*Warning: This post is primarily for future PCSA training groups*
Having been here nearly a year, and experienced all the seasons of this beautiful country, I want to pass on some packing advice to future PCSA groups, so they can potentially avoid some of the mistakes I made. 🙂 I wrote this for groups arriving in winter (July), so if you arrive in summer (January), swap the weather-related advice.
First off, you will arrive in the dead of winter, and may not be able to shop for a few weeks. You need to bring a warm hat, gloves, a scarf, a heavy fleece sweater, and long sleeves. It is a good idea to pack a few pairs of wool socks or knee socks, and a few sets of long johns. You will use them a lot over the next two years.
Pants: I packed 1 pair of jeans and two pairs of dress pants: gray ad brown. Do not pack blank pants-the dirt shows too much on these. One pair of jeans was sufficient for PST, as you are not supposed to dress casual to sessions. I have since bought another pair here and wear them often. Jeans are cheap here, so bringing only one pair is fine. Khakis….I didn’t bring any, and they get dirty easily. You make the call.
Skirts/dresses: I brought 3 skirts, but could have packed one or two more. Don’t bring skirts that go above the knee-they are not totally appropriate (may depend in your village, but at PST they will harass you about this). Bring 1-2 heavy skirts for winter, and 1-2 lighter skirts, for when it starts to warm up in spring. I brought 2 pairs of thick leggings, which served well during winter and spring. Tights are good too. I did not bring a dress, but have bought one for R40 (5 bucks or so). You will need to dress “nicely” for swear-in, but a skirt and nice top works fine. Don’t stress that-I did, and that was ridiculous. Don’t overpack on skirts and dresses though, as you can find beautiful ones here for very little money.
Shoes: Bring 1 pair of sneakers, a pair of nicer dress shoes (not black-again, the dirt/sand), and sandals that are sturdy. Also consider a pair of slip-ons or flip-flops for around the house. You can buy shoes here, but they are often low quality or extremely expenses. If you have bigger feet, you may struggle to find your size. I did not purchase a pair of Keens/Chacos/etc, but wish I had. It would be worth the investment because you will wear them a lot in the summer. I got lucky and bought a pair of $3 Kmart sandals at Goodwill that happened to be pretty nice. The main thing is that you can walk a lot in all your shoes.
Tops: The packing list says pack dark colours-ignore this. They fade drying in the sun and show stains/dirt easily. And it’s hot in the summer, and you don’t want to wear black shirts all the time. Plain, colourful tshirts are good because you can wear them with a skirt and look quite nice and be comfy. Button-down tops look professional and you will get lots of compliments when you wear them, but they usually have to be ironed, which is not fun. Wearing wrinkles clothes is not ok here, fyi. Pack a few long-sleeve shirts you can layer with during winter. Polos are good and look very nice. I brought only one, and several button-down shirts, and wish I had done the opposite. You can buy shirts here relatively cheaply, but I have found that the quality sucks and they look like trash in a few months, where my American ones hold up much better.
Electronics: Bring ‘em. You will most likely have electricity at home, if not at school. I have a netbook, which is nice to travel with. I have a kindle, which is one of the most important things I brought. I bought a blackberry here, which is golden as I can get cheap internet and BBM other PCVs. You can buy one here or bring one and buy a SIM card. I brought a cheap digital camera, because that was all I had. It works most of the time (it’s 5+ years old) and if it gets stolen or broken, ga gona mathata-no problem. Ignore the ridiculous packing list when it says to bring a 35mm camera and film. We are not in the 90s anymore. I also have an ipod, and use it a lot. Rechargeable batteries are good, but make sure the voltage converts to 240, which is the charge here. Same for all electronics. If they all say 50-240 (something like that), you do not need to bring a converter. You will need an adapter-for the different outlet shape. You can buy one for about $8USD during training, so if you want to wait until then, that’s ok. I did, and was fine as I locked up my electronics with PC during PST. But it may be a few weeks until they make the order. Just be aware that anything you bring may well get stolen or broken. Bring an external hard drive. 500gb minimum. It will be worth the investment!
Random: You will need to bring at least one towel for PST. A money belt is good to prevent theft and to travel with….but I no longer use mine. Don’t bring any kitchen utensils, as you can buy them here when you swear in. A sleeping bag is a worthy investment, as you can use it to survive winter, and to host PCVs or visit other PCV’s sites. You could buy one here, but I suspect the quality is poor and it will be pricy. Bring a Nalgene or other nice, durable water bottle. A sewing kit is useful, though you could buy it here.
Bags: Bring 2 checked bags. You are allowed to, and will not likely have to haul them far by yourself. Use the space. I brought a rolling suitcase, a rolling duffle, a messenger bag (carry on) and a daypack (carry on). In hindsight, I wish I had brought a rolling suitcase, a hiking (large) backpack, a messenger bag and a small backpack (inside one of the other bags). The hiking backpack would be really nice for longer trips, and I’m bringing one back after I visit America this June.
How to pack: For your checked bags: PC will ask you to store one bag during PST. They call this your non-essentials. Pack things you will use mostly in summer or at site. Pack most of your winter clothes and some spring/summer clothes in your essentials bag to use during PST. It’s like Christmas when you get to open your non-essentials bag after going to site.
Men: Sorry, I’m a girl. But from what I have heard, ties are a little extravagant here, so maybe only pack one. I think some male PCVs use a suitcoat, but rarely. Bring nice dress shoes though-it’s a cultural thing.
In general: the dirt/sand here is mostly red or pale white/brown. So black is bad all over. Gray is awesome, so pack grey pants, shirts, and shoes. Then you have to wash less often. As you will be hand-washing, that is a good thing. Many men and women will shave their heads during PST (I did), so if you are considering this, do it stateside or pack an extra hat/scarf to wrap your head in on the cold days. If you know how to cut hair, bring some good scissors because you’ll be in high demand. You can buy almost anything here after PST, but maybe not in your shopping town, maybe not of good quality, and maybe for a lot of money. So, take this with a grain of salt. Also, this is not really the place for short skirts, cleavage, etc.
PC tells you to dress very nicely and that jeans are not allowed, but nearly everyday there are educators (principal too) wearing jeans, tracksuits, and tshirts to school. Some schools are more formal, but mine is not.
If you have questions, email me. firstname.lastname@example.org Also, look at posts on here from before I left to see what I packed, photos and all.
That was long…