Most Important Packing List, Ever


Dear Future volunteers (or long-trip travelers),

I present you with the only packing list you’ll ever need! It doesn’t matter what country you are going to – Panama, Zimbabwe, Ukraine – this is the list that will get you through 27 months of any conditions the Peace Corps will throw your way.

Love,
Me

CLOTHING:
Naturally you will want clothes that are built for traveling. Donate all your clothes to Goodwill and take yourself, and your entire bank account, down to REI and stock up on wrinkle-free, quick drying everything!

clothing

Cargo pants – the pockets will be nice to hold your compass and hunting knife.
Button down shirts – business casual and conservative. 7 colors for the 7 days of the week.
Underwear – spring for the $20 pairs to ensure they last all 2 years.
Hiking socks – extra thick for comfort and protection.

ACCESSORIES:
You’ll be outside all day, every and really you only need two types of shoes. While at REI take a stroll down the shoe aisle…

shoes

Hiking boots – above ankle, water proof, heavy duty. Spring for steel toed if you can $$$.
Chacos – these will be your best friend even if you think they’re ugly and talk bad about them behind their back.

TOILETRIES:
Two years worth of everything!

toiletriesTwo years worth of toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, razors, hand sanitizer, blah, blah, blah.

Did you write all that down? DID YOU?! Good… now throw it all away.

The reality of packing for the Peace Corps is that you’re not going to find the perfect packing list. You WILL search for it… I did. You’ll spend weeks trying to pinpoint it. You’ll read through every blog out there for your country and find about 100 variations of what to bring. The Peace Corps does include a packing list in your country welcome book – some of it will be useful, some of it won’t. The PC list in generated by previous volunteers but it’s unsure when these volunteers served and some aspects of their suggestions feel very outdated. Plus the list is so long there’s no way you’ll fit everything in your luggage limit (they even state this at the beginning of the list).

So how do you know what to pack for two years in the Peace Corps? You don’t, really. Even if you know the country you are going to you don’t know what your exact site will be like – you won’t know until you get there. Your site can be an extreme opposite from the next volunteers. All in one country you can have sites that are extremely rural with no water or electricity, in the middle of the dessert, or sites in bigger towns with western toilets and shopping centers, with humid climates.  There’s just no sure fire way to prepare yourself.

Rather than a list of things you should bring, here is a list of packing strategies that should be helpful in any country you are preparing to serve in:

  • Take others’ packing list as suggestions. If the list was written after the volunteer has already been serving for a while it could be a valuable resource. These types of lists often include items that you can and can’t find around that person’s site – and they sometimes state if items can be found in the capital or bigger cities.
  • Don’t pack as if you’re going camping for two years. Take a look at pictures of natives in the capital city? Are they decked out in cargo pants and wrinkle resistant shirts? Probably not. If they can live day to day life without these items so can you. While these items can be useful, you should also bring plenty of clothing items you’d wear at home.
  • Research local culture and traditions. It’s very possible you’re going to a country that culturally has gender-specific clothing roles. While you should bring what you like, make sure these items are appropriate. If it’s not acceptable to show below the knee bring longer pants for the public and shorts for the comfort of your home. Respecting the culture is an extremely important part of integration.
  • Consider climate and environment. Know if the environment is normally warm or cold, rainy or dry, dusty or clear. You should pack for a variety of conditions, but cater to the one that is most extreme. It’s very possible there’s hot days and cold nights or it’s extremely cold outside all the time but indoor it’s always kept warm – pack layers!!!
  • Pack for yourself, not others. While suggestions are great, ultimately you want to bring things that YOU think will be valuable. If you don’t enjoy hiking, don’t go out and buy super bulky, durable, expensive hiking boots. If like to wear makeup, bring some for days you feel you need a pick-me-up. You have two bags to fill for two years worth of living – use that space for things you will actually use and want.
  • “You can always have things sent to your later” – a phrase many volunteers will tell you. Sending packages is spendy and sometimes questionable if they will arrive, but it can be done. If you get to your site and decide you need something, have someone send it to you. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few items at home already packaged and ready to send if you have a feeling you might want them. And if you’re really concerned about the price of sending packages, leave some money that will cover the cost for the sender.

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If you have any topics or questions  you’d like me to cover before I leave or while in Ethiopia please leave let me know in the comments.

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2 Week Countdown

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Flowers that beautiful ^ deserve over that top sized photos. They are a lovely parting gift from the wonderful marketing team at Legacy Health. Why the parting gift? Because it’s time for me to say goodbye to all my commitments and make my final preparations for Ethiopia. We’ve hit the two week mark!

flag

I have two weeks to pack my bags and hit the road. In my mind it still feels like it’s months away. It’s taken so long to get to this point that it still doesn’t feel real. I’m still waiting for that moment where I’m doing something completely mundane, such as brushing my teeth or checking the mail, and I have a complete moment of shock as I realize this is all actually happening.

This week was filled with goodbyes as I ordered my last cup of earl grey from my favorite coffee shop and tipped my favorite bartender one last time until 2016. I thought saying goodbye would be the key to make this all seem real, yet I’m still sitting here twiddling my thumbs . I’m starting to think it will only feel real when I hug my family goodbye and let TSA do a “virtual strip search” of my body in the airport security line (Dear TSA, could you not?). Though the one thing I did get from all those final coffees and drinks with my lovely friends was a feeling that I will never be not loved… no matter how lonely I may get at times dying of heat in Africa.

So here’s to my two final weeks of American food, sleeping in my own bed, and hugs and kisses goodbye.

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If you have any topics or questions  you’d like me to cover before I leave or while in Ethiopia please leave let me know in the comments.

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How to Keep Up With Me

vanThe curse of someone in the marketing and advertising fields is the bitter sweet urge to stay on top of your stuff.

BITTER: Feeling obligated to know how to use all the social media outlets, whether you like them or not.

SWEET: Feeling like you naturally have the ability to keep up with the people and things you love.

BONUS: Your coworkers won’t judge you for taking selfies at work for Instagram 😉

I’m not sure what social media outlets I will have access to while in Ethiopia… so you might as well follow me on all of them! 

I hope to have blog posts written ahead of time so I will be able to load them when I have internet. For quick life updates I will use whatever is the most convenient – this means that if I cannot connect accounts, some might be missing updates. So if you’re interested in seeing what I’ve been up to (I’m interested in what you’ve been up to) go ahead and follow me on my obligatory social media sites.

Instagram: AllisonFromPortland
YouTube: AllisonFromPortland (I’ve never uploaded a video but hope to from Ethiopia)
Pinterest:
AllisonFromPDX
Twitter:
AllisonFromPDX (I’ve never used this account but it might be useful, why not be my first follower?)

I’ll respond to anything sent to:
E-mail:
AllisonFromPortland@gmail.com

I will only add you if I personally know you regularly talk to you:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllisonFromPortland
Skype: AllisonFromPortland 

For those of you who want to send me letters and packages you can send them to this address for my first three months in country (February – April). Once I am assigned an official town to live in I will have a new address and will update this post.

Allison Adams
U.S. Peace Corps/Ethiopia
P.O. Box 7788
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

And as always you can subscribe to my blog for e-mails sent when I write a post.

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“You can’t just ask people that!” Oh, you can.

Tick… Tock…

Take off for Ethiopia is right around the corner and people are buzzing with curiosity about where I’m going, what I’ll be doing, and how I will possibly deal with living outside my comfort zone (come on people, have some faith in me!). Basically, I’ve been having conversations like below on the daily.

Okay, it only feels like that some times.

The point is – I’m getting lots of questions. All sorts of questions. Some are sincere. Some are humorous. And some just make me scratch my head and wonder if any thought was given before opening their mouths (Thank you, Karen Smith of Mean girls). But he questions I enjoy answering the most are the ones people are scared or embarrassed to ask but muster up the courage to do so anyway – curiosity did NOT kill the cat.

I thought I would share with you the top reoccurring “awkward” questions people have asked me – because maybe you’ve been wondering too. Or maybe you haven’t. Either way here they are!

*Quick disclaimer: I don’t look down on ANYONE who has asked any of these questions. I’m a shy person, it used to take a lot of mental prep just to raise my hand in class to ask a question. So anyone who is able to speak their mind and welcome an honest response, kudos to you. Thanks for asking!

  1. “Are you scared to go to the Middle East?”
    I get this question a lot and I always answer the question, “Maybe if I were going to the Middle East” *Inset playful smile*, and then explain that although Ethiopia is close to the area, it is in fact part of Africa. I love geography but there are honestly a few countries I couldn’t locate on a map to save my life (sorry, Tuvalu) so I’m I’m not too hard on these people. This question always makes me giggle, unless they insist it’s in the Middle East. *I wouldn’t be scared to go to the Middle east.
  2. “Aren’t you scared of getting AIDS?”
    Okay, this one I pass a little judgement on. If you think everyone in Africa has AIDS or I will contract aids just by being around someone who has it, shame on you. Are you not aware of the AIDS population in the states? Are you not aware you can’t get it by breathing the same air? This question bothers me a lot. But if you’re asking because you think that I will be working one-on-one with AIDS patients, performing procedures and using needles, I have a little more forgiveness. I will not be assisting people in this way. I’ve worked with HIV and AIDS patients before and know the safety procedures – I’m not scared in the slightest. At a later date I will share more about what I will be doing.
  3. “Will being overweight make things harder?”
    It’s okay to ask – after all, I asked about weight discrimination in my application interview. Keep in mind that someone’s weight isn’t a taboo topic in much of the world like it is in the states. Also keep in mind that I am going to a country where the general population is very thin and tall, two things I am not. Even someone who is average will experience some weight discrimination.  But it is no secret it will definitely make some aspects of the experience harder. It will make the heat more difficult to handle. Clothing will definitely be harder to find. And I probably will be told I’m fat quite often (I’m thinking probably more as a statement, hopefully not an intended insult). These aren’t new occurrences to me, it happens in the states as well. I know that my weight does not define me as a person. I eat pretty healthy. I exercise daily. I can do a full days work on my feet. I’m not too concerned it will hinder my ability to perform in Ethiopia.
  4. “Will you have to poop in a hole”
    Yes. It’s more common across the world than you would think. There’s scientific studies to show it’s a healthier position for your body rather than sitting. I hear you get used to it. It will eventually become the norm for me. But who knows if I’ll ever prefer it over a Western style toilet, some say you will! If anything, I’ll get great leg muscles out of the experience.
  5. “Couldn’t they have sent you some place nice?!”
    If by nice you mean Paris, no. If by nice you mean a tropical island, yes. I could have ended up somewhere on a beach with a grass hut and hammock to lay in the sun. I could have ended up in Eastern Europe and traveled to a new country every weekend to explore famous castles. These placements DO exist and are often referred to as the “Posh Corps”. However, just like any placement, they have their down sides. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have enjoyed a placement like that, but I honestly wanted to go to Africa. Eastern Europe was at the top of my list too but Africa was #1. I wanted to go some place I honestly felt like I would have had a harder time making it to later on in life. I wanted to go to a country that would give me the most unique experience compared to where life has already taken me.

So there you have it – the most common awkward questions I get asked. Like I said, they don’t bother me. What does bother me is when someone makes a statement, not a question, that is just rude, disrespectful, and closed minded towards me, Ethiopia, or the Peace Corps. And I get plenty of these.

If you have any questions about the Peace Corps, my experience, or Ethiopia feel free to ask in the comments. Or if you experience any of these questions yourself let me know.

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Real vs Imaginary Numbers

Time is very slow for those who wait;
very fast for those who are scared;
very long for those who lament;
very short for those who celebrate;
but for those who love, time is eternal.

– William Shakespeare

^ Word, Shakespeare

In exactly two months I will being my Peace Corps journey towards Ethiopia.

February 10, 2014 – February 11, 2014: Staging
February 12, 2014 – April 23, 2014: Pre-service Training
April 24, 2014 – April 24, 2016: Service

If you’ve ever met me, or even talked to me, you know very well that I am a planner. I have no greater joy than making lists and physically crossing tasks off one by one. I thrive for the feeling of accomplishment and knowing that something is taken care of and where it belongs. With that knowledge, you can imagine the hardest part of this experience so far has been not having control over anything – not where I am going, not when I depart, not what I do.

The fact that in exactly two months I will be boarding an unknown flight, at an unknown time, to an unknown destination should have my skin crawling with anxiety. To an extent, it is – I would very much like to know where I will spend those two days of staging, how exactly I will get there, and what/who will I be encountering. The fact that after those two days I will live in a third world country, for 27 months, on my own, not having the slightest clue of what to expect should be killing me. Honestly, it isn’t.

In exactly two months I will be thrown into an entirely new world. “Two months” seems both imaginary and real. At this point, I am neither overly frightened nor overly excited. I am simply at peace with the fact that it will happen.

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30 Peace Corps Reactions

The Peace Corps application process is honestly an emotional roller coaster (but probably is like a piece cake compared to serving in country). There are days when things just seem so unsure but there’s always a reward (sometimes far) around the corner. I can guarantee you that no matter what you go through trying to get there, when your invitation finally comes it is all worth it.

APPLICATION:

1. When you realize how long the application actually is:

2. SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

3. That feeling when you finally click the submit button:

4. When you know there’s at least one person who doesn’t approve of your decision:

INTERVIEW:

5. The morning of your interview – gotta look sharp:

6. Searching for just about anything to make your recruiter like you more:

7. Talking yourself up:

8. When I can tell the recruiter is questioning my answer:

9. When the recruiter notices a red flag:

10. When you walk out knowing you nailed it:

11. The lucky ones who are nominated at the end of their interview:

12. If you’re told you don’t qualify for the Peace Corps:

NOMINATION, WAITING FOR INVITATION:

13. Months and months of doing this:

14. When my recruiter tells me I need to be patient:

15. To that one other nominee who thinks they know everything:

16. When you meet someone but think being in a relationship might jeopardize your chances of an invitation:

17. When you get any e-mail from the Peace Corps that isn’t your invitation:

18. When someone asks what I’ve been doing while waiting:

19. Some days you’re just a little on edge:
 

INVITATION, PREPARING FOR DEPARTURE

20. When your invitation finally arrives:

21. Randomly meeting another volunteer:

22. Trying to get to know other volunteers in your group online:

23. What you tell people when they ask what they can send you in care packages:

24. When your friends don’t understand why you’re doing it:

25. That one time the government experienced a shutdown, freezing any Peace Corps activity:

26. What you tell people when they ask why you joined the Peace Corps:

27. Checking out all the medical tasks I have to complete. Hello, vaccines:

28. Filling out the Peace Corps passport and country visa applications:

29. Discovering your country will have delicious food:

30. ANY DAY YOU GET ONE STEP CLOSER TO SERVING IN COUNTRY:

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Government Shutdown Effects

*As of 10/17 the shutdown has ended and all Peace Corps operations are back in order.

What does the government shutdown mean for the Peace Corps? A lot of uncertainty.

I applied for the Peace Corps after the sequester, which cut part of the governments budget for Peace Corps funding. As an applicant I heard rumors that this cut programs and would delay receiving an invitation. My application process seemed a little bit longer than most – this could be due to the sequester or a number of other factors. Whatever the actual cause, the sequester brought on a great amount of anxiety. Now with the shutdown, all that anxiety has come back around.

The Peace Corps released a statement in the event of a shutdown  – Peace Corps Operation Plan
It’s quite lengthy and covers a lot of ground.

In short, the shutdown means different things for people at different stages. Information listed below is from word of mouth and could very well change.

Peacecorps.gov will not be updated during the shutdown.

Shutdown

Applicants: Those interested in applying for the Peace Corps can still fill out an application but it will be processed at a later time. Only the application will be available, not the medical history portion. The medical history portion is a questionnaire that follows submitting your application – it’s part II of the process. Recruitment and interviews will not be conducted.

App Shutdown

Nominated: Those nominated can still check their Peace Corps Portal but invitation will not be released during the shutdown.

Invited: Those invited face a number of challenges. For three weeks after the shutdown those scheduled to depart for their countries will leave on time. Anyone scheduled to leave after those three weeks are up in the air. It is unclear if any groups will leave as scheduled, but pushed back to a further date, or be cancelled (oh please, no). Part of preparation for leaving is obtaining medical clearance – the medical portal is down. The medical portal cannot be accessed to obtain or submit documents. Some invitees had saved their files before the shutdown and have created a folder in case you know what documents you need – Medical-Dental Forms (edit: this link has been deleted after the shutdown ended). Best advice is to proceed with all medical appointments and keep your documents on hand for when the portal is up. If the portal is still down by the date you need your medical clearance (2 months before departure) there isn’t a whole lot you can do.

Med Portal Shutdown

Current volunteers: More than likely will remain in their serving countries. Peace Corps Connect has stated,

“Volunteers Will Remain at Posts:

Peace Corps indicates volunteers will remain in the field, citing:

  • time (“It would take between 15 and 30 days to complete the process of evacuating all Volunteers…”)
  • cost (approximately $29 million to bring all Volunteers home, with minimal savings in operating costs)
  • impact (“…significant but unquantifiable intangible losses to the U.S. government since much of the goodwill that Volunteers have built…would be lost…”)

The Peace Corps notes “evacuating Volunteers and returning them to their homes of record would only be justified by a much more substantial lapse in appropriations than the agency expects.  The agency has, therefore, determined that the Peace Corps is not required during a lapse in appropriated funding to take any action to evacuate Volunteers and return them to their homes of record.”

Peace Corps Connect has a pretty simple summary of what operations will be affected: Government Shutdowns and the Peace Corps