Hello Dear Readers,
As the cosmos blanket the Lesotho rangeland I realized that it has been a year now since our last review of the things we packed for Peace Corps, and we thought that since the new Healthy Youth volunteers are probably in full gear spending all of their hard-earned savings outfitting themselves for 27 months in Lesotho, it would be a good time to re-visit our gear review and see how everything has held up to the test of PC service– enjoy! Sorry friends and family, I’m sure this topic is a bit un-exciting for all of you, but it was one of our most-read posts last year…
For PC Invitees, this is super-long, I hope it is helpful, read it all or not, but I did try to break it into categories to make it easier.
Shane and I both grew up in Montana, a relatively colder climate than Lesotho so we have previously been used to dressing for cold weather. It is a bit different here, in that there isn’t really any relief from the cold in the winter like there is back home, often inside the buildings are colder than outside. That being said, the coldest we’ve seen it get is about 30ºF, but that was also in our house… we’ve also seen several feet of snow a couple of times during our service. The best way that we’ve both found to cope with the cold is to have really versatile layers. In that way we are able to cope with the ever-changing weather of the highlands – summer or winter, but also it is nice to have both summer clothes and winter clothes be a bit universal.
We recently went to Durban and found some really great deals on clothes, this led me to two realizations: it may have been better for us to save some of our money to fill in what we need once we get here, as it is not in fact a complete wasteland of consumer products, especially in Durban where we found some great stuff for much cheaper than in the US. I also realized that a lot of the super-practical outdoorsy clothes and skirts and dresses haven’t been making me feel good about how I look. The Basotho place a lot of pride in how they dress and they often remark when I am dressed better than other days. I realized how much I missed wearing my jeans and T-shirts like I did back home, and though I love and need super-functional clothes here that are quick-dry (especially in winter) and super durable to stand up to handwashing in a bucket every week for more than 2 years (some fabrics like those super-soft viscose-cottony shirts, pill like crazy after just a few washings), I also need clothes that I feel good about myself in – because it is actually very important for my well-being and reflects also how others see me. Another thing is that coming from working in Agriculture where T-shirt and jeans is the standard uniform, I have had to dress in conventional “professional wear” here, more than ever-before. We are not allowed to wear jeans for Peace Corps trainings, or even in the office, I have also attended several meetings with WFP at the country office, so it has been nice to have some items that can be dressed up a bit more for things like that – this includes shoes. Don’t forget that you will be going on vacation, so, on vacation there is more freedom to wear anything from shorts on beaches to dressy clothes at nice restaurants, theater, cruise gala night…
It is really hard to say where you’ll be living and what kind of work you will be doing, there is a big difference between how people dress in the villages of the highlands versus the camptowns of the lowlands, professional jobs and more spread out community work that requires tons of time working and walking outside, so a variety of flexible clothes that are comfortable, durable and that you feel good in style-wise is a good bet.
I remember being a bit obsessed about colors before we came, on one hand people tend to think of “African colors” being the bold bright colors of west Africa,
isn’t like that. Before we
came, I did read that the bright colors weren’t the norm here, and we ended up
bringing loads of black, grey and brown so we didn’t stand out. The truth is,
is that the color scheme of typical Basotho clothing, is pretty normal in terms
of the colors that people wear in the states, at the same time, I remember that
a few of the high-tech outerwear tends to be in neon-ish colors – I am happy
that I went with more neutral stuff for those things. Lesotho
We did a pretty good job really looking around, pricing things, trying to find sales, and taking advantage of as many of the Pro-deals that are posted on the Peace Corps wiki, this, for us, was worth the time and effort that it took – especially because getting gear for both of us ended up being a bit pricey. It has been really nice to have a few super-high-quality items, especially in the lightweight warmth and quickdry materials, because those things are hard to find here. A lot of what is available here is stuff like you can find at Old Navy or maybe JCPenny’s, if you want to spring for something higher end. Also, you likely won’t have a lot of freedom during training, so it is good to come equipped with all of the things needed for those 3 months.
Carol – I did not bring enough shirts with me, especially for the layering that I’ve found has been necessary, but my favorites have been a mostly-bamboo fabric embellished tank-top from Countourwear, a quick-dry pointelle T-shirt from Exofficio (that I bought used about 4 years ago and it still is no worse for the wear!), a light-weight merino wool T-shirt by North Face, another light-weight merino wool shirt by Patagonia that is long-sleeved and is nice to dress up, another longsleeved shirt that I use often is by REI and is the sun-protecting-vented variety though it isn’t the best to look beautiful in. Basic cotton tank tops have been great, along with a few cotton T-shirts, again – great for layering or wearing alone in both summer and winter (and can be bought here).
Shane-has really been in love with his long-sleeved button-up outdoorsy shirts with sun-protection and back venting. He has a few in slightly different styles and colors, brand being White Sierra as this was a reasonably priced brand that actually fit him but
Mountain Hardwear and Exofficio had nice options as well. He also has some
different colored cotton T-shirts both to wear alone and as undershirts. Colombia
Carol- While doing all of our pre-PC research, Peace Corps kept hammering home that women in Lesotho must wear dresses and skirts though this is true to a certain extent, it is acceptable for women to wear “trousers” especially younger women, in the winter, and if they are nicer pants. I am quite firmly a believer in wearing pants, in The States I only wore not-pants for weddings. Unfortunately, I followed Peace Corps directives and brought mostly skirts and dresses. I did bring my pair of grey Khul brand pants that snap up into capris, they’ve been great and I’ve worn them probably twice a week now for the last 2 years doing anything from Peace Corps workshops, to going to the field with WFP, or riding public taxis – they have withstood all of this quite well but recently they are really starting to show fading from the sun and the back-side looks like it might give way in the near future (a unnaturally common phenomenon with PCV pants). I also brought a pair of North Face “tourist pants” like any good traveler or aid worker, they are the durable, quick-dry material and they roll up into capris and also zip off into ugly longer shorts, I don’t wear those quite as much because they really do look overly practical and touristy, but I’ve still gotten a ton of use out of them, love the versatility and they have withstood bi-weekly handwashing outstandingly and in the winter, they are one of the first things to dry (only taking one or two cool, winter days). I also brought a pair of Adventura capris that roll up into long shorts, these have also been nice, especially on vacation – though I wish I would have brought one or two more pairs of my favorite, nice looking capris, because they are really nice for summer. Grown women do not wear shorts here, I occasionally wear my shorts around the house or on vacation, but capris are OK. I inherited a pair of khakis and black dress pants last year when the last group left and I wear both of those all of the time, again, great to dress up or down. I’m not sure if you can even find gauchos in The States anymore but I also inherited a pair of those and I really love them, they are still pants but they look like a skirt- best of both worlds in my preference and cultural ideals, and they are amazingly comfortable! I didn’t bring any jeans because I thought that washing them in a bucket would be a pain and that they would dry really slowly, both things are true – however, in Durban I just bought a pair of skinny jeans and when I put them on, I felt so comfortable and so much more like myself, I didn’t even realize how much I had missed wearing a really great pair of jeans. In any case, don’t forget to bring a belt, both because it looks nicer and because it is likely that your weight will fluctuate in one direction or another while here.
Shane – Has a battle every time he tries to buy pants because he is tall and has a smaller waist size. He had previously had luck with Columbia but the pair he brought blew out in the backside within the first year, he has taken them to the seamstress for patching and has been able to wear them as work pants since then. He also bought a nice pair of Arcteryx pants gently used and worn in The States as well, they lasted about a year and a half before they had to go to the seamstress. His favorites/most durable have been a pair from
Patagonia in a quicker-dry/techy fabric. Another pair
that have lasted, are of that same kind of fabric by Roscoe that were made for
rock-climbing and snap up into man-pris. He also has picked up a pair of jeans
here and nice dress trousers as part of a suit. Men tend to drop a bit of
weight in PC so, his belt has also come in handy despite really trying to not
only maintain but, gain weight.
Skirts and Dresses – Again, though I try to get out of wearing skirts and dresses as much as possible, Basotho women do primarily wear them, especially in the summer and especially in the rural areas and especially older and married women. Skirts and dresses should be at least knee length and me, being a married woman, am not supposed to expose the back of my knee at the risk of offending my father-in-law! I am really happy that I brought my two Patagonia dresses in different colors and styles, both I bought gently used and they have withstood wear and hand-washing very well and I have worn them for everything from the WFP staff retreat to wine-tasting in Stellenbosch and hiking in Sethlabathebe National Park. I brought a convertible dress made by North Face that does both a cute dress and a longer skirt, and it has a zippered pocket – which is possibly its greatest feature, this dress has held up well to hand washing and is still in very good condition after its hard life in Lesotho. I brought Eddie Bauer’s classic black travel skirt, this has also been really versatile, dressing up and down, a great length and it is super comfy, unfortunately because I’ve worn it usually once a week for the last two years, it is starting to become a bit threadbare, though I’m sure it will continue to look good for the rest of my service. I also brought a wool pencil skirt, I picked it up second hand as part of a wool suit several years ago and it has been really nice for winter and has held up really solidly though it is not as versatile as most of my other stuff, it is really nice to have in the winter. I had a polyester skirt, but it died in training after I melted it on the gas heater – don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Swimwear – bring it, you may or may not swim in
you will definitely swim on vacation. Most Basotho don’t swim so I’m not sure
about what is the “norm” in the way of Basotho swimwear. Lesotho
Sweaters – Shane almost never wears sweaters, he’s got a few long-sleeved cotton thermals, and he often wears his coat, even inside. I wear sweaters a lot. Whether it is a cotton-athleticy-zip-up hood thing over a tank top, or my light-weight wool (surprise) Patagonia cardigan that is ¾ sleeve and grey- I usually wear at least three times a week, all year ‘round, over almost anything. This cardigan was pretty spendy, and I’m still not sure if it was worth $60, I do wear it all of the time, but it is starting to show signs from all of the wear in both a small tear under the arm and some stretching in the sleeves. I have another merino wool sweater by JCrew that is a bit heavier that I’m happy I brought, it is not a design I would wear in The States, but it is OK enough for here. All of my sweaters either button, or zip up and I’m really happy about that, it makes layering easier, they are nicer to throw over other things like my sleeveless dresses if it is cold or because it isn’t really OK to wear sleeveless here.
Baselayers – First Ascent, Cuddle Dudds, silk long johns, and Smartwool, Smartwool, Smartwool! It gets quite relentlessly cold and again, layering, and more layering. My Smartwool baselayer I can wear as a tight sweater over top of other layers or under other things as the baselayer it is supposed to be, it is mid-weight and I bought it used in The States and it has held up splendidly here and I really do live in it in the winter, often putting my larger, Patagonia baselayer over top of it!
Chillaxing Clothes- Don’t underestimate the importance of this category! It is not uncommon to spend a rainy Sunday, inside with a book and a very important part of that is being equipped with the right clothes. I brought a pair of microfleece pants from Cabellas and in the winter, I usually put them on right when I get home, almost every night. They are also good for chilly summer nights, or when I’ve come home drenched from walking in the rain, it is really unbeatably great to put on something soft and warm. The Basotho women can be seen to exclusively wear fleece tracksuits in the winter, at home or not. I just saw a PJ cardigan from Eddie Bauer that I truly wish I had here, I’m missing a big, soft, snuggly winter sweater like that and it looks like it would be good enough to wear as a regular cardi… I heard one PCV brought a Snuggie, he may be genious. Also, I’m really happy I brought a robe, though I wish I would have bought a big fluffy one right when we arrived. Coming out of a bucket bath on a cold winter day, there is nothing like putting on a comfy and warm robe. PJs are available here and decent ones are a good idea when staying with other volunteers. Keep in mind that, though it is cold more often, sometimes it gets really hot, a few weekends this summer I was really happy wearing only my sarong as a dress while hanging out at home over Christmas.
Athletic Clothes- Available here to some extent, and definitely nice to have, be it for running, yoga or, like in Shane’s case, his martial arts Gi. Shane also just bought a pair of Vibram 5-finger shoes for lifting and martial arts and has been super happy with them, though they would not likely last very long on the rugged terrain in our town.
Under-stuff – I’m just going to say that Basotho women have very, very different proportions than I do, this translates to that I have not been able to buy under-things here, also they are a bit more expensive than in The States. I brought some great boyshorts from First Ascent and my collection of Vickies things that have actually held up decently, but I begged my mom to send me more about 4 months ago – and it was one of the most dearly needed care package items I’ve received! As a guideline, bring all of the under-things you think you’ll need in 2 years and then double it- you won’t regret it, handwashing wrecks havoc on these – eg: elastic just doesn’t hold up. I’m also going to put tights and leggings in this section. Tights, leggings, etc… are available here, but if you have preferences or favorites, especially if you wear a lot of skirts it is good to bring several pairs in different colors and lengths. I brought 2 pair of Smartwool tights that have been warm and pretty great, while the heavier cotton tights lost their elasticity almost immediately (from hanging on the line??) Men’s things are available, a bit spendy but not too big of a deal, though, if there are significant preferences it is better to bring what you need.
Shane – black REI brand shell, fitted, nicely waterproof and seam-sealed with pit-zip vents, he loves this and wears it almost all the time, including inside. In the winter he can layer it with his blue Exofficio synthetic fill puffy layer, that is regrettably not even water resistant but does roll up into a really amazing travel pillow – this is a really successful combo.
Carol- Olive green REI brand shell in a different style than Shane’s, is a bit big and not fitted at all, like Shane’s has some cool hidden pockets that are useful, but I don’t love it because it is bulky to carry around all of the time in case of rain and looks very frumpy, it is great functionally though, and it fits well over top of my black, lightweight polyfill, water resistant jacket by Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent line which I love for its fit, lightweight warmth and the fact that the sleeves Velcro at the wrists and there is a drawcord to cinch up the bottom from drafts, there is also a hood. I’ve never tried anything by First Ascent before coming to Peace Corps but I’ve been really happy with it.
We also brought a pair of waterproof pants that I think are snowboard pants, but not heavy-weight. We share them and love them because of how often we end up walking in the rain, even snow or just a little something extra against the cold.
Hats, scarves, gloves – all definite musts. I wish I would have brought a “cuter” sun hat, the elevation here makes the sun feel like it is searing your skin, so it is really nice to have one or two sun hats – I’ve got one that looks very “African safari practical” which is nice sometimes, but it would be nice to have a cuter and crushable one. I brought two cute winter hats, one of them is a super warm, great-fitting hat by Turtle Fur that I love. The Bo ‘M’e always complement my great-grandmother’s crocheted hat from the 1920’s. I had a nice collection of Pashmina scarves that I left all of them in The States, which I kind of regret, but my Mom knitted me a nice warm winter scarf that I almost never take off in the winter, in addition to the handwoven mohair scarf that I got at the Leribe craft center. We both brought Balkavas, we haven’t really worn them, though they are standard apparel for the herd boys.
We’ve got some nice warm gloves (Thanks Auntie Joan!), but we haven’t needed the super-warm snowboarding type gloves like at home, what I have needed are gloves that can be worn inside while I’m trying to work on the computer, read or write. A good umbrella has also been really handy.
We’ve got some nice warm gloves (Thanks Auntie Joan!), but we haven’t needed the super-warm snowboarding type gloves like at home, what I have needed are gloves that can be worn inside while I’m trying to work on the computer, read or write. A good umbrella has also been really handy.
This is a pretty important part of life in Lesotho/PC, Basotho really value good footwear and will often look at people’s feet as a judge of how “rich” you are. Someone (not a PCV) in our training village actually got beat up and his shoes stolen! Basotho wear everything from fancy stilettos, to hardcore Caterpillar brand boots, to bedroom slippers (yes, out and around). Many volunteers end up walking a lot, so shoes are important. It is a bit tricky, especially I think for us gals to balance practicality with something that looks good with dresses, and not having the shoes take up half of the space in your luggage. I’ve seen some volunteers with Tom’s which are nice because of how versatile they are, but they don’t seem to hold up very well to such heavy use. Cheap ballerina-style flats are really available here for reasonable prices if you like wearing those.
Boots – We each brought hiking boots, Shane’s are Osolo and he really loves them for heavy duty stuff, they are hardcore, waterproof and by some people’s opinions, the best hiking boots ever. Mine are Keen brand and I really like them and wear them a lot, they’ve held up pretty well, they are mostly waterproof and I got them for a great price with Keen’s pro-deal for PCVs. They are warm enough in the winter with wool socks, but don’t roast my feet in summer. Some PCVs brought rubber rain boots, which you can buy (even pretty ones) here. One volunteer brought Boggs, those, I’m a bit jealous of! Nice, black, calf-length boots are really commonly worn by women in the winter and are pretty versatile, if a bit bulky and they are warmer.
Shoes – Shane brought his Mizuna running shoes that are by now getting pretty worn out because he wore them quite a bit in The States beforehand, but they have held up pretty well. I brought a pair of Merrel walking shoes that have fallen apart fairly completely by now, and they have a bit of a narrow footbed that can provoke ankle rolling on the rough terrain. I pretty much killed these my first year and have moved on to primarily wearing my boots.
Sandals – Shane went with Merrel sport sandals and wears them all of the time, at one point the leather on one part came loose from the bottom, but he was able to take it to a local cobbler who fixed it up so that he hasn’t had any more problems. He’s also bought a pair of flip-flops since being here, good for wearing around the house and taking to hostels for sketchy communal showers. Unfortunately, his larger feet aren’t a very common size, so any other kind of shoe would have been challenging to get here in
I (Carol) have a pair of Keen sport
sandals, the kind that are a bit more shoe-like than Keen’s normal ones, I
really like them, they are super-functional and have held up pretty well but
they don’t look super-amazing with a dress. I also have a pair of flip-flops. Lesotho
Dress shoes – Shane – did not bring dress shoes and on the few occasions that he would have worn them, he really missed them. Carol brought some fairly conservative dress shoes, and they have been pretty good, they look conservative and are still not quite practical enough to walk moderate distances over rocky paths. Stylish heels are available here, and also flats and sandals, but a solid versatile shoe that really can be dressed up or down is a good bet.
Slippers- These are a must! (Thanks Kara and Trey!)
Socks – Wool and cotton socks are nice for winter and summer respectively, cheap socks are available here, but we’ve really enjoyed our light and midweight wool socks, from Smartwool, Keen, Costco and REI (Thanks Mom!). Again, these are something that will be handwashed quite frequently.
Backpacks – We each packed with a large multi-day camping backpack (no real name brands here, but Shane’s is made out of recycled plastic bottles), one hand luggage, one “purse,” and our mid-sized backpacks. This was great because (it sucked) but we could actually carry it all ourselves. The mid-sized backpacks, we used all of the time when we were in college, they’ve been traveling with us and camping with us, and they have kept going here in Peace Corps with use everyday as we move around to our various meetings with our water, lunch, raincoat and books. We also use them every time we visit another volunteer, or go to
for one thing or another, and even during vacations we have gotten away with
just using those. Shane’s is High Sierra brand and mine is Black Diamond, both
have hip straps, interior frames and are starting to fall apart a bit but will
definitely be just fine until the end of our service. Maseru
Sleeping bags/liners/pads/pillow – We did bring our sleeping bags, these are mostly used for crashing on other Volunteers’ floors, or sleeping in when it is super-cold, ours are rated for -10ºF, which is either too hot or not enough, they are polyfill and a bit bulky, but have been useful. Our sleeping pads are also a necessity for visiting other volunteers, mine is REI brand ladies and is about 1” thick once it self-inflates, it is great (and purple), Shane’s is a Thermarest and is also great, though it has taken a patching with some duct tape. We brought cotton travel sheet sacks, cotton or silk was something we had to make a decision on and really the cotton has been fine and was a lot cheaper, in any case, they are really nice to have, not only for extra warmth in your sleeping bag or in lieu of a sleeping bag in the summer, but as bed-bug defense – which is a reality here. We did not bring a travel pillow, except Shane’s fancy jacket, but after several sleepless nights trying to make due on uncomfortable floors, we acquired a really great one from another volunteer that is kind of like memory-foam filled Thermarest brand, it is heavenly and doesn’t take up a lot of space! I’ll add towels to this, we got 2 XL MSR Packlight towels that have been great, they are a perfect size and it is almost always useful to be safe and travel with a towel, we also use them day to day – they dry super-fast and it’s great in the winter when our other towels can take 3+ days to dry!
Waterbottles – We brought 4, 1L Platypus, collapsible bottles and 1, 2L – unfortunately, we lost 2 when we transitioned from training to site, but have been using the others heavily every day of our service, the 2 1Ls amazingly, just recently started to leak, and we sorely miss those that went missing. We really love the convenience of these bottles, but we do get a lot of funny looks, because most people haven’t seen water bottles like them before!
Technology – So, we were the only volunteers in our group to not bring a laptop, many volunteers came fully equipped with their laptops, externals packed full of music, shows, movies, podcasts (check out Facebook for what is already in country). Fortunately, we were able to get an older used laptop from a COSing volunteer and we really see the value of joining the other PCVs and watching gross amounts of media during our Peace Corps service – it is really comforting, something to do (with and without other volunteers), and I think it helps us feel more connected with home. We love that we have been still able to maintain our Saturday morning ritual with This American Life, Scrabble and coffee. We love our Kindle, access to downloading new books can be tricky depending on our site and 3G has been all but worthless even on the border. It, along with our camera can be charged via USB from our Solio solar charger (I think some volunteers would be happy with more solar charging capacity than our little 3 panel Solio, but we have electricity in our house – most of the time -and don’t need it for charging a laptop). We brought our MP3 player and speakers, which is also a must. We came with 2 cameras, one of them a pretty great Samsung point and shoot from Costco. The other, Casio, got stolen last year, and we cashed in on our travel insurance for that. We also brought a few extra memory cards and USB drives and have even mailed them home with photos and local music. Many Peace Corps Volunteers use Blackberries for their phones, and this allows for some level of net connectivity and the BBMing (I think even internationally) is a great way to stay in touch. Some volunteers have had luck with bringing an unlocked Iphone, all the phone needs is the slot for the Lesotho SIM card. Technology is pretty nice to have here, it is an interesting part of Peace Corps service that has really evolved since the inception of Peace Corps. It is really nice to have, it is amazing how even though we considered ourselves relatively low-tech dependent, that we really noticed its absence. At the same time, keep in mind the traveler rule of thumb – “don’t bring anything you can’t bear to lose.” During travel, we “lock” our zippers together with plain key rings rather than locks, it is fine with the airline regulations and keeps out potential “pilferers.”
Headlamps, hand sanitizer, leatherman/Swiss Army Knife, crank/solar “Freeplay” short-wave radio, solar shower, duct tape, needle and thread, S-hooks (we brought them and used them!), bungee cords, Ziploc bags, a few shiny emergency blankets (lining the curtains in the winter), self-heating foot-warmers, whatever little practical things you like, we brought and have used – often a lot! There are some mosquitos here, but they aren’t really bad, so we haven’t really used coils, head net and all of that, Peace Corps does provide a mosquito bed net. We are happy we packed a water purifier for traveling, an often-used knife sharpening kit and even binoculars (which should come in quite handy on our upcoming trip with my Dad to Kruger!) If you are into camping and have space, bring a tent and camp stove, we almost camped over New Years with a very Peace Corps, duct taped together tent and borrowed stove, but unfortunately missed our chance with that!
Kitchen – One of my favorite things. I brought a good Chef’s knife, a wok, my favorite spices and a few favorite recipes (there is an unofficial PCV cookbook too) – I haven’t regretted bringing any of those things, though I did get Shane to put the Wok in his luggage. Once you get out of training, most herbs and spices are available in
. Curry and ginger are available in
most village shops, along with Cayenne pepper and Aromat. You can get quite a
few things between Maseru Maseru and ,
but if you really love something – think about 2 years without it and consider
bringing it. Some food items are great for care packages. I brought herbal tea,
real coffee, gum, chocolate, granola bars and was happy I made space for those.
If you really love things like pine/walnuts, dried blueberries, mushrooms,
tahini, black beans… consider bringing a little stash if you have space, for a
time when you need a boost of comfort food or special treat. One volunteer
brought a pound of gummy frogs that she shared in training – those were a real
hit! French presses and thermoses are available in South Africa . Maseru
Toilettries – Since we went straight from the airport to training villages, we were happy to have a supply of shampoo, soap, toothpaste, pills, tampons etc… with us. Most things are available in country, but I don’t really have any favorites that I can’t live without, we can even buy Sensodyne in our local camptown. Peace Corps provides a med kit with things like Ibproufen, condoms, eye drops, sunblock, chapstick, anti-diarrheals, cough drops… but I’m personally a big fan of the less conventional stuff and we’ve been really happy to have homeopathic remedies for bites and stings (great for bed bug bites!), nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, bruises and swelling and one that I’m really happy for is Calms Forte a homeopathic sleep aid – I’ve used it so much, on the plane, the first few nights in village, sleeping on the floor at another volunteers house, loud hostels on vacation… I also really like essential oils, especially Tea Tree oil – my “first aid kit in a bottle” that we can put on the mysterious skin maladies that we seem to acquire as volunteers, I also really like lavender, eucalyptus, sandalwood and lemon – to smell pretty in my bath water, to help with a stuffy nose, for cleaning or adding to a homemade spa scrub. I’ve been really happy to have some things that smell really nice, encountering a lot of offensive odors in a day, from raw sewage to herd boys that haven’t bathed since I’ve been in Lesotho, it is a real treat to enjoy something that smells amazing. Having perfume and dry shampoo can also disguise the reluctant winter bather. I was really happy to have brought sunblock for my face, a really great “conscious” option by Mychelle Dermaceuticals, I also have a few of their peels and masks and whatnot. One of my favorite Christmas care package gifts was Mango Peach body lotion that was to die for (thanks Donna!) We also use a lot of Emergency and Airborne, from when we first got on the plane I’ve been using it to boost the immune system against all of the crazy African colds – and we both swear by it! We have also used a few of the bottles of pro-biotics that we brought, and fortunately haven’t had to use the Cranberry pills but would be amazingly grateful to have them if needed. Also, Gatorade powder tastes much more delicious than Oral Rehydration Salts. Again, if there is anything that you love and can’t live without try to find a way to at least bring some of it – you won’t regret it!
Random – Here it is, my last category. There were a few other things that we brought: Games- Scrabble, Muchkin, Banagrams, Quiddler, Pinochle, Cribbage – they do have regular playing cards available here. We are happy we brought these, because we are a couple, we’ve played a ton of Scrabble – the other games are fun too, with other PCVs, but we wish we would have brought some games that weren’t so language based to play with Basotho. One of our neighbors from
brought Pick-up Sticks and that has been astonishingly entertaining for all of
us! If you want to bring things for the kids, they love balls – soccer balls,
bouncy balls, they even make balls (and jump ropes) from plastic bags. Stickers
are also really fun for kids. Art supplies too, they are not really common, a
bit expensive (on a PCV budget) and poor quality here, I brought colored paper,
colored pencils, stencils and later I got my watercolors in a care package, I
also picked up some rainbow Sharpies that another volunteer left, they are
awesome and really amazing quality, I use them a ton for making posters. That
being said, there is a lot of down time in PC, even if you are busy with
projects during the day – the nights can get pretty long. Even if you read and
watch TV, it can be nice to break it up with a hobby or craft project. Shane
brought his Washburn Rover travel guitar that has been pretty great. He also
brought music books and tabs. He brought exercise bands and his favorite
martial arts technique book, both of which he’s used a lot. I really miss
scrapbooking (you are free to laugh) and haven’t really found a good substitute
– paper crafting greeting cards could have been fun – but is still fairly
supply heavy. I do get pretty creative in the kitchen. I also garden, I brought
a few seeds from the states to (Lesotho doesn’t have Aphis), some of them are
available in RSA but planting started as soon as we arrived at site, so I was
happy to have: kale, arugula, cilantro, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce,
broccoli, cucumber, edible pod peas, sweet corn, zucchini, basil and parsley.
Beets, cabbage, pole beans, mustard, chard, carrots are all very abundant. If
you are a real gardening enthusiast a home soil testing kit, would be really
handy as well as a bit of 15-15-15 fertilizer (I know it sounds crazy!) Lastly,
we brought some things to decorate our house with, printed photos of friends
and family, maps, beautiful inspirational quote pictures, glow in the dark
stars, and we’ve been really happy to have those things to make our house feel
more like our space. Gifts, I’m not sure if Peace Corps is still recommending
vegetable peelers – but no. Not only is it impractical but I found it
humiliating that, after forming these really meaningful relationships – I had a
vegetable peeler… your new friends and family here that you will want to give
gifts to, will appreciate anything American, even pretty kitchen towels for
your host mother, a photo frame to print a photo and give, I’ve had a lot of
women covet my nice chef’s knife too. Also, cards, birthday cards, sympathy,
thank you – for people here and at home, we brought a few and have really
appreciated being able to make that gesture. Wales
So, there is our extremely exhaustive rendition of what we brought to Peace Corps. We aren’t on Facebook and we are finishing up our service this year so this is it, hopefully it helps. I mentioned some brand names and whatnot because I do believe that if something has made it through our Peace Corps service in pretty good condition, I like to share that it may be worth the extra money to spring for the brand name gear (or maybe it’s not), maybe it will help some of you who aren’t in Peace Corps and are just Bozemanites (or ex-Bozemanites).
The moral of all of this is, Peace Corps is great, it has ups and downs, bring things that make you happy, comfortable, feel good and keep you healthy in The States – also, save some money and fill in the gaps once you get here, it will be less to carry and you won’t regret saving money for vacations once you get here. Coming here all flashy and conspicuously geared up for
Africa can also be
kind of embarrassing among local people wearing miscellaneous donated clothes
and no shoes. Whatever you decide, it is totally worth thinking about and being
prepared for – we’ve been a lot more comfortable and things have been more
convenient because of it, but don’t freak out, enjoy your last few days in The
States, eat Mexican Food, take a long hot shower and we look forward to seeing
you this side!
Carol and Shane