Wednesday, April 29, 2009

pack your bags for the land of yams and palm wine

(keep in mind you will experience weight inflexions due to stress and diet changes, pack clothes that allow for such)
• A large supply of underwear and bras.12-16pairs. (Cotton is best but nylon dries quicker and is more comfortable when sweating your bum off.)
• Cotton dresses and/or skirts, knee length or longer.
• Terry knit gauchos (they are comfy and can be dressy. I have worn mine almost daily)
• Loose fitting cotton tops and t-shirts (nothing too revealing or cropped and they say business casual..stress the casual since business clothes become the traditional pagne outfits you make in country)
• Tank tops (sometimes cami tops are good for lounging at home) (Remember that cultural norms are much more conservative than those in the U.S. You may only wear tank tops while hanging out in your house but I wear them in my town so just nothing too revealing)
• A few nice outfits for those two or three special occasions in your village or when visiting regional capitals (just bring a dress or skirts or pants that fit you well and can use as a pattern to be can make and have fun fitting in with dress clothes from the traditional cloth here)
• One or two pairs of jeans (I gained weight and never wore they were too stuffy and hot - A couple pairs of cotton capris or linen are better when you need a break from skirts...think biker friendly...)
• Cotton socks for jogging or sports (just a few needed, quick dry and a pair of tall ones)
• Shorts (sports shorts should be a bit longer than normal, and cotton pj shorts and pants for sleeping and lounging around inside are great some volunteers like leggings)
• Cotton bandannas (perfect for riding in the bush taxi with window down, and as a snot rag during harmattan, and good for wiping the sweat off your face and trying to fan yourself in the hot season..don’t leave home without it..many are available in the market)
• Hair bands and barettes (my hair has been up in a ponytail my entire service)
• One pair of good supportive sandals. (I brought Chacos and never wore them preferring the comfortable cheap and lightweight market flip flops)
• Sneakers/running shoes (I brought trail runners that were not as comfortable and asked for my road shoes to be sent..there is pavement in some parts)
• Windbreaker and compact umbrella (make em small lightweight and packable, big golf umbrellas can be bought au marche)
• Light weight fleece sweatshirt or longsleeve shirt for occasional cool evening. (rarely worn and if you don’t have space you can find one in the dead yovo clothes piles- I found a North Face fleece here)
• Day pack for shopping; larger backpack for traveling. (rei has a great packable back pack that folds into itself, and there is never a shortage of stylish purses and bags here 4 day use)
• Bathing suit (for that beach time in Lome or trips to the falls)
• Sun Hat (comfortable sun hat if you have a favorite, again easy to find here in the used clothes piles)
• Sunglasses with UV protection (you can buy many here that are pretty stylish but probably offer no protection, I worried that nice ones would get ruined scratched lost or stolen so I didn’t invest)
• Catalogs or pictures of clothing you may want copied (I brought a few catalogs and had others sent in care packages)
General use items
• Luggage that is tough and flexible such as duffel bags and internal frame backpacks plus luggage locks. (Best if you think of taking trips around Africa, at the end you can buy a wheeled luggage case for cheap-tons of chinese imports here)
• Money belt or pouch that can be concealed under clothing or worn on the waist to carry money and other valuables. (barely used but always good for travels)
• A reliable alarm clock, or a watch with an alarm. (never used one when you have will wake up earlier than you think- plus most cell phones and watches have em)
• Swiss Army knife or equivalent (I brought a small swiss army knife with cork screw wine opener and then a Leatherman with screwdriver attachments, pliers and saw blades for home repairs..both good ideas)
• Small sewing kit and safety pins. (good but since its a strong trade here, you can come across supplies or a tailor to mend your worn affaires)
• Headlamp (you can buy flashlights in Togo)
• U.S. stamps. You can often have letters mailed in the United States by people traveling there from Lomé.
• A small pillow (so necessary if you are a light sleeper, pillows here are filled with hard knotted cotton, just grab a small polyfiber insert (at local Target made to fill couch pillowcases))
• Plastic water bottle for traveling. (Nalgenes are good..)
• Pillowcase and one flat bed sheet. (Bring at least one set from home as you will need them right away, I brought a silk sleeping liner to use during stage then bought bed linens au marche, you can find pagne here to use as well)
• Hammock (good idea but...I rarely used since it brought about too much attention (kids thinking it was a great toy) and not enough calming benefits. You could always have one constructed here out of local pagne)

Healthcare and Toiletry
• U.S. toiletry items and favorites (I stressed about this and still haven’t used the majority of what I brought..but here are some ideas on the most useful...)
• Face Wash and exfoliant, Burts Bees Shower Soap, Spray in hair detangle, some tubes of conditioning treatment, sensitive skin face sunscreen
• Contacts and contact solution (if you want to overstep their disclaimer..bring enough to last the entire time and be careful to wash well..I have thrown out many pairs from bothered eyes due to scratched corneas)
• Makeup (I really only used mascara and some spf concealer for the ocassional breakout ..all others come unused but that depends on give up being pretty when you sweat it off plus you can find some things here)
• Deodorant (If one needs to use it a lot bring what makes you feel fresh and have more sent later)
• If you take prescription medicine, bring a three-month supply.
• Eyeglasses (two pairs).

Households and Exercise
• Water resistant sports watches with chrono etc.
• Yoga mat (perfect for sleepovers and at home workouts, I also asked for a stability ball to be sent along with Pilates DVD’s)
• Compact, quick drying pack towels. (I loved having mine for travel purposes...You can buy regular towels in the market or use a pagne)
• Good scissors and nail clippers
• Colored markers, crayons, and construction paper. For making visual aids and playing with kids. These items are available in Togo, but expensive.
• Journal. (Moleskins are paperback style journals are available in Togo)
• Writing paper (bring any small amount of preference...There is plenty available in Togo just maybe not the lined kind you are used to).
• Pens. (Bring your favs...the ones here are cheap)
• Duct tape/packing tape. (highly can find scotch here)
• Pictures of home. Your Togolese friends will be very interested in seeing what your “former life” was like.
• Maps of the United States and the world.
• Mini office supplies (stapler, hole punch, white out, post it notes, nice pens and sharpies)
• Calendar/ day planner pocket size is best (you’ll need it to countdown the days...and leave notes on daily adventures)
• Seeds for personal garden (the best ones are herbs like cilantro and basil, I also brought flowers and carrots, bell peppers and broccoli..the broccoli grew but I waited too long to harvest in hopes it would get bigger and it bloomed flowers instead... you can find local seeds here in the agro regions)

Entertainment & Electronics
• Camera (the best investment I had was a Canon Powershot SD800 IS Digital Elph...any in the series are great and takes wonderful quality images for its size) Bring a good case for protection.
• Photographic film is available here (but not widely used, best to take digital images and have family and friends print them out stateside to mail by burning cds and uploading them to flickr etc..)
• Back up batteries for digital camera and extra memory cards. (needed when going on long trips and you’re a shutterbug like me..I cringe at having to miss a great shot)
• Batteries. Rechargeable ones are best but be sure that your charger will run on 220 volt current, or is multi-voltage. (I brought a solar charger I barely used since I have electricity but I do recommend bringing a converter and about 8-12 AA batteries and 6 AAA, batteries here don’t last long at all and corrode easier)
• Laptop (with an external hard drive 200GB+ , USB keys and good anti-virus software)
• Digital “thumb drive”, at least 2GB. (Very useful for transporting digital files between computers, just beware of aquiring viruses)
• Surge protector/voltage converter as well as plug adaptors for Africa.
• Shortwave radio or satellite receiver. Stations such as BBC, Voice of America, and Radio France International can be received with a moderate quality short wave radio. (you’ll thank yourself for not forgetting this one esp. Since they took away our’s nothing like hearing American News by a Togolese more informed on world affairs that you)
• i-POD or MP3 player with portable speakers (I brought two ipod nanos (since one was old and might die out) and it was my saving grace at me)
• Hobby items such as sketch book, sewing/ crochet needles, paints Games, such as Scrabble, chess, UNO and Frisbee. (I brought UNO and was asked to play it by my host brothers more than I wished...don’t bring a game that isn’t quick to finish...Ordinary playing cards abound.)
• Frisbee, soccer ball, etc.
• Musical instruments—guitar, etc. ( I left these at home thinking that I should give drumming a try and test out their instruments)
• One or two books. There are many books in English in the Peace Corps Office library and the libraries at the regional transit houses. We are, however, short on current bestsellers and books (in English) by African authors. (enough are available to keep you occupied, bring only a few that may be necessary here)

• Ziploc bags (sandwich, quart and gallon..but always a good thing to have sent in care packages)
• Coffee French Press (one of the last things I packed and have loved having it here)
• Plastic food storage containers, a good can opener, small teflon pan, and other kitchen tools for baking (spatula, bake pans, measuring cups).(you can buy most kitchen items in the market but the ease of use and quality is lacking of what we are used to)
• Your favorite spices or sauce packets. Local markets may have bay leaves, chili peppers, garlic, anise, and peppercorns. Other spices such as curry, oregano, etc., can be bought in Lomé. Seasoning packets for pasta are highly recommended, as are cinnamon and burrito/taco spices.(bring spice packets from Rice-a-Roni and other boxed rice and noodle meals..couscous, rice and noodle all available here...cheddar broccoli and other cheese mixes are favorites)
• Garlic press and Cutting Knives (not needed, fork anyone? However good sharp cutting-chopping knives are a must, chopping and paring)
• Powdered drinks straws, Favorite Teas, Instant coffee creamer powder. (you can find some similar kool-aid like drink mixes but crystal light and others are good for a change, also lipton original black tea is most common, coffee creamer powders add a nice taste to the coffee one finds available)

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