Well it’s that time of the year. The new DABA and Education stages are priming and preparing to come to Burkina. I remember where I was last year at this time so I figured if any of them actually look at this blog, I could give them some pointers with the ultimate packing list. This is a mix of what I brought that I was happy with and things I wish I had brought with me. Also, as a DABA volunteer, this will be more agriculture-specific. Hopefully for future stagiaires, this post will be filled with fascinating insights and poignant reflections on Peace Corps service in Burkina. For anyone else who might read this, I’m sorry but the next few paragraphs will be extremely boring…
Any 75 L backpack. I used a large backpack as my main luggage. Any brand will do, really. Don’t stress over it. I found the 75 L quite large but keep in mind, a backpack is not necessary since the Peace Corps picks you up at the airport and transports your luggage wherever you need to go (from your approximately first three days at a hotel in Ouaga to your training site of Ipelce, back to Ouaga for swear-in, and then to your individual site). However I enjoyed the mobility. Keep in mind, you’ll get dropped off at the training center but your family will come to pick you up. It might be a donkey cart or just your host dad on a rickety old bike. Don’t worry, it’s all part of the fun.
Any 35 L backpack. I used this as a carry-on and also for the more immediate items I would need in Ouaga. Again, any brand will do so don’t fret.
1 pair of work pants. Mine are heavy-duty cotton. They’re breathable and extremely durable which is a plus. Keep in mind, although it gets extremely hot here, it is not necessary to deck yourself out in space-age fibers and wicking clothing. You’re going to sweat no matter what and you already will stand out. You don’t need to stand out more by looking like you’re on a safari or about to run a marathon.
2 pairs of dress pants. You will need to look nice at times. I brought linen dress pants and couldn’t be happier. Although linen can be expensive, nothing breathes better, really.
2 pairs of casual pants. Say goodbye to your shorts. You will never wear them because they’re not appropriate. Thus, a couple pairs of casual pants are necessary. Linen is also good for this.
1 pair of good jeans. Durable is key. Jeans are great for going out in Ouaga and Bobo. They take up a lot of space, however, so stick to one pair.
7 cotton t-shirts. You will wear these all the time. Make sure they’re not already on their last legs. It might go without saying, but don’t bring anything precious because after two years it will be most likely ruined. Also, V-necks tend to give you more airflow. This is good when it’s 120 degrees outside—which it is now.
3 collared shirts. You will need these. Short-sleeved ones are perfectly acceptable.
2 pairs of socks. You will bring dress shoes so bring a pair of dress socks and a pair for sport. You’ll almost never wear them but it’s good to have them.
7 pairs of underwear. No need for crazy new fabrics. Cotton boxers are totally fine.
1 bathing suit. There are pools and rivers here. Bring one and you’ll thank yourself.
1 hoodie. This is unbelievably helpful during the cold season. However, it’s big and bulky so if you can’t fit it in, have someone send it over.
1 scarf. During the cold season you’ll actually be glad you had this. Also, it’s very helpful for biking amidst all the dust of the dry season.
1 belt. You will lose weight, probably. Also, just bring a belt to wear with nice clothing. Make sure it matches your dress shoes…that I will get to in a minute.
1 raincoat. It rains, bring one.
1 pair of dress shoes. These are necessary. Make sure they’re comfortable.
1 pair of good flip-flops. It is not necessary to seek out something that really straps to your feet—ie: Chacos. A pair of leather flip-flops is perfectly fine. I have Rainbows and they’re fantastic. Although being expensive for a flip flop, they’re the most durable ones you can buy and will last you two years without trouble.
1 pair of casual shoes. It will be good to have these because you might go somewhere that requires close-toed shoes. Toms are great because they pack well, but anything works.
1 pair of running shoes. If you want to do active sporty things. The kids at the center in Ipelce love to play soccer and always love if you join in. So keep that in mind. If you’re not interested in sports activity, feel free to ignore this suggestion.
*A note on shoes: You can find shower flip-flops and any other type for shoe in Ouaga and all over so if you’re running out of space, keep that in mind. They just might be less-than-desirable quality if you buy them here, though.
1 pair of mesh shorts. Awesome for sleeping or around the house. Not awesome for wearing out in public unless playing sports.
1 long-sleeved shirt. Good to have, that’s all. Not necessary, though.
1 tie. It’s good to have a tie. You never know when you’ll need one or feel like it might be appropriate to wear one
Laptop. If you have a decently portable laptop, just bring that. There is no need to buy a netbook. However, I highly recommend having a computer. It makes your life so much easier.
Solar charger. I have a Solio charger, which is fine. If you leave it out in full sun all day, it can charge your phone for about 20-30 minutes. That’s acceptable to me but apparently there are better ones out there. Feel free to make these decisions on your own.
Rechargeable batteries. Fantastic thing to bring. Sanyo’s Everloop batteries work great. Batteries here are expensive and of greatly inferior quality. I highly recommend bringing 8 AA and 8 AAAs.
Digital camera. I brought a little point and shoot which is great because it’s easily portable and doesn’t draw too much attention. If you have a nicer SLR or something, that can work. Either way, if kids in your village see you have a camera, all hell breaks loose because they all want to get their picture taken. Moral of the story: sometimes it doesn’t matter how fancy your camera is.
2 universal to French adapters. You can buy them here but they’re flimsy. Just bring two from home. Make sure they’re universal and not just for US outlets because most likely your phone charger will be British. Don’t ask why. Maybe they’re made in Ghana or something.
At least a 500 GB hard drive. Bring this and fill it with movies and TV shows. You will thank yourself. PCVs trade media like crazy when we’re together so if you don’t bring over a lot, have not fear. Also, as a related aside, you should probably develop an appreciation of Arrested Development before coming here.
2 8-GB USB keys. These are great for sharing work and music.
*DON’T EVER PLUG USB KEYS OR EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES INTO A PUBLIC BURKINABE COMPUTER unless you want to be overrun by viruses.
Shortwave radio. Fantastic for listening to BBC or VOA in the morning and evenings. Kaito KA1102 I hear is great with fantastic battery life and very compact.
Headlamp. Great for moving around the house at night. You most likely won’t have electricity.
iPod. Self-explanatory. Any music playing device will be worth its weight in gold.
Speakers for your iPod. These are great so that you can listen to music in your house. Any portable speaker works for this. Altec Lansing makes one, I believe.
Leatherman. I have the Leatherman Wave. Absolutely fantastic for around the house and also as a DABA volunteer. Any multi-tool will do, but Leatherman is quality.
Field knife. Great for traveling and eating the impromptu mango.
Knife sharpener. Your blades will get dull.
Mesh tent or bug hut. Bug Huts are great and a cheaper option. However if you do go for a different tent, make sure it’s freestanding (as in not needing to be staked in order to stand up).
Sleeping pad. Small is key, and Thermarest has a prodeal with Peace Corps so I would go that route.
Sleeping bag. I have a Marmot Never Winter bag (30 degrees). It’s absolutely perfect for sleeping in the cold season. I highly recommend getting a sleeping bag with those specifications.
Compressible pillow. Good for long bus rides or if you have a visitor staying at your house.
Quick-dry towel. This is great. I got mine at REI.
Small collapsible backpack. I have an LL Bean Stowaway bag. It’s great because you can fit it into your luggage and take it out when you need to just do day trips or if you’re running around Ouaga.
2 Chico bags. Perfect for the market and everything else. They’re compact and durable—a necessity, I think.
1 roll of duct tape. Bring it and fix things with it.
Seeds. Bring whatever seeds you might want to grow in a garden at site. Hierloom tomatoes? Go for it! Herbs? Why not! Bring whatever you want. If you really want something to grow here, bring multiple varieties and brands of the same thing because odds are the seeds are not accustomed to this soil. However, I managed to successfully grow Burpee Brandywine tomatoes if you’re looking for something proven to work.
1 water bottle. Just bring a 1-liter water bottle. I like the Platypus ones because they’re compressible so they pack easily. For storing large quantities of water, don’t worry about bringing anything because you can find things for that here.
Tape adapter for iPod. If you can find one of these, bring it. A lot of times bush taxis have stereos with tape players. This way you can play your music in the bush taxi. Everyone loves it and you don’t have to hear Burkinabe music blasted in your ears for hours on end. It’s usually a great cultural exchange. Also, the main PC bus that will transport you has a tape player. If you want to ride in style while listening to all your favorite music, bring that adapter. It’s possible to bring an iTrip or whatever but radio waves are not as strong as they are in the US.
At least 1 notebook. I use a Molskine as a work journal. It’s great because it’s incredibly durable.
2 books that you want to read. You’ll trade a lot of books during stage. Bring a couple that you can really get into.
Pictures of family/friends/pets/loved ones. This is a necessity for showing your host family and for your own sanity when you have your own place.
Musical Instrument. I brought a mandolin. The ukulele is a popular choice. Or if you don’t feel like carrying something extra, bring a harmonica or two.
Pastels/colored pencils/watercolors. If you’re artistically-inclined, go ahead.
At least 5 of your favorite pens. Pens suck here for the most part.
-Toiletries (bring a 3-month supply of the following things)-
Toothpaste. Bring a variety with a screw-on cap. Things will get smashed around in your bag and the last thing you want is for your toothpaste to get everywhere…like what happened to me.
Sunscreen for your face
Bar soap and plastic holder. Bar soap is easy to find, just bring one.
Razor, extra razor blades
-Gift for your host family-
Don’t worry too much about this. I brought a book of photographs of US Parks. This was great because my family was fascinated by the scenery and there was nothing that reminded them of the opulence that they believe exemplifies our country. It’s up to you, but a book of pictures is a good way to go—especially since you don’t know what the child situation will be like with your family. If there are a lot of kids, you can ask someone to send you some stuff during stage.
-Things I don’t have but others seem to be happy with-
-Things you absolutely don’t need or don’t need to bring with you-
Anything having to do with water purification
Any over-the-counter medicine
Books on first aid or tropical medicine
Umbrella. Su has asked me to put this in because she did bring one and it was destroyed in the first storm. A raincoat with a hood will suffice.
*Don’t forget to bring a bike helmet! The best thing to do is to buy a new one, bring the receipt, and get reimbursed during stage. It’s a simple process and the extra $45 or so can be very helpful. Also, a packing tip, clip it to the outside of whatever bag you’re using as your carry-on. Otherwise, it will take up way too much space in your bag.
*You’ll get a one-time-use debit card at staging with about $40 on it. This is for expenses from staging to Burkina (food, etc.). However, bring an extra $100 with you to country. You’ll have the opportunity to exchange that money and having that in CFA is a great little savings account during the 3 months of training when you will be on a walk-around allowance.
*Bring your acceptance packet with all forms filled out—it’s a pain in the ass to be missing something at staging.
Well that’s all I can think of at this time. I hope that helps out for I tried to be as complete as possible. Good luck, and we’ll see you soon!