Lyle put together a ton of great information on what to expect and things to bring. I don’t really care too much about what you expect, but I imagine my life will be much easier if y’all pack well. So here’s some advice. Biased by gender, sector, and the fact that my post is rather unique. YMMV. Don’t take the list too seriously. Etc.
And for the love of GOD, don’t get talked into going out and buying close-toed (sp?) shoes during staging. You’ll understand when you get there.
- Don’t bring so many clothes.
- Light woven fabrics (as opposed to knits) are easier to hand wash, the thinner, the better. And you WILL be hand washing.
- Bring some (somewhat more) professional clothes (especially SED/ ICT). TEFL vols will need at least two professional outfits for teaching. Khakis and a button down shirt are fine.
- Girls should bring skirts that cover their knees. Or are longer (biking in a short skirt is tough!). Pants ARE appropriate for women. Don’t be idiots. If it’s too tight to wear to the office, it’s probably too tight to wear at post (Cotonou’s another matter entirely).
- Light colored pants are cooler, but stain much much easier.
- Bring a decent sewing kit. Washing by hand, bike spills, and rough use puts some wear and tear on Western clothes not meant for the abuse, and it’s not worth it to go your tailor every time a seam comes loose.
- Oxyclean is heaven. I should have brought more.
- Southern volunteers like to club. If you like clubbing in the States, bring an outfit to go clubbing in here (although you may not want to sex it up *quite* as much; jeans and a cute top are FINE).
- You’ll appreciate having something nice to go out in when you’re down in Cotonou doing business.
- All that said, underwear and bras are worth their weight in gold. I wish I’d brought another slip (cheap fabric is see-through).
- Less is more. You’ll be able to buy most of your stuff in country. Or have it shipped to you. On the other hand, don’t leave stuff behind that you think you’ll need to be happy. I should have brought a lot more health and beauty stuff. I didn’t need to bring as many clothes.
- Books are available in country. Seriously. There are some great Peace Corps libraries here in Benin. Bring a few, because training can be tough, but you’ll end up exchanging with your stage-mates anyway.
FOOD and MEDICINE (they’re intimately related)
- Powdered drink mixes. The sheer amount of water you drink will make the variety worth it.
- Bring your favorite spices. A lot of stuff is available in country (especially basics, middle eastern, and indian spices), but there’s also a lot that is NOT available.
- Be prepared for weight fluctuations. Nothing like an all carb diet to make girls gain and boys lose. And the heat and exercise to make you lose. And coming to Cotonou for a week to make you gain. Etc.
- Good knives are hard (read: impossible) to find in country, and worth their weight in gold.
STUFF THAT’S GOOD TO BRING
- Some sort of menthol baby powder type thing (Gold Bond rocks my socks).
- A few packs of waterproof matches would have been fan-fucking-tastic, especially during training.
- A headlamp. Hands free! You’ll feel like a dork the first few times you use it, and then you’ll realise that it’s even dorkier to not have both of your hands free while using your latrine at night or cooking.
- Stick deodorant isn’t available in country. FYI.
- Non-stick frying pans are, in fact, available in country.
- Gifts for your host family!! This is important! You can buy gifts in country (I bought fabric for mine), but also consider bringing a few small things from home (pictures of you, good flashlights, nice scarves, toys for young children, etc).
- For girls, the availability of tampons is incredibly limited. Pads you can buy in a lot of markets (definitely in regional capitals). Whatever you bring, bring enough to get yourself through training and your first month at post. You’re not gonna have time to hunt stuff down.
- You don’t *need* a laptop unless you’re an ICT volunteer. If you’re an ICT volunteer, you can make do without one, but it’s hella easier to make do WITH, and you’ll be able to be more flexible with the types of projects you take on.
- CD-Rs are available in country, but they are expensive (at least a dollar a pop). I’m glad I brought some with me. YMMV.
- The Peace Corps will give you a USB key. If you plan on using it to exchange software, media, etc, you will be somewhat SOL. If you need more than 64M (what we got last time), consider bringing your own.
LIFE IN GENERAL
- At some point, you’re going to have to start trusting people, and it might as well be sooner rather than later. Yeah, you’ll get burned, but that’s part of life in Africa.
- I am YOUNG in this country. Girls my age are either uneducated and married, still in high school, or just beginning university. There’s also a subtle sexism that comes into play. Expect it, deal with it, and come up with ways to work around it. I explain that I’ve been living on my own for a long time, and that at home, it’s not rare for younger girls to have experience and careers.
- I am far more patriotic today than I was when I left the States, but people’s blindness towards my country, for good AND bad, can be frustrating.
- Training won’t feel applicable until four months after post. And your first three months at post will be nothing like your second three. And really, training sometimes sucks. So do something to make it better instead of complaining about it.