The Obligatory Packing List

In the months before my departure, I spent many hours seeking packing guidance from blogs of current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), conversations with Returned PCVs, Reddit, and other sources so I could best use my 100 pounds and 107 inches of combined suitcase dimensions.  It’s cool to realize that now I’m here and I can impart the advice that I was seeking six months ago.

Rather than providing a list of everything I packed (if you really want to know how many pairs of underwear I brought, let me know), I thought it might be more useful to share a list of the Things I’m Really Happy I Packed, or Wish I Had Packed, with the hope that it will help Peace Corps Invitees who have stumbled across this blog.

  • A French press (http://www.gsioutdoors.com/30-fl-oz-javapress.html)
    • (They’re sold in Botswana, but they’re glass, and mine is Lexar and I can throw it in my bag and take it to work and have fresh brewed coffee during tea time, and that is a wonderful thing. And when I go camping, I can take it along. And I wrote to GSI and told them I was taking my French press to Botswana and asked if I could get a second filter, and they sent me one for free!
  • A robe (https://www.amazon.com/PackTowl-6533-Parent-Packtowl-RobeTowl-Towel/dp/B00HZ09R1G )
    • I love sitting on my porch in my robe, drinking coffee, doing a NY Times crossword puzzle, and watching the sun come up (which happens around 5:30 am). This one is light, absorbs twice its weight, is very easy to wash, and has a hood.  It was especially welcome on a chilly winter’s morn to throw on after a bucket bath.
  • Slippers and flipflops (https://www.sierratradingpost.com/exped-camp-slippers-insulated-for-men-and-women~p~212nf/?filterString=s~slippers%2F)
    • It’s essential that you wear something on your feet when you’re in your house, lest you step on a camel spider. Warm slippers are nice for winter.  I bought these and they have a sturdy sole and roll up and pack easily.  Wish I’d packed two pairs of Teva flipflops, since I’m sure I’ll need a second pair before I leave.  You can buy flipflops here, but I’m not sure of the quality…
  • Photos printed on banners
    • This was one of my good ideas…VistaPrint offers 2’ X 4’ banners for cheap, and I had some pictures of my family printed on them and then rolled them up in the Thermarest I brought, and now they adorn my walls. While I was at it, I designed and ordered a banner that I took to my going away parties so that people could sign it, and now it’s on my kitchen wall and it brings me smiles every day.
  • Personal Postcards
    • I think this was the best idea I had, and one I borrowed from a Rotary Group Study Exchange trip to France that I led, where we made and passed out team brochures about ourselves. I had VistaPrint do these, too, and 100 of them were around $60, and it was well worth it.  I’ve passed these out to my host families, dikgosi (chiefs), and other important people, and they love them.

  • Bluetooth speaker
    • Chances are you probably already have thought to bring this, but I will alert you that you should bring an audio cord, like this one (http://www.ugospeakers.com/store/products/ProductDetail.php?ProductID=96) so that you can plug your Peace Corps phone into it and have radio in the morning. You can find a cord here, but they fall apart quickly.  Listening to the radio connects you to your countrymen, improves your Setswana, keeps you apprised of Botswana news, and entertains you with some pretty great music…lots of local artists.  I’m a fan of GABZ-FM. 
  • Kobo or other hard-to-break e-reader
    • Most people turn in really early here, and it’s nice to have something to read in bed. And bring as many downloaded books as you can.  There are lots of free ones available on the web…like at Guttenberg Project.  I’d never read The Fountainhead, and that kept me entertained for the first few weeks after crawling in bed at 7:30.  Also, bring a little rechargeable booklight, so you don’t have to wear a headlamp in bed.
  • External Hard Drive
    • I’ll leave it to others to talk about how important this is. It hasn’t been so for me, since I’ve not watched a movie since I’ve been here (other than The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with my host families, which they loved, and hooking the host family kids up with Disney movies while we waited for cookies to bake).  My oldest son loaded up my drive with a bunch of movies he thought I’d like, and I’ve been able to share them with other PCVs, who are much more interested in media swapping.  However, I will add that you should invest in one of the non-breakable ones, because some of my fellow PCVs dropped theirs on their concrete floors and now they’re dead.
  • Sturdy travel umbrella (https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-umbrella/)
    • So far, I’ve used it more for the sun than the rain. I never thought I’d use an umbrella for the sun, but it makes a huge difference in keeping you cool when it’s 100 degrees.  You can buy them in Bots, but I’m not sure how sturdy they are.  If you bring one, make sure it stands up to gale force winds.
  • Surge protector
    • Don’t be the poor PCV whose MacBook Air got fried during Pre-Service Training when it was plugged in during a storm. You can buy them here, but they’re expensive and you might not be able to find one during Pre-Service Training.  I wish I’d brought one, since I had to buy mine here.  It was 300 pula ($30) and I found it in Gaborone.  I’m not sure of the quality though…  Just bring one with you.
  • Tupperware
    • You’re probably scratching your head at this one, but you will need a leak-proof container to bring your lunch to Pre-Service Training and to work when you get to site. Your host family will have containers for you to use, but they will be of questionable quality, and your lunch will probably leak all over your backpack.  So, if you have room, bring a leak-proof container or two from home.  If you don’t have room, go to Spar during the first week of training and bite the bullet and spend far too much money (like 50 or 60 pula) to buy one of the Spar-brand leak-proof containers.  Don’t do like I did and go for the 20 pula containers, because you will be disappointed.
  • Adapters
    • You need two different kinds. They’re available in Bots, but you should have a couple of each for when you first get here.  Here’s a buying guide that tells you all about it:  http://www.botswanatraveler.com/2009/08/12/power-adapter-buying-guide/.  Something I wish I had brought is a US adapter that converts a three-prong plug to a two-prong plug, since one of my adapters allows you to plug in two things at the same time, but the 2nd plug is for two-pronged only.
  • Really good quality can opener
    • I spent 60 pula on a can opener ($6) and I can tell already that I’m gonna be buying another one in a few months.
  • Croakies, or something to hold your sunglasses on your head
    • The sun is intense, and I wear my sunglasses when I’m out walking around (and while carrying my umbrella), but you don’t see a lot of Batswana in sunglasses, so if I get on a khombi (minibus), I like to take off my sunglasses so I can look people in the eyes when I’m talking to them, and I’ve almost left my prescription sunglasses on the khombi a couple of times. I made my own holder out of an old jumprope and electrical tape, but it’s not holding up well.  Someone is sending me a pair of Croakies from home, along with a 2nd pair of sunglasses, because I was a dunce and only brought one pair.
  • Photo album
    • This is something I didn’t bring and wish I had. Your host families will want to see pictures from back home, and it’s just not the same to share them on your phone or laptop.  Print out some of your favorites and stick them in a sturdy album.  Or get one of those cool Shutterfly books made.
  • Games and other things to pass the time
    • Whatever you like to play in America, try to bring it with you. I made room for my travel Scrabble game and I haven’t regretted it.  And I am a crossword and Ken Ken addict, so I brought along enough books of NY Times crosswords and Ken Ken to get me through two years.  And believe me, I am glad I did.
  • A decent sewing kit
  • Seeds of unusual things you’d like to grow here.
    • There are seeds available, and I FINALLY found arugula, but if there’s something you’d like to have, like artichokes, bring some seeds.
  • A good knife
    • You’ll be cooking your own meals at site, and you’ll probably be slicing lots of vegetables.  You can buy good knives in Gaborone, but they’re expensive.  So, if you have a favorite good knife, bring it.  Also, bring a small sharpening stone or a good knife sharpener.
  •  Spices
    • Again, there are spices here, but they’re kinda pricy and of questionable quality, and you can’t find a good selection. My friend Sara and I were convinced that there was an embargo on cinnamon…it was sold out wherever we went, but we finally found some.  And I finally found cumin, after searching for three months.  So, if there’s something you regularly use and can’t live without, bring some with you.
  • Snacks for PST (and beyond)
    • I brought a whole bunch of wasabi almonds and chocolate-covered espresso beans and I did not regret it. And the Trainees with whom I shared them were happy as clams.  You can buy things like peanuts and chocolate bars here, but if there’s something unusual that you crave, bring as much of it as you can.
  • Hydroflask (https://www.hydroflask.com/)
    • They’re expensive and heavy and take up a lot of room, but they keep your hot things really hot and your cold things really cold.
  • Vapur bottles (http://vapur.us/active/)
    • I love these, because I can toss a couple of really cold ones (or you can even freeze them) in my bag in the morning and have water all day, and then they roll up, meaning I have more room to put groceries on my way home.
  • (At least) two of everything electronic
    • Laptops are expensive here, so if you can’t live without one, bring a spare.  Same for smartphones (make sure yours is unlocked).   And I brought at least two of every cord that I need.
  • Shawls and scarves (and a few comments on clothes)
    • This is for the women. I received this recommendation before I left, and I did not heed it, and I regret it.  Shawls and scarves keep you warm, dress up a casual outfit, cover parts of you to make you more presentable if you find yourself at the kgotla or someplace where you should look nice, and add variety to your wardrobe (which you will long for after a few months of wearing the same clothes).  You can buy scarfs and shawls here, but you’ll have lots more selection in America, and they probably will hold up better.  And on the subject of clothes, bring quick-dry stuff.  Don’t worry about long-sleeved stuff…you won’t wear it.  Bring one or two nice hoodies/jackets for warmth (I lived in this one:  https://www.amazon.com/Smartwool-Womens-NTS-Hoodie-Sport/dp/B017MGHILI?th=1).  And I brought a packable down jacket and appreciated it on a half-dozen winter mornings.  Don’t forget a beanie and gloves.  I brought WAY too many socks.  Two pairs of smartwool calf-length socks would have been enough.  And I brought too many pants (I think one pair would have been enough…I brought two pairs of zip-off hiking pants and one pair of yogaish athletic pants, and so far I’ve only worn them on “Casual Friday” at Pre-Service Training, and I’m hoping to wear them when I go hiking).  I also wish I’d brought more leggings to wear with skirts when it’s cold.  I brought tights, but sometimes leggings and socks would have been better.  I’m sure I can buy leggings and tights here, but it would have been nice to have my favorites from home.  (UPDATE:  I converted my tights to leggings by cutting off the toes.  And I found nice leggins for 40 pula at PEP.)

I hope this helps.  As I said, shoot me an email (amylopermcbride@gmail.com) or leave a comment if you have a question or something to add.  Good luck!

Swearing In and Settling In

I apologize for not updating this blog more often.  It has taken two hours and visits to two internet cafes (I abandoned the first one after I spent 30 minutes trying to upload one photo) to post this .  I sometimes have internet at work, so I’ll see if I can post on my lunch hours.

On October 4th, I and my “Bots 18” cohort members were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.  In attendance were our amazing Pre-Service Training host families, who welcomed us into their homes 11 weeks earlier.  They fed us, took us to family events, helped us learn Setswana language and culture, tolerated our frequent faux-pas, and eased us into our new life in Botswana.  Ke a leboga(I am grateful) for Mma Peggy and her brother and neighbors for all that they did for m

Here I am with Mma Peggy, and Mark and Angela, the Bots 17 couple who stayed with her last year during their Pre-Service Training.  They dropped by one Sunday for dinner.  As soon as we’re allowed to travel from our sites next month, I’m hoping to visit Mma Peggy.

Many of the Trainees wore Setswana fashions for the Swearing-In.  I borrowed my neighbor’s granny’s dress, and here I am wearing it, with my two Setswana teachers, Chris and Davey.  I passed my Setswana Language Proficiency Interview with an Advanced Low rating, thanks to their excellent instruction.

Also attending were dignitaries, including:  KgosikgoloKgari III, Chief of the Bakwena; Earl Miller, US Ambassador to Botswana;and Shenaaz El-Halabi, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.  Our Country Director, Elizabeth O’Malley, led the Peace Corps Pledge and Ambassador Miller led our Oath of Service.

Here’s a photo of the newly-minted Volunteers who are “Above Average,” which is our term for those of us who are beyond the average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer, which is around 28.

By the way, we’re Bots 18, because we’re the 18th group to serve since the Government of Botswana requested assistance in 2003 to help fight the spread of HIV.  Peace Corps left Botswana in 1997, after 31 years of cooperation, as there were countries in greater need of Peace Corps’ service.  HIV changed that.

There have been two “Bots 1” cohorts, one in 1966 and one in 20

Baba, me, Gary and my home for the next two years

03, and I am lucky to have a member of the original Bots 1 as my landlord.  Gary arrived here in 1966, as a 21 year-old, to teach math at a Junior Secondary School in my village.  He fell in love with a lovely woman, Baba, whose family goes back to the beginning of my village, and they married in 1969.  Here we are in front of my house, which is where I am living for the next two years.

I arrived in my village (which I’m calling Motse, the Setswana word for village, for security purposes) on the day after Swearing-In.  Baba and Gary weren’t planning to be my landlords, but generously agreed to take me in after my original house didn’t work out.  I have two bedrooms, indoor plumbing, electricity, a small, on-demand hot water heater, and a bathtub with a handheld shower.  I don’t miss bucket baths.

I spent that weekend settling into my new house, and was grateful to inherit a lot of possessions from Hannah, the Volunteer who had just finished her service in Motse.  I felt like a 21-year old again, stocking up on standard items like dishtowels and a wastebasket (aka bucket).  Mma Peggy also sent me off with plates, flatware, and my favorite cereal bowl.

And that Monday, I reported to work.  I split my time between my two non-governmental organizations (see a previous post for descriptions of what they do) and I’ve spent the past few weeks learning more about them.  I’ve read through previous grant proposals and reports, strategic plans, board minutes, and all the materials you’d expect from an NGO.  I’m impressed with how much they have accomplished, on very little funding, and I’m looking forward to working with the staff of each to improve their financial sustainability and effectiveness.  This is especially important now, because international aid to Botswana has been steadily declining and the outlook for reversing that trend is bleak.

When I’m not at work, I’m learning about my new community.  I try to walk everywhere, and I love greeting everyone.  Give it a try the next time you’re walking in your community!  It’s about a 45-minute walk from my new house to the village center, so if I don’t have time or it’s too hot (it’s been in the 90s), I walk out to the main road, put out my hand and usually within five minutes, I’ve caught a ride on a khombi (a minibus that holds 20 people or so) for 3.5 pula (35 cents).  Not only is it cheap and easy, it’s a great way to practice my Setswana (and get marriage proposals).

My landlady knows (and often is related to) everyone, and every weekend we have something to attend, in addition to church on Sundays (I downloaded a Setswana Bible app to my phone so I can follow along).  Peace Corps also provided us with 258 questions that we are supposed to ask of people in our village, and then compile their responses into a Community Assessment.  I spent a morning at the delightful museum in our village.  Here are some shots from the museum, which is housed in Motse’s first school…a gorgeous building perched on a hillside high above the village.  Baba went to school there, and she had to climb the hill every day with a bucket of water on her head.

I also have Setswana lessons twice a week.  Kena le morutabana ka Setswana.  O bidiwa Fani.  (I have a Setswana teacher.  Her name is Fani).  She’s a cousin of Baba’s, as is one of my bosses, and Botswana’s Minister of Education and Skills Development (and its first female High Court judge), Unity Dow.  Unity also is an author, and I’m reading one of her novels, Juggling Truths, which I highly recommend for a glimpse of the life of a young girl in Botswana in the 1960s.

I love this picture. Baba and I went out for a walk after an afternoon thunderstorm and these women were sweeping up the jacaranda petals in their yard. We went to a wedding there the next weekend.

There’s so much I want to tell you, but my time at the internet café is almost over.   If you have questions you’d like me to answer, please post a comment or send an email.  And, if you feel compelled, packages of dark chocolate and dark coffee are very welcome (email me for my new address, please!).  Mail takes at least one month (and closer to two months) to arrive, so I apologize if you’ve sent something and I haven’t acknowledged it.  Here’s a photo from the Motse Post Office, where I waited to pick up the first package to make it through.  Thanks, Dennis O!