Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Greetings future PCVs, a word...

So you are in Group 9. I bet right now you have a stack of lists next to your laptop, a pile of newly purchased gadgets and are reading this blog with the hope that I will reveal all to you.

First order of business. I want you to sit back, take a HUGE breath and relax. Good, you are ready to go.
But if that did not help, perhaps I can impart some knowledge that I wish I had known/listened to pre-departure to this lovely kingdom of ours.

Packing (the essentials):

-Headlamp. Bring this. I think that my first week of training was the beginning of a love affair with this particular device. If you don’t have electricity, you will especially curse your existence if you are without one of these. Also, bring tons of AAA batteries to accompany your new illuminating friend.

-Tent and compact sleeping bag: I know it seems like this would be a hassle, but trust me it will be worth it. During training you will freeze and desperately wish you had a sleeping bag. And having a tent means half-off at the backpackers in Mbabane and most other places. Forget clothes, bring these.

-Duct tape: Fixes everything and will make your host bhuti think you are super cool.

-Water bottle cleaning tablets: You are going to use your Nalgenes on a constant basis and since dust is prevalent in every crevice of your hut, you will want to clean them. A lot.

-Laptop and an external hard drive that is at least 500 GB: Don’t fool yourself into thinking you will be “roughing it” without technology. You will want to escape occasionally and watch Glee. Plus then you can have movie nights in your hut with the kiddos and make popcorn. It’s awesome.

-Couple decks of cards: BEST integration tool with your permanent host family. They will teach you Crazy 8’s (aka Uno), Sisu and if you have the skill, Casino (I have yet to master this ridiculously confusing game). Bring multiple decks if you are like me and have mischievous, albeit adorable, children on your homestead that “borrow” your cards and return them in a state of destruction.

-NO MEDICATION: Okay bring prescriptions but DO NOT listen to the packing list suggestion of carting the entire CVS store to Swaziland. You will get a med kit with all kinds of awesome goodies and the Med Unit is always there to satisfy your medicinal needs.

-Couple books for training: If you are like me and are sans electricity during training, bring one or two really long books to get through the 2 months of mind-numbing err informative sessions. I brought The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (no judgments please) and it lasted me the entire two months. Mostly because I would fall asleep by 7:30.

-Lighters: Better than the crap matches you can buy in bulk here and will make lighting your gas stove much easier. You will also swear less.

-Clothes that don’t make you feel like a grandma: You will sometimes have the luxury of feeling like a normal person while in town and having clothes that make you look like yourself will do wonders. A pair of jeans and a cute shirt are worth not bringing one more peasant skirt.

-Perfume: Same concept as above. Sometimes you will want to smell less like the dirty PCV that you are to become.

-Small, compact umbrella: BRING THIS. If you live in Dante’s Inferno aka the lowveld, this is much better than a wide-brimmed hat. They sell umbrellas here but they are crap and bulky. Bring one that you can stick in your backpack. This will also aid in integration, since your community will love you for this.

-2 knives, peeler and can opener of good quality: Nothing you can buy here will match the amazingness of American-bought, Chinese-made products. Also, don’t be that person who stupidly packs the can opener in the bag that will be stored during training, otherwise you will learn how to open a can with your Leatherman by candlelight and risk death every time.

-Travel size toiletries and toiletry bag: You will live as a nomad here, so pack as if you will be camping/backpacking for two years. Travel-size everything is advisable.

-For the ladies, leave-in conditioner: Water is scarce in many of the places we inhabit and washing conditioner out of your hair can be a hassle. Saves time, water and sanity.

-Normal bathing suit: That whole “conservative bathing suit for women” tip is a farce. Bring a bikini if that’s your bag, because being the only one on the beach in Mozambique with a one-piece won’t be fun.

-Sticky tack: No brainer here. Bostick is god awful.

-Extra pens and pencils: These things disappear faster than rice at a community event. Do not, under any circumstance, lend these to children. You will never see them again.

-Treats and media for your future BFF’s aka G8. We are tired, hungry and dirty. Take pity on us and please bring sustenance in the form of new movies and candy. We will love you for it. Peanut butter M&M’s are my favorite, so take note.

-Clothing: Okay this topic is much too extensive and I’m getting hungry, so here’s a few hints. You don’t need that much. The important thing is to have range and choice. Easy-to-wash, high quality and comfortable is your best bet. Ladies, dresses over skirts means less laundry.

Bring what makes you happy and know that you have wonderful parents, siblings and friends who you can guilt-trip into sending you whatever your heart desires by using the simple phrase “Well I’m living in a hut in Africa.” Works every time. Uh I should take this opportunity to thank all MY friends and family for the awesome goodies they’ve sent me over the past 10ish months. You guys rock.

Before you leave the bright and clean land of Amurika:

-Stop reading blogs. Right now. Okay well after you finish this one. I know it feels like you have to soak in every parcel of information before you get here, but the truth is, nothing will prepare you for this experience. You’ve got to get here first. So please, go outside and enjoy your last weeks in the familiar. Go on a walk with your dog. Spend as much time as possible with friends and family. You are not going to see them for a very long time. Go to your favorite restaurants and stuff yourself silly. Eat lots of Thai food, there is none here. Go for a long drive with the windows down and music blaring and just enjoy the moment.

-Enjoy your dignity while you can. You will be spending the next two years waving and grinning at every person in your community in hopes that you are “integrating.” You will be peeing in buckets (don’t think you won’t). You will walk by your entire host family with said pee in said bucket. You will not bathe as regularly as you used to. You will be instantly recognizable as a PCV by everyone as you lug your overstuffed backpack and bomake bag around Manzini and Mbabane. You will get embarrassingly happy and grateful when offered rides, showers and candy by wary expats. So embrace what little self-respect you have left, because it is going to be long time until you no longer excitedly exclaim “Yes Yes Yes!” to a waiter’s question about whether you want ice cubes in your water. Shit’s about to get real fun.

-Take lots of long, hot showers. Enjoy them. Cherish them. Then, say goodbye.
These next two years are going to be amazing. Don’t sweat it, you will be fine. We are here to help ease you along and to show you where all the bathrooms are in town. Hambini kahle bangami bami.

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