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Most useful things

June 11, 2012

A new group of volunteers is arriving in a month, so as they pack their two bags, I present this list of useful things I bought in country (because really, you can find a lot here). But first, a list of useful things I brought from the states (because you can’t find everything here).


  1. A backpack from Marmot. I mention brand names here because certain companies that make outdoor gear will give PCVs a discount. Most of the deals you can get from this are inappropriate because you’re going to be working in a professional setting, not going on a safari. But this thing, however, I can take with me anywhere. It’s flexible and durable, and although I thought it looked flimsy when I first got it, I soon learned that its gentleness is its strength. (I offer this as advice because it’s good for school and for travel, and I swear I wasn’t paid to promote Marmot.)
  2. Chacos sandals. These are popular with PCVs, and since coming here I’ve met people who swear by them, but I merely like them a lot. They’re comfortable and durable, and when you have to wash all your clothes by hand, every pair of socks that you don’t have to wash is a small blessing.
  3. A Leatherman. Do I really need to explain why having a toolkit in your pocket is handy? The only caveat is I’m reluctant to use the knife because I don’t have a way to sharpen it. I use another pocket knife ($1 from Walmart) for all my heavy cutting.
  4. A Kindle. When you first arrive, the free 3G service if your Kindle has that capability is the cheapest and easiest way to connect to the internet. When your settled in, expect you’ll have some time to read a few of the thousand ebooks someone will inevitably have to share.


  1. A BlackBerry. I know these aren’t popular in America (what do I know, I’ve never owned a smartphone before) but these guys still have a special status in South Africa. They’re readily available and not so flashy that they’ll make all your counterparts jealous (just some of them), the wireless company you bought it from will service it free of charge, and companies offer a special data plan for it, where you can use (mostly) unlimited data for a flat monthly fee. And last but not least, when all the other volunteers have Blackberries, BBM is the easiest way to keep in contact with everyone.
  2. A metal mug. Like toilet paper, you don’t carry this with you because you figure it will be alright, you won’t need it because they’ll have something to drink from there. But you’re wrong. Wherever you’re going, there are no cups. It won’t be alright.
  3. A spool of twine. Yes, this is the part where I run out ideas on how I can make my list a symmetric four and I start looking around the room. Right now my mosquito net is suspended with twine, and I have two clotheslines hanging from the ceiling beams in case there’s not room outside. No ropes for my Scout meetings? No problem. Cut off some twine and let them tie knots in that. Groovy.
  4. A toaster. You might laugh at this one, but when I was settling in, I was looking for a toaster but couldn’t find one. Apparently “toaster” is South African for sandwich press, because that’s what they showed me when I asked for assistance at the electronics store where I was shopping. I reluctantly bought one, but it was a real pain to clean, and there are only so many pressed poloney sandwiches one can take in one’s lifetime. When I finally found a real toaster, I bought it and I never looked back.
A Chacos sandal next to the world's largest stickbug for size comparison.

A Chacos sandal next to the world’s largest stickbug for size comparison.

One Comment
  1. judy spungin permalink

    I love the list-really gives the rest of us a better feel for your life there…especially the twine comments.

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