PCVs Packing Suggestions

 

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For prospective volunteers...

On your way to Burkina Faso as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV)? Future PCVs often ask me what they should pack. In talking with other volunteers, here are a few ideas. But first, the main thing in common among many of us is that we discovered that we needed a lot less than we thought we did. But having a few special things from home, or a few minor luxuries or conveniences, can make a difference if you start feeling a bit alone or out of touch.

So below is a totally arbitrary list of personal suggestions and considerations about what to take in your precious limited packing space. Some of this may duplicate what Peace Corps has suggested. Feel free to email me if you want to clarify something or exchange ideas about other possibilities. Current and returned volunteers: Send me your suggestions!

Clothes

Male or female volunteers should bring hot weather clothes that are modest in design: long shorts (knee-length is good) or cropped pants, lightweight cotton slacks, lightweight cotton blouses/shirts with short sleeves (cap sleeves are great, and modest sleeveless blouses are fine, especially if they are not too low cut), lightweight long skirts. Note that you can ďget away withĒ less modest American-style clothes, and the BurkinabŤ will probably not criticize you too much. But they are very likely to be offended, nevertheless, if you wear certain things in public, especially such items as short shorts, tank tops, or tight clothes. And for female volunteers, especially teachers, there is a problem if you wear skirts that are sheer enough to let light/shadow pass through. So consider packing a cotton slip if you can find one (you can have one made when you get there if necessary). Women definitely can wear nice pants if they are not tight, even to teach in.
Yes, itís true that you may want to have clothes made when you get to Burkina Faso. But even though it is not expensive, you may not have much money or time during training for shopping and going to the tailor, at least for several weeks. Also, you will probably be able to wash your clothes once a week or so. You should consider these factors in deciding what clothes you may want in order to get through the three months of training. (By the end of training, you will surely be able to get to the tailor to arrange for a nice outfit for swearing-in.)
You will be able to get an appropriate wardrobe for teaching or every day wear as you get to the end of your training and prepare to go to your site. One of the aspects of PCV life that can be the most fun is creating your wardrobe. I developed my own style of pants and tops, as you can see in a few of the photos throughout the site, especially on the page of Cathy's life. Many volunteers create very nice teaching outfits. My consideration was always riding the bike to school, which I could never manage in a skirt, but some female volunteers walk to school or find a way to wear pants or shorts under their skirt.
For wearing in your own house at your site you have a little more freedom. But you will always want to be aware that what you wear in front of others will be noticed and, if inappropriate, may be offensive. For running or biking for exercise, biker shorts can work, depending on your particular situation at your site. 
You will need flip-flops/thongs/rubber sandals (called Ďtapettesí) for bathing almost immediately upon your arrival. You can buy them inexpensively in Burkina Faso, but you may want to throw in a pair of inexpensive ones so you donít have to deal with that right away.
I was really happy I brought some lightweight socks, since I wore them under sandals during some times of the year to protect my feet. But another volunteer said she wished she hadnít brought all those socks!
I ended up asking my family to send me my long cotton pajamas (for those two or three coolish nights :^) and a long-sleeved shirt. It shocked even me that I would ask for such things. And I was happy to have a sweatshirt and jeans on a couple of occasions. Again, these are things you could bring, or live without, or send to yourself before you leave (since you wonít need them until about December).
There are lots of second-hand clothing markets in the larger towns, and you may well find ordinary or extraordinary things you are happy with for almost no money at one of these.

 

Household

In some sites, you will probably inherit household supplies from the previous volunteer. And you will be able to get most things you need in Ouagadougou or Bobo. But if you get assigned to a new site, you may want to have a few things sent from home (or bring them with you). And a few items may help in any case, especially if you are a cook.
Plastic food storage containers (if you pack carefully, you can pack small items in these and they will take up almost no space and no weight in your suitcase/duffle bag). These come in handy for food and for other things as well. I like the rectangular kind, since they take up less space.
You can buy towels (fairly thin) and fabric to use as sheets in Ouaga or Bobo. But if it makes you feel at home or if you like a fat towel, you could bring sheets or a towel with you. Your official Peace Corps bed will be approximately like a slightly long twin foam mattress.
Many volunteers are also happy if they bring a pillow with them, since BurkinabŤ pillows are not the same, and if you find one to buy, it may be expensive.
American measuring cups and measuring spoons
If you have space, you can bring Parmesan cheese (in a well sealed container) and sauce packets for pasta, but these things will not be used until you get to your site. I also loved taco seasoning, which turns out to be great for seasoning popcorn (which you can buy in Burkina Faso), and I think it might even work as a variation for seasoning rice. This kind of thing, and any kitchen items, could be sent in a box to you at the Peace Corps office when you leave the states. 
A plastic spatula and non-stick frying pan definitely help, and they are a little hard to find in Burkina Faso, but most kitchen items can be found in Ouaga.

 

Miscellaneous

Accessories for your bike: I was really happy I took a special ďcomfortableĒ seat for my bike, but I am not a big biker. I also liked my rear-view mirror that my friends sent me. And one volunteer was happy she brought her saddlebags, although I liked my custom-made basket (made in a local village) that I could strap to my rear rack.

Antibacterial hand wash and/or antibacterial wet-wipes. These are really great in lots of situations. Be sure to pack any liquids in several layers of plastic and/or plastic food-storage containers. And know that individually wrapped wet-wipes can eventually dry out. Try putting some in plastic containers to preserve them better, or ask friends and family to send you some from time to time.

Zip-loc bags of various sizes come in tremendously handy. I even took a couple of garbage bags and used one to store my duffle bag in to keep out the dirt. It made a huge difference!  

An indoor/outdoor Fahrenheit/Celsius thermometer can be interesting/helpful (and it will give you great stories to tell about those hot days or nights you survived).

Twist-ties are kind of handy and donít take up much space.  

You might consider taking a small insulated lunchbag. I used mine for transporting butter, eggs, etc. on my bike in the heat.

If you end up in a village with no electricity (a strong possibility), a headlamp is useful for reading. In any case a small flashlight or mag-lite is terrific. Batteries are fairly expensive. Consider taking rechargeables (they even make solar rechargers these days).

If you are bringing anything electric (you really DONíT need a hairdryer no matter how much hair you have), be sure to bring an adaptor (the small plastic thing for converting American plugs to French) and be sure you donít need a transformer (or else bring one).  

Pictures of clothes that could be copied by a tailor, as in pattern books, catalogs, etc. Basic American styles that you might want to modify with Burkinabe fabrics can be very helpful with tailors who can copy anything.

The screen tent mentioned in suggestions from Peace Corps really does seem to be useful, especially if you will be living in a small village (sleeping outside) or traveling to visit other volunteers (or beyond). It serves as a great mosquito net/tent and keeps all sorts of critters away while keeping you as cool as possible.

One of my favorite things I took to Burkina Faso was a lightweight (silk I think) sleeping bag liner/sleepsack. I got it at REI and I used it whenever I traveled and slept in other beds, or for those days it got cool under another sheet. It hardly took up any space or weight.

Remember that Peace Corps provides many items, including skin lotion, first aid supplies, water filter, mosquito net, etc.

 

For gifts

Small tokens to give to people (my best were some left-over pins someone gave me from the Atlanta Olympics, or any small American item like a bandana, keychain, etc.)

Stickers, American pencils, etc. are great for kids.

I took a bunch of post cards of Texas and other American cities I passed through on my way to Burkina. They were great to show people pictures of America and later they were also great gifts.

At the end of training, you may want to give your host family a gift. Some volunteers put together albums of photos or personally made things. In general, I would not suggest giving expensive gifts, even for the family. Remember that you are presenting the only image of Americans that most people you meet will ever have. If you do choose to take something from the US, it might be a book from your town or state, or a book about America, etc.

 

For teaching

Stickers, American pencils, etc. for student rewards. For mathematics teachers, consider buying some "I love math" stickers, "Do Math" pencils, etc. from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (look on the Products page). These were a big favorite of my students. (Check out the picture of Sarata and Yacouba on the Student photo page.)

Colored pens in unusual colors for grading papers
(lots and lots and lots of papers)

Basic reference books for the subject(s) you will be teaching (these can be sent, possibly via diplomatic pouch, but you should do so as soon as possible so they can be used during training)

Bring a calculator, regardless of what you will be teaching, because you will be calculating averages for lots of students. Bring a scientific calculator if you will be teaching mathematics or science, and a graphing calculator is even better. Solar is of course good, or bring extra batteries (or rechargeables with a charger and electric plug adaptor). 

You can get lots of graph paper in Burkina Faso, as well as Bic pens in black, red, or blue, so these are less important.

 

Personal Items

Any skin care, hand care, foot care items will be really helpful. Usually Peace Corps supplies skin lotion, but they stopped doing that for about six months while I was there. Other products for dealing with dry skin, calluses, etc. should be helpful.

You can find most of what you need in terms of toiletries, etc. in the larger cities, including (American/European) soap, shampoo, conditioner (usually), Colgate toothpaste, deodorant (not a lot of choices), razors. The selection is not great and the prices are a little high, but it is yet another opportunity to adapt. But if you have particular brands that you like, you might want to bring these along.

 

Technology

This is a tough call. You may or may not have electricity or access to a phone line. But there is a possibility, and you could always use technology when you go to your regional capital. If you want to consider this, check out the page of this site on Cathyís technology.

Iím really happy I brought my computer, and about three or four other volunteers also brought theirs. Be sure to bring an extra battery or two, and a surge protector, and be sure your AC adaptor is equipped for international use (with a French electrical system).

My digital camera was great, but remember itís not easy to print photos for friends unless you also bring a small printer (by now you might be able to find somewhere in Ouaga to print, but it will probably be expensive). In any case, you can email them to people.

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