The Mark of the Jandal

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Your life in 80 Lbs

This is for any volunteers who may be coming in October. I found out I was coming to Samoa about 6 weeks before my departure date. On the floating scale of preparing to leave for Samoa, I'll define the following:
  • 1 --- represents reading the piece of paper and saying sure I'll go and not really thinking about what you'll take until about 45 minutes before staging. Bob and his anatomical model of the human ear would probably fall close to a 1
  • 10 --- represents the person who has their English/Samoan dictionary, has read every weblog from every Peace Core in the South Pacific, and packed the day after getting the offer. Mari would probably be closer to the 10 scale

I started out at 8 or so. I thought I was going to Mexico, and I had started to learn Spanish, reading up about the region, etc.. However, after I got medical clearance, I was told that Mexico wasn't an option but they had a nice job offer in the South Pacific. I took the job but my preparedness fell off sharply --- a combination of wasting a lot of time preparing for somewhere I was going and the need to quickly box up my life and ship it back to Arkansas --- I think I was probably a 2.5-3.

After close to a year of being here, I've been noting things I thought would have been useful to be told before I came. Some of these things I thought of and some I did not. I'm sure most of this was mentioned in the information sent to us before coming, and I just missed it. Hopefully some will benefit from my shortsightedness.


In the words of bob: I'm moving to an island, they'll have flip flops

Coming from grad school and being of limited funds, I didn't really bring a lot in the way of shoes. I basically brought one pair of running shoes. I'm not a big flip flop kind of guy, but that's what I wear the most of here. If I had it to do all over again, I'd pick up a decent pair of sandals (choco seems to be popular among the volunteers).

Shipping Addresses

I have friends in the states that gather stuff for me and ship it here. Sometimes you may want to order something online and have it shipped to someone in the States. One thing to remember is that many companies wont ship stuff to addresses unless you have called your credit card company and authorized them to ship to that address. So if you have a set of friends you will have send you stuff, make sure you call your credit card company and have their addresses put on file.


My roommate brought a really nice Teflon coated pan that we use probably use six nights a week. We each brought a nice can opener. In retrospect, I'd probably also bring a nice cast iron skillet (I know heavy), a tortilla press, and a small (two cup) French press.

Shipping Heavy Things Here

Depending on your assignment, you may wish to ship some of your stuff here. I packed up a box of text books to be shipped here. I was told by the PCB (Peace Corps Beauracrats) that I probably didn't want to receive any packages until after training. They said it may be a problem keeping up with the package while you are in training and it may be difficult getting it to your site. So I left the box with my mom so I could have it shipped later. This advice may be more applicable to different locations, but for Samoa, you can ship what ever you want before you leave. You will have access to any packages which arrive during training, they can be put in storage until after training, and it isn't really an issue getting it to your site afterwards. Things to consider with respect to shipping:

  • Ground shipping can realistically take up to six months to get here. I've heard stories of a package taking a year and it took a package of mine three months.
  • Air mail takes between three to five weeks to arrive though legends are abound about the mysterious package that took six months to arrive with customs stamps from all across the globe.

Bike Accessories

At the end of training, you will be given a bike. The bikes we got were fairly nice Treks. They are supposed to provide you with locks and a couple other things. Now, the issue is that it's not easy to get decent locks and stuff in the country. One option is to goto the hardware store and buy a chain/padlock. You can take the receipt and be reimbursed. If I would have known, I would have just brought my u-lock from the States. If you have one, and some free weight, I'd throw the bike lock in my bag.

I also brought a patch kit, small hand pump, extra tube, and a chain tool. Later on I had a rack, some extra tubes and toeclips sent. The panniers are on their way.


I brought a small tool kit (screwdriver, vice grips, dikes, etc), a set of hex wrenches, and a bike multi-tool with me. These have been pretty useful.


Any clock worth having here is relatively expensive. Those that I can afford on my salary don't look to last too long. When I came I had an old Timex that made it most of the way through training. However, it disappeared somewhere along the way --- along with my swiss army knife. My roommate brought a nice small travel alarm clock. It's about 2 inches by 2 inches, glows in the dark, runs of a watch battery, and has a sturdy aluminum housing. I'd bring something self contained like this or a durable wristwatch.

Computer Accessories

If you have a laptop, I'd definitely bring computer speakers. Nothing really fancy, but something that can compete with the sound of rain beating down on a metal roof.
backing up

I'm really paranoid about loosing information. Most of the work I'm doing here is on computer, so I like to back things up. If you have a cd/dvd burner in your computer, bring 10 or so rewritable disks. If you have the space, you might want to grab a 50 disc spindle. If you have a USB or Firewire external drive, that would probably be ideal.

If your warranties are going to expire on things like computers and cameras, you might want to see if they can be extended for the duration of your service.

Back home most cables are relatively inexpensive and when you need them and do not have them you are screwed. Some cables I could have used if I had remembered to bring them are: male to male mini-din stereo cable. Male to male audio/video cables. A stereo male mini-din to female left/right audio cables.

When you stay in the village it's going to be the beginning of the rainy season. This means that it's going to be humid all of the time. There wont be washers and dryers available, and so your clothing probably wont get very dry. My advice is to take two sets of clothing: stuff you'll wear during training and everything else. Most of my clothes from training have a unique and characteristic smell about them. There is of course my own personal oder, of which I am quite fond. This mingles nicely with the aromatic molds that are so pervasive her. I'll probably leave most of my clothing here to avoid bringing back any invasive mold species.


  • Thanks Mark! This *is* helpful. You mentioned a coffee press. To be honest coffee is a bit higher on my Maslow scale than, say, clothing and shelter. Is it available there or should I throw in a few pounds?

    I've also been curious about the following things:
    --Film and processing.
    --Rice and a rice cooker.
    --I read somewhere about bacterium in the Pacific that eat CDs. Not true in Samoa, I'm taking it.
    --Any suggestion for host family gifts?
    --And... is there anything that you or other PCVs want brought from home that I could squeeze into any spare luggage space? (I live in Seattle, about 2 miles from the nearest Apple Store BTW.)

    See you in October!

    By Blogger Dave, at 9:21 PM  

  • Hey Dave,

    I brought a couple pounds of tea. They have tea and coffee here. I'd probably bring a bag of something you like. If you bring whole beans, you'll want to bring a grinder.

    You can process film here, but it's pretty expensive. Three tala for the smaller sizes. I'd bring a digital camera --- if you have a computer. There are also computers available to the volunteers at the Peace Corps office. They can print digital as well as film photos here.

    There is plenty of rice here, but a rice cooker would probably be a good idea if you could fit it in. You can use an inverter if you want, but it's probably better to get one that is rated 110/240W.

    I haven't heard about any bacteria with a taste for plastic. However, the heat and humidity will probably limit the lifetime of any cds, but I think they will last the 2 years you're here.

    Family gifts: My roommate suggested a volley ball, hand pump, and needles, and I think these are a good idea. Something to consider: some host families will have dvd players and some (like mine) wont even have a radio; there is a lot of variability in what people will find useful.

    General gift ideas: coffe mugs, maps, clothing (make it extra large), a tie for the father, a watch --- if you can get stuff with football team logos or stuff from Seattle, it would probably be a pretty big hit.

    I'll think about having stuff brought. Just a word of warning. I wouldn't make that offer to everyone, or you will quickly turn into a mule hauling sewing machines from the US.

    By Blogger John Harrold, at 1:06 PM  

  • Had any thoughts? I've still got room... the weight is another story.

    Is there WiFi in the internet cafes? Do they even have broadband?

    Do things get pretty quiet around Christmas? If so, are PCVs hanging around for the holidays or going off places?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:12 PM  

  • Hey Dave,

    Send me an email. Working through blogger is pretty slow: john dot m dot harrold at

    By Blogger John Harrold, at 8:50 PM  

  • Very funny about, "mule hauling sewing machines from the Staters," so very true, add weed-eaters to the mule luggage! You are funny dude!

    By Blogger whatever, at 4:02 PM  

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