Thursday, July 12, 2007

packing list revised!!

so, a new group is coming very soon, and if any of them are anything like me, then i offer my condolences. unfortunately, that means that they are peeling through peace corps blogs, worrying a lot about what they should and should not bring. don't worry, i'm here to do your job for you!!! i'll go over what i brought, and what i didn't need.

firstly, the things that you absolutely MUST bring, and will be helpless in Uganda without:


that's right, this is a country that sustains a population of 27 million people, most of whom do not go to REI before waking up every morning. everything you need is here. seriously, if you brought two changes of clothes and some cash, you'd be perfectly content.

however, that is not to say that there aren't plenty of things that make your life easier here. hence, i think it is best to think of everything as a luxury item. in fact, if i could go back in time, i would have brought nothing but luxury items.

so, things i brought in excruciatingly tough to read format:

Item # taken
Belts 2
only needed one (tip for guys: bring all clothes that go with brown shoes or black shoes, not some of each. plan belt-wise accordingly)
Windbreaker 1
Cubs hat 1
forgot this at home. if anyone wants to bring me a replacement, that'd be great. also didn't need because i picked up a slick indiana jones style hat in Mbale
Sunglasses 1
Don't really need, but damn i look good in them. actually, they're pretty good for long bike rides.
Sturdy Gloves 1
still haven't used them, but if i start a garden, or become delusional and need to peel matooke, they'll come in handy
Cotton or Polyester blend slacks 2
Don't bring light colored kakhis. darker browns are best
Nice Shirt 2
not very descriptive, they're polos. worn frequently
Ties 3
don't need more than one, unless, like me, you need to look really, really, ridiculously good. then bring ten, because you'll need at least that to one-up me
Button down shirts 2
i don't know why i wrote two. i brought four. wish i had brought five, because it's a nice round number. worn all the time during training. these are READILY available here, so i guess you should ignore the first sentence. bring two, buy more here.
Shorts 1
should've brought two. worn to hell all the time. they're great for around the house and despite peace corps's strongest recommendation, i wear them around the village too. you can't keep calves like these to yourself.
T-shirts 5
tons of t-shirts available here. bring ones that say where you're from for convenient pointing, but you don't really need to bring more than one or two
Cotton Underwear 20
okay, i stand by the statement that you don't need to bring everything, but you will hate ugandan underwear. bring plenty, have more sent later.
Socks 12 pair
socks are available here, but not so comfy and huggable. bring plenty
Swimming Trunks 1
i lost mine in a horrific memory lapse accident. wish i still had them, you will be able to use them if you want to
Running Shoes 1
used all the time
Dress shoes 1
see below
Work Shoes (comfortable) 1
wish i had brought one really sturdy pair of brown dress shoes that were comfortable and could be worn on any occasion. alas, it was not meant to be
Hiking Boots 1
see note on camping equipment
Chacos 1
buy them 50% off through the peace corps discount. that's a command, not a suggestion. everyone who doesn't have a pair is scrambling to get some.
Medicine All
no explanation necessary
Shaving Cream 1
available here, but doesn't leave my skin silky smooth like Aveeno. Bring your own pretty boy!
Deodorant 3
i'm particular to my brand of deodorant, so i don't regret this at all. also, when you get here, carry it with you everywhere.
Shampoo 1
your brand of shampoo may be available here, but it's really expensive. bring it if you're particular
Toothbrush 1
i dropped mine down the pit latrine, and had to buy one here. it works fine. bring travel sized for the journey
Toothpaste 1
it's here, bring travel size
Razor 1
you can get a razor here, but it's steep
Blades 4
should've brought a thousand
Nail Cutters 1
again, available here, but easier to bring one from home
Spices 6
had these sent, best decision ever. don't worry about packing them, just mail em to kampala before you leave since you're not going to be cooking much during homestay
French Press 1
coffee lovers: BRING A FRENCH PRESS
Towels 3
towels? seriously? why did i bring 3? because i'm an idiot. one is probably one too many, but if you're particular about your towels, bring one nice fluffy one
Swiss Army Knife 1
used everyday, glad i brought it
Leatherman 1
used often, also glad i brought it. most people only need one or the other though. leatherman has pliers, but is more bulky. i carry my swiss around, and use the leatherman mostly around the house
Measuring spoons 1
good to have, but only if you cook a lot
Mess kit 1
see camping equipment
Color visa size photos 6
i don't think i used all of these, but i feel like they could be needed just around the corner
Black and white visa size photos 4
don't think i used any of these. then again, maybe i did.
no comment.
Passport photos 10
useful eventually, but available here too. you'll need some during training though. just do what peace corps tells you on this one, you'll be fine.
Sewing Kit 1
things tear in uganda too, didn't need this, but didn't have to buy one. available here, but mine's so small and convenient...
Alarm Clock 1
i use my watch, didn't need this
Nalgene Bottle 1
mine was stolen on the way here!!! i'd bring 2
Slumberjack and inflatable pad 1
see camping equipment
Headlamp 1
most people here (at least the cool ones that i hang out with) say this is the best thing they brought. this is extremely useful
Reading light 1
used sometimes, but more often wanted when it isn't around. more useful for when headlamp runs out of batteries
Watch 1
used all the time. buy a good sturdy one
Binoculars 1
if you're into birding, you don't need to be told to bring them. uganda's a birder's paradise
Day Pack 1
used every day
Backpack 1
um... didn't actually bring this, and i don't miss it.
iPod solar charger 1
used a lot, though often just as an auxillary battery. still, i recommend bringing it. i have the solio, and so do a lot of people here. it works, and it's handy.
Guitar 1
bring one, even if you don't play. rick and i need company
Books 3
there's a ton of books here, so bring the ones that you don't think you can go two years without. also, i recommend bringing extremely pretentious titles that you don't actually want to read (ulysees, de profundis, and anything by david foster wallace will do fine)
Sketch Pad 1
eh, i would rather have saved the space and used the paper you can find here. i'm not a big sketcher though, so if you're hardcore, you should bring it
Guitar Strings 3
i need them
iPod 1
see electronics
see camping
Tuner 1
not recommended for people who aren't bringing a musical instrument. buy hey, maybe you're going to build a wash-tub bass. bring one just in case
Hiking Pants 1
see camping equipment

note one bringing electronic equipment:

i wish i'd brought a laptop. i like to write, and listen to a lot of music, so it would be useful. i don't have power, so i would only really use it as my own personal computer at the computer lab at my college. for many education volunteers, a laptop would be a complete waste of space. for some, it is (or was) a godsend (see: jessica). health volunteers are a bit more likely to have power, but i would say bring it if you think you'll need it. it's a tough call for anyone.

i'd say bring one if you have one, if not, assess your situation when you're here and have someone wire you cash to buy one in country if you really need one.

as for iPods... it is the thing that keeps me going more than anything (aside from friends, and albatrixces). however, i listen to a lot of music. those of you who can't live without music, definitely bring it. in fact, i don't know anyone who regrets bringing their mp3 players. so bring it. although i haven't known anyone who has lost their mp3 player. well, i recommend bringing it. and the solio. and the new radiohead CD if it ever comes out.

camping equipment:
there are great opportunities to camp in uganda. i really wish i had brought a tent. i pretty much brought everything else i need. if you have a tent, bring it, you can camp out at places for cheap instead of booking a bed. if you like to camp, bring everything you can bring on the plane. if you don't, then don't.

things i wish i had brought:
herb seeds

everything's available here. stop worrying about your packing list. even the things i wish i'd brought, i don't really need.

last note: if you're bringing cash, bring it in $100 bills dated after 2003. you get a better exchange rate for bigger, newer bills than you do for small bills. it's silly, i know. someone's making a killing off of those 20s, but it isn't me.

and bring me a gift, because i'm lovable.


p.s. spanish wine botas was eventually sent. it is very aesthetically pleasing, but not exactly useful.

So... what do you do here?

yes, everyone wants to know what i'm actually doing in uganda. all i ever seem to talk about is bats and cultural adjustments. don't i realize that i'm supposed to be doing actual work here?

so, what have i been up to these days?

well, i'm part of the education program of peace corps uganda. this means that i'll be working for the ugandan ministry of education and sports (abbreviated MOES, one ministry, and no, silly walks is not a sport). i'm assigned to a counterpart, who is a ugandan national. mine - and most of the rest of the education volunteers - is a Coordinating Center Tutor. i assist him in his work at the coordinating center, our catchment area, and i work on my own on secondary projects, which could pretty much be whatever i want.

now, what is a coordinating center? uganda is divided up into districts (not states), which in turn is divided into sub-counties. each sub-county (or group of sub-counties) is given a primary school coordinating center, through which information flows from the MOES to the primary schools. the schools to which the coordinating center is assigned is called a catchment area, and the person in charge of the coordinating center (and the only staff until the trusty PCV arrived!) is the coordinating center tutor. he/she also lives on the compound.

more specifically, the coordinating center tutor holds workshops for current primary school teachers, and also visits the schools in his or her catchment area to provide support and supervision (evaluating the teacher's performance, then meeting with them to discuss strengths and weaknesses).

what i do, or at least what i was doing, was basically that. support/supervision at schools all day every day. this was fun, but a little monotonous. luckily, the CCT and I decided to divide up some of his responsibilities, so i have made it my job - nay, mission - to put PIASCY/life-skills and instructional materials in the schools.

man, every paragraph i write, i explain one thing, and in turn have to explain two others.

PIASCY is a presidential initiative to bring HIV/AIDS education to schools. Life-skills are other social messages and practical skills that are useful for ugandan children. for instance, teaching kids about gender equity, or about farming, or more important things like frisbee golf.

so, i'll be going around to schools giving demonstrative lessons on PIASCY and life skills. then, i'll follow up to see if they are taking my advice. then i'll drop the hammer, and really let em know that they need to be doing this. then they'll do it, and name a road after me. not really, but you gotta dream big.

instructional materials are self-explanatory. i'll just keep guilting people into making them.

thanks for the stuff everyone, but i left the pre-prepared thank you at home, so i'll post that some other time.