Saturday, May 29, 2010

To future Peace Corps Uganda trainees

When I was preparing to come to Uganda, I scoured the interwebs for packing-related posts. I wanted to know how closely I should follow the packing list Peace Corps provides and what things that I should bring were left off the list. I remember how I soaked up every bit of information I could find, so in this post I've created a "little" list for you future trainees. It's not comprehensive and you should, by no means, bring everything on the list (you don't have the weight allowance for it!), but it's a start. I used the official Peace Corps packing list as my guide and went from there. I hope it's useful!

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to bring clothes you LIKE. I went more for comfort than fashion, and while comfort is important, I wish I had brought more cute clothes with me.

Rain jacket - don't really need to bring one. But if you do, make it light weight! I brought one, but it's too warm to use so I just use an umbrella most times. During the rainy season it's usually raining really hard and you're not going to want to go outside anyway. You really only need an umbrella for when it's just sprinkling.

Sleepwear - bring a few pairs. The yoga pants (longer, ankle-length) are nice for lounging too. Bring tanks for sleeping in or some light-weight ts.

Long-sleeved shirts aren't really necessary. Just bring a lightweight jacket (like a sweat suit-ish zip-up jacket). There’s only one part of the country that gets cold enough for a long-sleeved shirt, and that’s in the south.

Skirts - bring at least 4. I’d recommend against long, ankle-length skirts. You might want to bring one, and that’s ok. The days here do get warm and long skirts don’t allow much air movement! You can get skirts made here, but you're probably not going to in training. And it's no fun to wear the same three all freaking week.

Gouchos are your friend. Invest. Also maybe some black leggings to wear under stuff.

When the packing list talks about tops it's a bit vague. Bring cute ones. Stuff you wear in the States will work fine. I made the mistake of bringing plain short sleeve shirts and I really regret it.

Tank-tops. Bring them. They, like gouchos, are your friend. Just be warned that the ribbed ones (like they sell at Old Navy) will stretch like none other. Try to find some that aren't ribbed.

Dresses can be a nice alternative to skirts. You might bring one for swearing in (although several girls got dresses made for that) and one more "casual" dress. This one can be tank-topy, but bring a shawl or cardigan to cover up with. Some places it’s perfectly fine to show your shoulders, but other sites are more conservative.

Speaking of shawls, they're awesome. I wish I had brought one or two with me. I bought one here, but they're nice to keep in your backpack during training for when it starts to rain and the cold wind blows in through the window.

Ignore what the Peace Corps packing list says about jeans. yes they're kind of hard to wash, but you don't really want to bring slacks. Bring at least one pair of jeans and you'll be fine. Also you might want to consider bringing a pair of Bermuda shorts (the ones to the knees).

Underwear/Bras - Bring lots. I'm talking like 30 or 40 pairs. Set aside half for mid-service or some later date. Handwashing will really wear down your undies (like everything else). Bring nice ones. I brought Victoria's Secret (the 5 for $25 ones so they were fairly inexpensive) and I've been happy. Same goes for bras. Bring several nice pairs. The stuff they sell here is NOT as good as the kinds you find in the States.

Bring a couple pairs of socks. Dark colors, certainly not white. You don't need many, but sometimes it's nice to wear socks around the house. Ugandans have cement floors and they can get a little cold/hard sometimes. Also if you’re a runner, you’ll want to bring socks…but if you’re a runner, you probably already knew that!

Sports bra - I’m not a runner so I didn’t have any need to bring one, but if you run, you might think about it.

Slip - bring one if your skirts can be see through. I brought skirts that have liners built in and have never worn the slip I brought. Save your money.

Shoes - Tennis shoes are nice if you hike or are going to go running, otherwise I wouldn't bring them. Tevas/Keens/etc are awesome. Bring cute ones. Flip flops are a plus too. I'd also suggest Crocs ballet slippers I have them in black. I love mine and they're super easy to clean!

Belt - bring one if you're bringing jeans or any type of pants that requires one.

Cap/Hat/gardening gloves - you can leave those at home.

BRING TAMPONS. Peace Corps will not provide and they can be somewhat
expensive here. Or, alternatively, bring a Diva Cup. But practice with it before.

BRING FACEWASH. Impossible to find and when you do it's like 8 bucks
for a tiny little thing.

You can bring hand sanitizer if you like. It's pretty expensive to buy in Kampala. I don't really use mine...ever.

BRING NAIL POLISH. Your toes will want to look pretty.

Don't worry about make up. Bring a small supply for going out and swearing-in. I used to wear it all the time in the States – never went out without some make up on and now I rarely ever wear it. Besides, you'll get tan and the shade you'll bring won't match anymore.

I'd also bring nail clippers, etc and razors. The ones here aren't as good.

Bring knives. Bring several. You won't regret it. If you drink coffee, bring a french press.

Can opener is a plus too, also measuring things. I found great measuring spoons and such at Bed/Bath/Beyond before I left - there's also one for liquids that's awesome.

Bring hot pads…they're not available here....weird.

Ziplock bags. YES!

Knife sharpener is a good investment too. The knives here suck and you'll need to sharpen!

You don't really need to bring spatulas, etc or tupperwear. You can find them here.

Bring a large camp towel. I also found a narrow, long one (it's yellow) at walmart that I cut in half to make two wash cloths.

Flat sheets are good since you don't know what size bed you'll eventually have. You'll be given a twin-ish sized one during training. Also bring a plastic mattress liner. Some mattresses will have bed bugs. I'd bring a pillow (just put it in one of those vaccum bags and make it flat for packing).

Also a small camping sleeping bag can be nice if you have the room for staying over at friend’s house.

Alarm clock - no need. You'll get a cell phone here and you can use that instead.

head lamp - YES! Bring extra rechargable batteries for it too. it's useful for the latrines!

flashlight - no need. You can find one here and your phone (if you buy one in country has one built in).

Watch - yes. If you wear one in the states, bring one with you.

Shortwave Radio - you can find one here. However if someone gives you one as a gift, bring it.

iPod - MUST! with lots of songs!

Small speakers - YES! There's this cute little round one that looks like a little tuna can that's awesome.

Camera with batteries - YES! bring one that will take AA batteries if possible. You should also bring lots of memory cards

Solios are nice, however I haven't used mine yet, but I have pretty good access to power. You might not.

LOTS of rechargeable batteries! (and battery charger!)

A flash drive is should bring one if you have one already.

Don't bring blank CDs. Not even sure why it's on the Peace Corps packing list.

If you bring your laptop, you need to bring an external harddrive. They're good for backing up your computer and you'll want to steal movies/tv shows/music from people.

speaking of should bring one. There's no one I've met here who has regretted bringing one.

I'm not sure if you should buy the voltage converter here in Uganda or in the US...but you can get the plug adapter here. I got one in Kampala for 3.50$. Way cheaper than in the States!

The food section of the Peace Corps packing list is best saved for packages from home. Although I would bring a supply of Cliff/Luna/etc bars and some powdered drink mix. I really like the K2O protein mix in pink lemonade :P

Bringing cash is fine, but make sure it's in 50s or 100s AFTER 2004.You'll get a MUCH better exchange rate here. You will need to bring about 50$ for a cellphone if you don’t’ unlock yours before you get to Uganda. Peace Corps requires you to purchase a cell phone, but doesn’t give you the money for it.

If you bring a credit card, make sure your bank knows you'll be in Uganda for the time and request that they don't authorize any purchase unless you notify them before hand.

Bring at least 8 passport size pics. You'll need them for Peace Corps stuff and for opening a post office box in town.

You don't really need to bring a dictionary or reference books unless you can't live without them. Use that space for more important novels!

You can find old (2004, 2008, etc) GRE and LSAT prep books in the Peace Corps office. Don’t bring one unless you absolutely have to.

Duct tape is your friend. bring it.

A calendar is nice, but it’s easy to make your own out of paper when you get here. An appointment book could possibly be useful, but don’t waste the space if you don’t think you’ll ever use it.

Journals are nice if you like journaling

Good scissors are a plus too!

Scotch tape is another thing I wish I brought, somehow it didn't make it in the bag!

Also bring Aloe Vera gel if you burn. DO IT.

There’s no need to bring envelopes or US stamps. Letters back home take about 2 weeks and are only 2,000 shillings to mail. Envelopes are widely available here.

bring at least two Nalgene bottles. You'll inevitably lose one. I lost one before I even left Philly! Left it in my sister's car when she drove me to the Hotel!

Sunglasses are a good thing to bring

You don't need to bring a money belt or Binoculars.

Bungee cords are nice, bring several sizes.

Some sort of day pack is a good thing to bring. I brought a regular backpack (school type) for training. you'll want something to carry your training stuff in and for short trips.

Luggage locks - YES. Bring at least enough to lock up all your luggage on the plane and make sure you have some for your backpack for walking around Kampala. There are thieves in Kampala who WILL try to unzip your bags, especially in and around the taxi parks. I always put luggage locks on my zippers when I go into Kampala.

Zip ties - no need. Not sure why this is on the Peace Corps packing list...

Instrument - if you play, bring it. especially guitar. They're expensive here and if you already have one, bring it!

Hobby stuff, novels, pictures, earrings/jewelry are all pluses

Seeds are good to bring. You can find a lot of stuff here, but if there's something you really want (like various lettuces, or really lettuce at all – Ugandans don’t eat lettuce! etc), you should bring it.

Good map of Uganda is nice too. Also a map of the world!

The Bradt guide is nice, but you can access a lot of stuff online. I haven't used mine, but you never know....

You don't really need to bring sports equipment, but if you want to, don't worry about it. Bring what makes you happy. A Frisbee is always nice.

Cards and card games are also nice to have!


Britt Larson said...

Hey I'm joining Peace Corps/Uganda in August (I'm wanderlust428 on twitter). Thanks so much for posting this - this is so helpful!! Just a quick question - the PC Welcome Book says that sleeveless tops are highly inappropriate... do you think this is true? Or can I get away with some things being sleeveless/tank tops? Also, is showing your knees as taboo as I've heard, and should always be covered, even when sitting? Or is partial-knee-revealing acceptable if my skirt comes to mid-knee? Thanks!

S. said...

Short sleeves aren't bad. I'd definitely bring some for traveling (to wear under a t-shirt so you don't smell horribly). I wear tanks ("wife-beater" kind) every day under my tshirts so I don't get sweat marks on my outer-shirt (I tend to gush sweat). You can wear a tank top as your regular top (if that makes sense - not under something) if it has wider shoulder straps. Maybe the width of four fingers...enough to cover your bra straps.

I'd be more hesitant to show knees than wear a tank top. Skirt length should be below your knees standing (just below your knees - like touching the bottoms of your knees - is fine). I live in a more metropolitan/western town so showing knees isn't as big of a deal. I think you'd be fine showing them when you're sitting.

miss.ann82 said...

Thank this was a huge help I'm leaving for Uganda in August.
I also have a couple of questions. How easy is it to access ATM's
and do you notice that people with PC's find it

Did any of your family mail any packages and if so how well did that go?

What did you pack all your stuff in suitcase? I was thinking for buying a hiking bag do you think this is a good idea?
What type of over the counter meds do you wish you would of packed?

I look foward to your response and take care from the states

S. said...

Hey Ann! First of all, Congrats on the invite! Can't wait to meet you in August(-ish) :)

ATMs - Peace Crps will set you up with a Stanbic Bank account and that's how you'll get your living allowance each month. They'll put your site with a close distance to a Stanbic Bank or a Stanbic ATM. I'm pretty sure you can use your American credit cards at Stanbic ATMs, but I'm not sure. If you're planning on bringing an American card, make sure your bank knows you'll be in Uganda for 2 years (give them the month you'll return) so they don't shut your card down if you try to use it here. Your bank may also require some monthly activity to keep your card active. I put my parents on my account and they can move money around (withdraw $10, add 10$) each month if I need it.

Luggage: I brought a medium size Samsonite rolling bag and a big backpack. I'd definitely recommend some kind of backpack or duffle that you can take on a weeklong trip. Also I wouldn't bring all rolling bags. You have to move around here and those aren't the easiest. So yeah, bring a hiking type bag. I brought an Osprey Porter 65L, which is really nice. You can even lock it for the plane or traveling around Kampala (

Meds: I wish I had brought more Advil Liquid Gels. They're the ones that seem to work the best for me and I only brought one little bottle. Used them up already :(

I'm glad that I brought some Dramamine with me. The roads here are not in good shape and travel can get kind of rough.

I've gotten about 4 or 5 packages from home since I've been here. They tend to take 3-5 months in average. Make sure your parents (or whoever) really tapes up the ENTIRE package well. They get roughed up a lot in transit and can split open if not taped well.

Hope that helps! Feel free to ask any more questions you can think of :)

- sara