Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

I have no concept of time here. It seems like just yesterday that I arrived in Pemba, yet I’ve been here SEVEN months. Crazy, no é? I suppose that in those months since I’ve arrived I have gained one or two precious nuggets of wisdom, of which I hope to impart upon the next batch of trainees who are just receiving their invitation packets.
It was an early August day in 2009 when I came home from a long day of work and went to get the mail. Upon opening the front door, I saw a hefty blue package awaiting my arrival. I thought, “Could this be it?” Indeed, I tore it open and the first thing I laid eyes on was the word MOZAMBIQUE in bold. Ecstatic, I jumped up and down and proceeded to sing from the rooftops. Suddenly the lights went down, a top hat appeared on my head and a spotlight shone over my body. Friends, family, neighbors, passersby, Peace Corps staff members and neighborhood dogs paraded onto the stage as we harmoniously sang the opening tune “Africa, Here I Come (& I’m Perfectly Fine With It).”
Wait, my life isn’t a musical? Ah, yes, that’s right-I WAS A NERVOUS WRECK. I cried. I sobbed. I panicked. I overate. I underslept. And to top it off, perhaps my least favorite task in the world (aside from getting my oil changed) is PACKING. Getting stuff together simply for a weekend at home during college was hard enough, how would I even conceivably pack for two whole years in under 80lbs? Well, thankfully much of my packing list was composed from reading other blogs from PCVs that were already in country. I was able to maintain (for the most part) my sanity and, with the help of my mom, was able to zip up my suitcase.
And so, Moz 15 Trainees, congratulations! Parabens! Bemvindo a Moçambique! I am here to help you in your packing endeavors (among other things) and without further ado, I would like to present to you the “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” Packing List:
• Sewing kit. I picked up a $3 kit from a craft store and I have pulled it out more times than I can count, not only in training, but at site as well. You’ll never know what needs fixing, and think of all the lifelong friendships you’ll make just by being the girl/boy who fixes other trainee’s clothes! Also, definitely bring nylon thread, or quilting thread, as it is much more durable and you may need it to fix tents/mosquito nets.
• Dramamine. It’s just a nice thing to have for the plane ride over here or the innumerable chapa rides you’ll be taking over the next two years.
• Comfy (not necessarily fashionable) footwear. Let’s be honest, the shoes I wear here I would never wear at home, but my Chacos and my Tevas are lifesavers on impossibly rocky terrain. Bring shoes to work out in, go out in and chill out in.
• Pictures, pictures, pictures! Of your loved ones. You’ll want to tack them all over your walls and see people who love you everyday.
• Sticky tack or tape. To hang up the aforementioned photos.
• Journals. You may not be a journal-keeper at home, but here there are things that you’ll never know how to articulate and writing it down can be the best thing for you.
• Underwear (and bras). Bring a TON. Good quality ones that you like. Underwear is easy to find here…if you’re a size 2 or like granny panties. And if you are, well, more power to you.
• Tons of pens. I love blue clicky ones. You’re going to be taking a lot of notes during training, and in a place where a printer is hardly ever around, you’re going to be writing things out a lot. The pens here are awful, bring good ones and don’t let anyone borrow them because you’ll never see them again.
• Spiral notebooks. For anything and everything.
• World maps. For decorating your house, for showing your host siblings that you cannot drive to America, and for showing your colleagues that Europe is not on the California coastline.
• Deodorant and razors. Deodorant is spray-on or roll-on here. Razors are disposable. You decide.
• Books, books, books! You’re going to have a lot of downtime here, so whether you’re waiting for a meeting to start (3 hours late) or taking a 7-hour bus ride, books are lovely things. I wish I would have filled up my two year bag* with much, much more than I did, but I came with 3 books and was able to swap them with other trainees. And, another suggestion, bring books on subjects that you’re even slightly interested in, because like I said, there’s a lot of downtime here. Why not becoming well-versed in quantum physics or the lifecycle of a bumblebee?
• Addresses of everyone you know, along with envelopes.
• Electric thermometer. It’s just easier to take your temp than the normal mercury one given to us by PCMO. That way, when you have a fever, you’ll be one step closer to knowing if you have malaria.
• Clothes, clothes and more clothes. My favorite quote from another PCV’s blog last year was “Africa is where clothes come to die.” It’s unfortunately very, very true. There are no washing machines here. Your clothes will get holes from hand-washing as well as stretch out. And please, just forget about white. It’s not meant to be. Bring darker to medium dark clothes because unless you have exquisite clothes washing abilities (which Mozambicans acquire at birth) you’re not going to be able to get that mud stain out so it’s best just to hide it.
• Ziplock bags of all sizes. These you will use, trust me.
• Twine, rope. It can come in handy for clotheslines, jump rope, etc.
• Clothes hangars. You probably won’t have dresser drawers….or a dresser.
• iPod speakers. Sometimes listening to a Beyonce song 13 times in a row gets old, and you’ll want to drown out your neighbors with your own music.
• EARPLUGS. A must-have. The only days you’ll have to sleep in during training are Sundays, and how wonderful it would be if the chickens, goats, sound systems and neighbors didn’t start their days at sunrise.
• Diversions. Depending on who you are, this could include anything from knitting needles and yarn, beads and hemp, travel-size games to pass the time at training, movies, TV on DVD, podcasts, audiobooks, magazines, etc.
• Host family presents. Yikes. This is quite ambiguous. You don’t know if you’re going to have a house full of kids, one host mom, 5 teenage brothers, or anything yet. Use your imagination and be creative in what you can buy that you could share with all ages and many people. I brought American candy, a snow-globe of Cleveland (they LOVED this, oh and PS don’t put this in your carry-on bag…). Later on during training I bought some things from when I went on site-visit to give my family. The trick is to bring them something that is not from where they are.
• Hygiene/Makeup needs that you can’t live without. That deep pore-cleansing face wash, pomegranate/apple bodywash with soothing micro-beads, mocha brown eyeshadow, sensitive skin after shave lotion, yadda yadda yadda. You can either bring enough for two years or use bar soap and work on your integration by smelling like everyone else! ☺
• Bobby pins, bandanas, hair ties, headbands. Your hair is going to be crazy wild and frizzy. Bring whatever you can to tame it. Oh yeah, mousse or gel, too.
• Luggage locks. Go to Target and get the ones that are TSA approved and get like 5 or 6 of them. They can be used during the flight over here as well as trips into big cities (where pick pocketers are everywhere) and when combined with luggage, can serve as a sort of makeshift safe for valuables at site.
• Sunglasses. Duh. Oh, but don’t sit on them. You should probably bring more than one pair.
• Nail clippers and tweezers.
• Planner/Agenda. This is a nice way to show your colleagues that you are nice and organized when you arrive to their organization and have come to do organizational development.
• Backpack(s), Purses, Duffle bags. It’s nice to have a backpack for using during training, and a decent sized one to use for going on weekend trips. I’d say bring 2 or 3-it’s just nice to have some variety and options for whatever your plans are.
• Portuguese-English Dictionary. They gave us one in training, but still, it’s nice to have more than one. Also, bring a regular English dictionary. You just never know.
• Bughut! This is a tiny one-person tent type of thing that you can get from REI (online) that functions as a portable mosquito net. I lend mine to all the PCVs that come visit me so I don’t have to hang up a net for them.
• Lonely Planet Mozambique. This will be really helpful to you if you want to plan a weekend (or longer) getaway and want to know the best (and cheapest) places to go in Moz.
-Flash drives. With big capacity. I have 3, and I would have brought more.

*You may not know it yet, but the Peace Corps will ask you to pack two bags. One is the bag that you’ll use during training and the other will be placed in storage for those ten weeks and given to you when you get to site. Pack accordingly!

Ok, Moz 15ers, best of luck to you! That’s all I could come up with for now. If you need any more help or advice on packing, preparing, etc please email me. I am a health volunteer, so if you have any questions about that, feel free to ask as well. My email address is or you can find me on Facebook. Breath, hug your mom, savor your last local pizza and I’ll see you soon!

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