • 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.