I remember the hours agonizing over what to bring to this strange new land for a job I didn’t know until I got here in a community I didn’t know until I got here with people I didn’t know until I got here… Yes this is my life and yes I love it, and yes you’re going to love it too!
I wanted to bring some clarity to what you’re going through because everyone will tell you to bring x items (some will say yes bring this, others will say no don’t bring that and you will sit at home and think WTF people). Then we say things like, but remember to pack light and you are doing the math realizing that if you bring everything we tell you to you in no way, shape or form will you be able to pack light. I will tell you a mind-set to have while packing that helped me greatly and a few general bits of info that might help make your choices easier.
So to start off with you can buy anything in Georgetown or Kingston that you can find in a Wal-mart supercenter in the U.S. Usually Capitals are a legitimate cities with plenty of shops. You should also know that you will not be able to shop in town unless your host family takes you (which 90-100% of families will take you) or until the end of training. That being said brands are different here so anything you have a brand-specific attachment to think about bringing. I brought a lot of my brand of face wash because that’s something that I knew I would miss. I also brought tea from home—the really really good tea that cheers me up when I’m having a bad day. You can also have people send you stuff from home if you’re really in a bind—shipping can be expensive for your relatives, but my mother sends me a box or two a month. You should only have to pay a small amount to pick up boxes or nothing at all, but the Post Office and taxes and customs and procedure largely depend on who is working, how much money they think you have and what mood they are in that day.
The next bit of info is that you will not be able to buy anything for at least a week. You will be staying at a location that you cannot leave without PC approval for the first week. Also it’s good to have enough to last you the first week with your host family so you don’t show up and have to awkwardly beg them to take you somewhere immediately to get what you need. SO, I recommend bringing 2-weeks worth of toiletries. Keeping in mind that you cannot possibly bring a 2-year supply of everything you use so at some point you will need to buy it here. Prices here are roughly the same as the U.S. so budget out a little extra for the beginning and leave the jumbo, wholesale, heavy shampoo at home. In our group people were over on luggage weight and had to pay a decent amount of money to get their bags shipped down. But do bring travel sized bug spray, sunscreen, shampoo conditioner, toothpaste, etc. Peace Corps eventually starts giving you bug spray and sunscreen, but the first week or two you’re on your own. Also consider getting the bug spray for clothes and sheets.
Think about the things that cheer you up, remind you of loved ones and unique items you use daily—these items will become tremendously important. For example I recommend sheets and a decent pillow (get a dry compression bag for your pillow and it will be easy enough to transport). Think about bringing your favorite recipes that helps me feel at home and close to my mom and grandmother. I brought pictures, notebooks, notes, letters, and bracelets that my friends and family gave me. It matters and is a very cheap way to decorate your house.
Think about the things to protect your belongings. I brought dry-bags (6) and duct tape and a lot of freezer bags. Plastic covers for your pictures will keep them from the wear and tear of jungle life. I also brought a lot of TSA approved luggage locks and a combo lock. I don’t use them often, but it’s nice to protect your stuff. If you are bringing a DSLR camera or any camera that cost over 500 dollars or has changeable lenses bring an air-tight box and as much silica as you can get your hands on. Bring silica regardless of whether you have an expensive camera or not you will find a place to use it. I went to my camera store explained my situation and they gave me an entire shopping bag of silica for free. I bought a reusable dehumidifier that works with silica beads that change color as they absorb moisture. Then when the beads are wet I plug it in and it renews the beads to dry. It’s made by a company called EvaDry and most specialty camera stores carry them. If you are not pro-active you will grow mold in your lens and that will break your heart. Think about bringing film lenses and a converter so that you do not spend so much money and can lower the risk of needing an expensive replacement.
Electronics—you can buy them in Guyana and Jamaica but they are expensive (you can buy some in the market of semi-questionable value, but in stores expect them to be 2-3 times their US value). I bought a phone charger that works great in the market, but I bought ear phones that are absolutely terrible). You also have ridiculous import tax if someone has to ship it to you (most PCVs don’t pay this, but some post offices are mean). They make you a target for theft so leave them locked up and out of site, but they also make you feel more connected. I have 2 phones one is a GT&T crappy little dumb-phone that gets great service to call out. The other is a smartphone on Digicel that struggles to get service but lets me check facebook and email and stay connected. They are both useful and both serve a purpose. Bring an unlocked phone you like and you can get a sim here and that’s really the best plan of action (I wish I had done that). Bring a computer that you like and take good care of it. Consider extra power cords, adapters, cords and so on. Mac users it’s worth bringing a DCIM adapter. Bring speakers if you like music in your house. Download a program to read kindle files and a program that runs all kinds of video files (VLC is a great one). Portable hardrives are a good idea (think 1-3 terabytes). If you have content to put on your hardrive do that as well. You will have more down time than you are anticipating. Even if you can’t imagine filling it up, bring one. This is the one category that is hard to find in Georgetown for a reasonable price and of good quaility. Keep in mind also that Peace Corps budgets do not allow for buying electronics.
On the topic of hammocks—if you want/have a lightweight hammock that travels well bring it, otherwise buy one when you get to site. I brought an ENO singlenest with a bugnet and the extended straps—very useful in fact currently it is the only furniture I have in my living room (hinterland problems). And, hammocks are nice when visiting other volunteers as some of us have limited space.
Think about the job you are going to be doing. What resources do you use in your job now. For example reference texts…Google doesn’t exist where I live. One very smart Guy26er (not me) got the PDF versions of several textbooks and put it on his hardrive. Bringing arts/crafts supplies if you are a teacher is fun too (again these are available here so it is not necessary, but can be fun.) I got a bunch of little puzzles from the dollar store and other things like that.
On the topic of clothing—you are going to be a professional just because you are in Guyana does not mean that you can look sloppy at work. You have a job now, bring the lightweight clothes that you would wear to work now. I wish I had brought a lightweight blazer to dress up some of my casual clothes a bit. Like I mentioned you can buy clothes here in Guyana if you need to so don’t stress too much about what you bring. You will get hit over the head with info about what to wear and what not to wear (some of which is contradictory). Keep in mind that you will likely lose weight (not everyone did) but I went down 3 sizes in the first 2 months so bring clothes that can work with fluctuating weight. Also consider that you will eventually hate these clothes because it is all you wear for 2 years. How many items did you buy in the last two years? Yeah you will want to replace stuff anyways so as long as you have some comfy clothes to lounge and sleep in and some professional clothes to wear to work, don’t worry about them. Bring one conservative semi-formal look in case you have to meet with a minister or do a presentation or get invited to a wedding or something. Along this lines also consider that volunteers often bring clothes to conferences and exchange clothes so you can get new stuff for free if someone is your same size (in 6 months I’ve given away 4 pants and a few tops and received 3 skirts and a few tops).
Speaking of clothing…. Look up the colors of the main political parties in your country and try not to pack much in those colors. For example In Guyana it was Green and Black, or more specifically any combination of Black Red and/or gold. In Jamaica it’s bright green and bright orange. I love the color green and about half my clothes are bright green but as developing countries occasionally have violence in election times I have half as many clothes and all my green stuff just takes up drawer space. Don’t let this deter you from going to your country. Political violence is rarely directed toward foreigners but it’s just one more thing you can do to protect yourself. Your other option is to wear the colors together.
Think about shoes!! I wear croc-flats (hideous as they are) to work a lot. I also brought a pair of toms, flip flops, running shoes and hiking boots. I like to run and hike, but it’s important to take care of your feet. If you end up walking 20-30 minutes to work then you will want good shoes to walk in and then change out of when you get to work. Also consider bring one pair of nicer shoes as my hideous crocs bum me out sometimes.
You will not know your site until you get here… Some houses are very nice and fully furnished and others like mine are basically empty. I have a stove a countertop with 1 shelf, a table with 1 chair, an office chair and a bed with a mattress—that’s it. I have an outlet and 2 light bulbs from solar power and a washroom with running well water… It’s nice, but that means everything else I have to buy. One Guy26er has a big TV and fully furnished place and others are with host families that have nice homes. So bring whatever about your house makes it feel like home that fits in your luggage. I brought a good knife, my favorite tea-cup and lots of photos.
Also keep in mind that you will have to adjust your expectations. I thought I would have wifi and live in town and now I live in a village of 300 only accessible by boat (it’s awesome I LOVE IT (I’m not being sarcastic)), but it’s not what I expected. Having the basics covered even if you don’t need them will help you. For example I have a USB solar panel my sister got me for Christmas and I use it when my current isn’t working in my house. It makes a big difference to be able to listen to music and read my kindle instead of sit in an empty dark house at night. I use my knives a lot all three of them—kitchen, pocket and larger pocket knife. My boots and my hammock also mean that I can survive no matter where I end up. It’s just reassuring.
The specifics of what to bring I can’t tell you because all of us are different and all of our housing situations are different. There are trade-offs to over-packing and under-packing. You are big kids you can decide for yourself what is important. Remember that you will have to haul all your stuff yourself (some of us had to go by ourselves to site without any other PCVs or assistance). But also remember that you are moving to Guyana not dropping off the face of the Earth—you are not camping for two years and Guyana has a lot of consumer goods that you can purchase if you forget something. Also my neighbors have taken great care of me and often lend me things until I can buy my own or even build small pieces of furniture like bookshelves and a box to grow vegetables in. Packing feels monumental, but it’s small. Don’t sweat it. And CHEERS!!! You’re Peace Corps Guyana!! ☺
These are portable things I had never heard of, but now use all the time. I wanted to pass on a few items that I find incredibly useful, and maybe they will be right for you too.
1. Power Add pocket solar panel. I am a hinterland volunteer and sometimes do not have power. It’s nice to be able to keep my cell phone going and have a lifeline home.
2. Diva Cup. Men do not continue reading. Women, this is a tampon alternative. There are rarely trashcans in bathroom here. It will save you the awkward conversation with your host mom, or landlord. And, it’s good for the environment! Google it…
3. EvaDry renewable dehumidifier. This one is really only for those of you with high-tech cameras. I was paranoid about getting mold in my lenses so I got this handy dehumidifier that works with silica beads. Basically, they turn pink when they are saturated and you plug it in and they dry out. I keep it in my air-tight box with my camera. Also consider an airtight box for your camera.