I think packing for the Peace Corps is a bit like preparing a disaster survival kit. Suggestion lists exist, but I'm not entirely sure what each item will really be used for when the time comes. The lists always seemed a little bizarre with the extent of things they included.
Before big storms news stations always seem to suggest putting together kits including bottled water, canned food, flashlights, batteries, can openers, blankets, ropes, and I don't know what else. I'm pretty sure there's a standard car safety kit you're supposed to always have in your trunk. You know, with things like jumper cables, sawdust, blankets, and first aid stuff. Bike riders have kits they carry with them so they will be prepared for a flat tire or a scraped knee. One time a pigeon flew into the spokes of my friend Cory's bike. I'm sure there's something in the standard kit for that sort of thing too.
So we've got all these kits: for tornadoes, floods, thunderstorms, computer crashes, car failures, and pigeon attacks. And everyone has a list for what needs to go in the kits. The lists don't always make sense right away (sawdust?), but most everything is there for a reason (I think it has something to do with traction).
In my invitation kit, Peace Corps sent a suggested packing list. When I read it about a month ago it seemed simple and to the point--as most checklists are. But now that I'm closer to leaving, even the simplest things are inducing anxiety.
Tape, for example, is generally not too terrifying, but recently it has become an ominous symbol. I've read nearly every blog I can find from a PC volunteer in Senegal and they all praise duct tape. "You'll never know there were so many uses for duct tape" they say; "it's amazing what duct tape can do!" It's on everyone’s suggested packing list, but no amount ever seems to be enough; it nearly always makes an appearance on the care package wish lists. So, I think, this is good; now I know: bring lots of duct tape.
But just what are they using all this duct tape for? I mean how much adhesive can one really need? It is a bit unsettling that the applications of duct tape in Senegal are so vast. This has got to be pretty indicative of how different my life will be there. I'm not even sure if duct tape makes more than one or two appearances a year in my life now. Pretty soon it will be my durable, sticky counterpart coming to the rescue when scotch tape, masking tape, and sticky tack all fail miserably.
I was standing in the tape aisle at WalMart yesterday considering this. Duct tape is now a symbol of all the problems I can't even imagine yet. On the other hand, it also represents the resourcefulness and ingenuity I'll have to develop. Clearly, I'm reading too much into this. I know that, but I can't quite stop doing it. It has made shopping an exhausting chore.
Even if I ignore my crazy symbolism thoughts, every single purchase I make is weighed heavily (and borderline obsessively). The normal considerations for price and quality aren't enough for these purchases. Now I'm considering the mass of the item (space and weight are limited by airline restrictions), the use of the item (chances are the uses I expect will never be realized and the ones I never considered will happen on a regular basis), how this item will be perceived by Senegalese people (lets be honest, I haven't got a clue), and the necessity of the item (who would have guessed that duct tape would be a necessity?). The whole process takes an absurd amount of time.
Today I combed the aisles of Target looking for items I forgot to add to my list. I got calcium chews, three different types of sunscreen, a travel size baby powder, and a Leatherman tool. I'm not really sure what I'll use the baby powder for, but I have a feeling it will end up being one of those sawdust-type items. (Meaning its use will become apparent at the time, not that I'll need it for traction)
Last week I met a little boy in Emmet, Nebraska who had wrapped his forefinger in duct tape. He couldn't find the bandaids in his house and this seemed to get the job done.