I received my nomination to Madagascar in July 2017, moved from the apartment I was living in to the house I now own in October/November 2017, didn’t board the plane to Madagascar in February 2018, re-evaluated the suitcase now headed for Rwanda in May 2018. The suitcase[s] were packed and re-pack 3 times before I even left the US, but the question is, did I do a good job packing? Did I pack the right things? Is there something I wish I had packed but didn’t? Is there enough clothing, or too much? Is my kitchen too ‘extra’ or just ‘extra enough? Let’s see
Let’s start with the bags. I have so.many.bags. It’s unreal. My big green duffel bag’s handle broke during one of the many transfers during PST. It’s now used as a bedside table. The main compartment has stuff left here by the previous volunteer [think mosquito net and some clothes] + clothes that no longer fit me nor can I make them work. I’m using the small pocket on the top at a drawer of sorts where I keep my Vaseline, nail maintenance tools, and my battery operated foot scrubber. I’ve used the larger outer pocket as sort of a trash collector. I gathered so many papers/books, ect during PST that I don’t/won’t use anymore, and I hate the idea of burning trash so I jsut put it there. Out of site, out of mind.
The Osperey Backpack and REI backpack were solid choice which are now empty, hanging on the wall waiting patiently to be put to use again.
Another volunteer and I bought a Target suitcase set the day before leaving [and some clothes], and I have the carry-one size suitcase. The bag is fully packed waiting on its return trip to America in February. It will bring back a lot of things to America that I don’t need, and will bring to Rwanda a lot of things I do need [mainly food items]. I’m also taking home a few things for a fellow PCV that he will pick up upon his return to American.
My checkered tote bag served its purpose in getting my electronics here, but now sits lonely under a table. I almost always use my backpack for quick trips around town and going to the market for the sole reason that I can carry my backpack on my back.
My leather purse will be going back to America. It has literally been used once.
My daily backpack was packed in side another bag. I use this bag the most and honestly it probably won’t make it the two years. I also used this bag for my entire nursing program and paid less than $20 for it in 2014 so I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it.
I have a small canvas bag that I use for my weekly market trips. I bought it at Primark for about 10 Euros in 2012/2013 that is serving it’s purpose well, and I won’t be taking it back to the US
I have acquired two more bags since arriving in Rwanda [I know. I have a problem] One’s a padded tote and the other is more like a small cross body purse. Currently they are serving as wall decoration. I bought them more for souvenirs than anything, but the padded tote will house my computer [if it survives that long] and my camera when I COS.
The green Osprey bag is going back to America and not returning to Rwanda. I plan to have my orange backpack + the padded tote and small fabric purse as the only bags when I leave. The rest are staying in Rwanda and I really don’t care what happens to them.
Clothing [I have lost nearly 25 pounds in the first 5 months so a lot of my clothing is comically large now]
In the terms of every day life, I didn’t pack a ton of clothes. In PC-land, I have way too much clothing.
To revisit I had the following:
- Fleece pull-over x1. YES, I could probably use another. My plan is to completely wear this out.
- Lightweight rain coat. YES. I use it for wind and rain. And moto rides.
- Cardigan x3. Three is too many. I’m taking the black one home [it’s the best quality, and I do like wearing them]; the other two I’ll wear while in Rwanda, but aren’t making the cut back to America.
- Blouses x5. I brought them because PC says we need business casual clothing. I’ve worn 3 of the 5. The nicest of the bunch is returning to America when I visit. 2 will be left behind in Rwanda, and 2 [may] make it in the POST-COS wardrobe.
- T-shirts x5. YES. Plus I’ll be bringing more when I return to Rwanda… Plain colorful T-shirts. I doubt these will make it back to the US as I wear them everyday and hand washing isn’t kind to clothing. But they are relatively inexpensive at Target, which is where all of these came from.
- Hoodie x2. One is returning to the US because it’s too nice for village life, and the other one won’t last/make the trip home. I fully expect it to be in threads two years from now.
- Flannel Shirt. MEH. I wear it occasionally. It won’t be returning to the US.
- Other miscellaneous shirts x3. Just NO.
- Pants x 12. This is INSANE. 6 will probably be too many. To be fair, I didn’t pack 12 pairs of pant, but due to care packages and shopping, I now HAVE 12 pairs of pants [most of which are too big, but I still wear them] The jeans I wore to Philadelphia are way too big and I never wear them anymore. I wore them a lot in PST, so I don’t feel too bad. I have another pair of jeans that were too small when I left for PST, but now fit. I brought one pair of scrub pants, and had 3 other pairs arrive in care packages. 2 gray, 1 black, and 1 blue. The original gray and blue pants now look like clown pants on me. They won’t be returning to America. I bought 2 pairs of pants at Target prior to leaving. One is too big for a belt and the others I wear sparingly. [They are heavy weight brown cargo pants and washing them is a bitch]. I have 2 other pair of brown/khaki pants + 3 pair of gray/stone pair of pants. My plan is to alternate between two pair of pants, hopefully wearing them out [literally… My favorites always break down in the thigh area]. For COS, I want to be down to no more than 3 pairs of pants [possibly khaki/gray only]. I’m hoping to wear the scrubs out even though I love the quick wash/dry capabilities of them.
- Skirts x4– I brought 2 –one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue, and have had 2 made. I’m planning to bring at most 2 back with me.
- Socks and underwear x a lot… seriously I think I have close to 40 pairs of underwear and 20 pairs of socks SERIOUSLY! A lot of the socks are returning to the US since I only wear wool socks or sandals. I have 12 pairs of underwear in rotation. During training, I took out 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and used those exclusively. Once I moved in to my house, I took another 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and put them in rotation… so now I have 12 pairs of underwear and 8 pair of socks in rotation. At the 8,16, 24 month mark, I will remove the too worn items and replace as necessary. In reserve I have 5 pairs of underwear and 3 pair of socks for my COS trip. I have found that the cotton ones have a much shorter lifespan that the quick-dry kind.
- Bras. I have 3 sports bras and 4 regular bras. One of the sports bras is now too big [Yes, I’m losing weight there too]. I fully expect to be down to 2 or 3 at the end of 2 years
- Shoes—I brought 5 pair; 2 are returning to the USA, and it their place, I will be adding my hiking boots and another pair of shower/house flops, and possibly my tennis shoes. One pair I brought just for swear in, another pair isn’t practical, and I don’t think the slide ons will last two years, and I HATE shoes that go between my toes [which are readily available here].
- Additional clothing: Yoga pants x2, mesh basketball shorts x2… One of each would suffice… Swimsuit not used regularly but glad to have it
I didn’t pack a lot of house things since I knew I’d be living with a host family the first three months. Instead I packed a box, and shipped it to me the day before I left. In retrospect this was one of the better decisions I made concerning packing. Things inside the box included:
- Set of knives
- Measuring cups/spoons
- vegetable peeler
- can opener
- Stainless steel mug
- Assorted spices
- A few zip lock bags
- A head lamp
- Snacks [tuna, peanut butter, hard candy, clif bars…]
Each of these things was worth the space and cost of sending myself the box.
- Two sets of sheets [one used in PST, the other not used] Fun fact: I brought twin and full sized sheets. While I did use the twin in PST, the bed I have at my site is essentially a queen. I had to buy sheet anyway.
- I quilt/comforter. YES. It was so heavy in the bag, but every day since breaking it out, I’m glad I have it. It’s warm, and I like the color.
- 2 pillows from home. YES. Annoying in transit, but I’m so grateful to have a ‘real’ pillow.
- down blanket and travel pillow YES. I use these when I visit other PCT. It’s nice to be comfy when outside my home environment
- Toiletries. YES. It’s nice to have brands my skin is familiar with in an environment that’s not familiar. Leave the make-up at home, but bring quality skin care products. And lotion. Lots of lotion.
- Meds. YES. PC does give an adequately stocked med kit, but it’s also nice to have some things of my own because the last thing I want to do is make an hour long trek to the bus station to pick up medicine when I’m feeling sick. I use the PC med refills for things like insect repellent, condoms, lip balm, tampons, and malaria med. Everything else I use my own supplies
- Quick Dry Towel–Meh. I rarely use it, but will on my post COS trip.
- Decor–I brought 3 flags, USA, SC, and University of Tennessee plus some photos/cards of/from friends back home. These are comfort things I’m glad to have but are not at all necessary. I’ve also used ikitenge fabric to decorate the walls
- Curtains–Totally not necessary, but I’m glad to have them
I am over all happy with the household things I have, and the only thing I wish I had was a water bottle. How I overlooked this is beyond me.
- Laptop FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, YES. Bring a laptop. It doesn’t matter what kind, but have one. I fully expect this one to not last the entire time, but it makes doing PC reports much easier. Blogging is MUCH easier from a laptop.
- External Hard Drive x2. One is a 1TB drive, and the other is a 2 TB. YES. One quit working so I;m glad to have the other one.
- Kindle… Meh. I’ve read all the books on my Kindle, but I have an app on the laptop that allows for e-reading. The Kindle is going back to the US
- Camera. Yes, but not unequivocally yes I don’t like taking pictures of people so it hasn’t gotten much use yet, but I do plan to use it more when I travel. My smaller camera is returning to the US because I never use it. I have a tiny action camera [think Go Pro knock off], plus my iphone [which I use mainly for music since its not 4g capable], and my cell phone. I have enough cameras
- Flash drives x2 32GB each Meh. They are small so they don’t take up much space, but I haven’t used them yet
- iphone I was hoping to use this as my phone but since its an older iphone its not 4G capable and the only service I get in 4G so I had to buy a Rwandan phone, but I love using it as an Ipod
- External speaker–it quit working after about a month, or more accurately it works, there’s just a lot of static when I use it
- Headphones x4 I have yet to use them so why I though I needed 4 pair is beyond me. They will return to the US and I’ll use them at the gym.
- USB charger YES. You never know about the electrical grid in the rural villages
- Flashlight and headlamp YES my kitchen doesn’t have electricity so I either have to eat at 5p or use my headlamp to cook
- Rechargeable batteries Absolutely
- Outlet adapters one or two should suffice; I brought 10! of the 2 pin kind [like used in Europe] which is what I need for Rwanda, but apparently places like South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya use different ones.
- Power strip I brought it because I had it, but these are widely available in Rwanda
You will hear people say this, and if you are anything like me, you won’t believe it, but here goes anyway: Pack half the clothing and double the snacks of the original packing plan. I legitimately wear the same clothing All.The.Time. 4 pairs of pants would have been sufficient. Maybe 6 or 7 shirts. In a country like Rwanda, villagers wear the same clothing all the time so it’s not weird if you do to.