Before departing for my trip to South Africa, there was all of this fuss and bother about WHAT TO BRING WITH US when coming to Africa. As we’re limited to the amount of stuff to bring (two suitcases), you can imagine the heartache that goes into deciding what to bring.
We were also told over and over, what you will need DEPENDS on your site placement, and personal preference.
Here’s what I’ve learned about needing STUFF in Peace Corps service in rural South Africa:
What I’m glad I brought:
*layers of fleecy, warm clothing because it is cold in South Africa: It’s hard to imagine Africa being cold, but in South Africa, in winter, in the Kalahari Desert, it is COLD.
* fleece tops and hoodies: I’m very grateful to have brought several fleece tops and hoodies to layer. I’m also VERY grateful to have brought gloves, ear warmers, handwarmers, hats, and a scarf.
*nylon jacket/windbreaker: I’m glad I brought a nylon jacket to protect me from wind.
*earplugs: at some point in my life, I’ve become overly-sensitive to loud noise (Too many AC/DC concerts at a young age?) I’m happy to report that while I don’t often need earplugs, when I need them, I really need them and am very grateful to have them. I mostly need them when I’m on a public taxi and the driver wishes to share his fondness with very loud music with every one in the taxi and the volume is loud enough to share with everyone in the nation of South Africa. I also need them in one of the church services I attend on occasion: the music for the service is amplified and the room is very small (the music is painfully loud).
*sunglasses: although this is an item that arouse the “Hollywood effect” (in that kids, or anyone, really, think they are cool and want them), the sun in South Africa is painfully bright and I’ve needed protection from the glare.
*umbrella: I brought two and wish I had brought a couple of more (they wear out because I use them all the time). I use them for protection against the sun, not the rain.
*Colorful shawls/wraps: I brought a couple of shawls/wraps with me that serve as garments (when I need a colorful wrap for church) and curtains. So, at times, I certainly feel like Scarlett O’Hara.
*Camera: without a doubt, this is my most treasured possession in South Africa (as I couldn’t blog with as much fun without it). I love my camera and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but at times, I’ve wished for one of better quality, when I couldn’t master the light or needed a better zoom.
*Handkerchiefs and bandanas: very useful items to have.
*Spiritual reading material: Also a must have; have asked for reinforcements!
*Chapstick: must have!
*Five pairs of shoes: I must admit at feeling embarrassed by this, but I’ve needed every single pair: my hiking boots (which also serve as work boots for the garden), dress shoes (for school), Crocs (house shoes), flip-flop sandals (shower shoes for traveling, also serve as warm-weather house shoes), and walking sandals.
*Pictures of family from home!
What I wish I had brought more of:
*Reading material: Even with access to three public libraries (but admittedly, they aren't very good), I find myself ALWAYS in need of good reading material. In hindsight, I wish I had boxed some reading material and shipped it ahead.
*Stationary: I’m a huge letter writer and find myself always in need of envelops, post-its, scotch tape, etc. I wish I had brought more.
*Kentucky-themed items: I brought a few of these, but wish I had more. They make great gifts and actually go along way in cheering me up as well. (They remind me of home.)
*Good pens: they have good pens here for purchase, but I wish I had brought more—they’re expensive! (I did, however, bring plenty of mechanical pencils, and am glad I did!)
*Multivitamin: Although I’m eating well and balanced, I find myself longing for a good multivitamin—just in case. Vitamins are very expensive here.
*Dental care items: Same here, there is good floss (Glide Comfort Plus), Stim-u-dents, and extra-soft toothbrushes available for purchase, but they’re expensive.
*Burn ointment: I should probably buy some of this and Peace Corps would probably supply it, but since I “wing it” with my pots and pans (and they haven’t proper-fitting lids), I find myself with scalding burns more frequently than I care… You’d think I’d learn!
*Insulated food bag: a family member mailed me one of the insulated shopping bags for groceries. I love it and use it as a “fridge.” It works very well!
*Sun hat: I’ve worn mine out!
*Music: I’m usually very happy with silence but have at times, longed for some favorite music. A family member recently sent me a couple of CDs and I enjoy them very much.
*Good binoculars: I’ve become quite a birder since coming to South Africa, and wish I had a better pair of binoculars.
*A laptop/notebook: I go back and forth with this one. Life would be easier if I had a personal computer and my writing would be better (I would actually have time/capacity for revising!). But I’ve managed, and am lucky, to have computer use at my site (as unreliable as it is!)
What I’ve brought and wish I hadn’t:
*My camping gear: I haven’t had the occasion to need it, and it took all of one of the two suitcases.
*My raincoat: I haven’t needed it.
*Sunscreen: I bought tons—Peace Corps supplies it, but I’ve found I wear clothing to protect my skin from the sun.
*Old-style luggage: I DEFINITELY should have invested in luggage with wheels!
*Regular batteries: My rechargeables have worked best (but I’m a volunteer with access to electricity: many aren’t!)
*Alarm clock: My cell phone functions as this.
*Short-wave radio: I was hoping to access the BBC but am unable to. :-(
*Favorite items of clothing: I brought several items of clothing thinking to have them would cheer me up. I've learned that my favorite items of clothing, while they do cheer me in having them, are ruined in the hand-washing and the hot African sun.
What I’ve bought on arriving and can’t live without:
* My electric kettle: for heating water. When I purchased this, I bought the top-of-the-line, stainless steel model, because I knew I’d be using the heck out of it! (And do!)
* My electric fan: I love this for the cool breeze it supplies and for the “white noise” that I needed while living in the hostel (dormitory).
* A shovel and scimitars: I love working in the yard, so must-haves.
* Field guides: I went back and forth about bringing these: Field guides are supremely heavy!! But if I was aching for anything upon arrival, it was for information concerning the regional flora/fauna that I found myself. Family rallied to get me some and I use all of my South African guides nearly every day still, but I wish I had brought a good, general field/travel guide for South Africa with me.
Well, that’s me and my YEAR in STUFF.
I wonder what STUFF my second year will bring!
PS. Many of you have cried for photos of me, and I’ve tried my best to include them. I must say, however, that the practice is becoming tiresome. I find myself feeling like a “Price is Right” girl and am stumped at how to vary my poses. I dislike photographing myself as much as wearing make-up and wearing fashionable clothing!