Non-essential Essentials

Packing for service in the Peace Corps is one of the most stressful things to handle once you’ve been accepted as a Trainee. If you (the person reading this right now) is anything like me you have probably searched the internet and found endless amounts of blog post about what and what not to pack.

Well I am here to pretty much do the same thing, but ALSO to tell you, especially if you are a Burkina Faso Trainee, NOT to stress. I mean you are going to stress, but at least TRY not to.

Though I can’t speak for other countries of service I can definitely say that in Burkina it is easy to find everything, in country, you could possibly need to be comfortable, and functional.

Didn’t bring enough clothes? No problem, you can get clothes custom made in all kinds of styles, and with a million different patters with the magic that is pagne. Or, you can go to marche and buy new or used “ready-made” clothes.

Need a phone? No problem, once again head over to marche, and haggle for a phone. Be it a “brick” phone or a smart phone, they are available. Though I can’t say they will always be the best quality.

Forgot shampoo/deodorant/lotion? NO PROBLEM, there is probably a pharmacy or boutique near by where you can find brands you know, and don’t know.

Need Pots/Pans/Knives? No problem, head to Burkina Pas Cher in Ouaga, or a marche (Sorry trainees going to other countries. I don’t know where you should go.)

So what’s the point of this post if I keep saying “no problem,” well the point is that I still believe there are some non-essential essentials that I have, that came from the States, that I could live without, but am really glad I have. Thus, if you can, you should try to get your hands on them.

  1. The Ivation Rechargeable Portable Shower

I got this baby as a Christmas gift from my family after being in village for about 4 months. Though I am not knocking bucket baths,* I actually quite enjoy them, it can be nice to have the feel of a real shower now and again.

The Ivation is USB rechargeable, so I can keep it charged using my solar panel. It works by popping the motor end into a bucket full of water, turning it on, and letting the motor pump the water up through the shower head. Bam, simple.

So why is it a NEE (non-essential essential)? Because it makes washing my lovely thick hair that much easier! Anyone with tons of hair in the PC will tell you it can be hard to get it washed properly in a bucket. With this, washing just got a whole lot simpler.

  1. The Windows Surface

I happen to be typing this post on my Surface right now!

Though some PC materials tell you a computer isn’t necessary, trust me, it is. It is great to have for watching movies, playing music, and filling out the mandatory Volunteer Reporting Form (VRF) every few months. Also, for Education volunteers, being able to use Excel for calculating grades is invaluable.

Why the Surface? Because unlike the IPad it has a USB port.

PC gives us a lot of materials at the end of Pre-service Training (PST) on a USB, also, you can use it to upload the VRF files that is also handed out on a USB, and plug in a hard drive full of music and movies.

  1. The IPhone

Any type of smart phone is a good idea for PC service in my opinion but I happen to have an IPhone.

A smart phone is great because it is probably one of the only ways you will have access to the internet at site. You can use data to check your e-mail, Facebook, and WhatsApp your family/other volunteers.


  1. A Backpacking backpack

I would highly suggest making one of your allotted bags a backpacking backpack. They are perfect for making yourself mobile while traveling around the country (or outside the country). I use mine when shopping in the next biggest town, or when picking up boxes from the post office. That way I can pop everything inside and make getting on transport (a bus or bush taxi) that much easier. Otherwise, you’re dealing with boxes, or plastic bags full of groceries, and it’s just such a hassle.

  1. The Revive Series Solar Restore

This little baby has saved my butt a couple of times when it comes to keeping my phones charged, especially when traveling.

Chances are you won’t have electricity in your village, and through you can buy a big solar panel later on to put on your roof, to charge a battery, then charge your things; you may not have one right away.

Also, if you do have electricity in village, there is always a chance it can go out for long periods of time. (Burkina Faso trainees- The power in our training site goes out from time to time so trust me you will want this or something like it.)

Thus, this little thing can be really helpful. Recharges up to 50% in the sun after 6 hours, can recharge by USB 100% in 5 hours, and by AC in 3. It also has a little flashlight.

  1. Duct Tape

I don’t know about other countries but I have never seen duct tape in Burkina. Other tape yes, but not duct tape. It’s super handy for fixing up things in a pinch, (like accidently punctured screen doors for example), and I even use it in the classroom from time to time.

Honorable Mentions: My kindle, a sweatshirt (great pillow, and for the occasional chilly night/early morning), and a pashmina (for covering my hair on transport when it’s really dusty during dry and hot seasons).

Ok-so this turned out to be mostly about electronics in the end, but it is still 100% valid.

Of course, in the end it’s all about what you feel like you need to have around to make yourself comfortable during service.  It is different for everyone, and though going through packing list upon packing list can give you some good ideas; they can become overwhelming, and could cause you to over pack…like I did.

Happy Packing!



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