Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog


When You Try to Come Home Again

They say you can’t go home again, and I’ve never believed this to be true. Coming home from Thailand, from Nepal, from India, and even from bush Alaska, I always felt that Alaska was my true home and Homer was where my heart was.

This time, it’s a little different.

Rob and I returned to Alaska at the end of June, finished with our Peace Corps service and ready to re-enter the world of culinary delights and customer service. We immediately set about stuffing ourselves with every saucy plate of spicy, flavorful goodness we could find. We drove – for the fun of it. We watched TV. We frolicked through the internet and watched cat videos and Netflix and read every interesting article right when it was published. We drank (and drank, and drank) good beers and ciders (which seem to have become more popular while we were away). We rejoiced in pizza with real cheese and a fiesta of toppings. Later, we enjoyed quality bathroom time that didn’t involve squatting over a hole and wasn’t a mystery in digestive intolerance. It was glorious. It felt like home.

Rob and BB reunited!

Rob and BB reunited!

Slowly, though, we began to notice all the little things about America that we had forgotten about. Things that we didn’t miss while we were away, and were suddenly brought into stark relief now that we were home and amongst our fellow Americans.

Americans, we had forgotten, are really wrapped up in the little stuff. We care a lot about really trivial things. We have, in my post-Peace Corps opinion, waayy too many choices in most things. We obsess over diets and GMOs and all these other things that, unsurprisingly, are suddenly weird to care about when you’ve been living with people who are excited to have almost any food. We are really into privacy. We like space and ginormous houses. We make a breathtaking amount of trash. Perhaps most surprising/not surprising: we are, as a population, pretty darn fat. We eat an impressive amount of food. I’ve been amazed by portion sizes since coming home, and how rich everything is. And we do this all day, every day (#generalization, but you get the idea).

It’s been culture shock-y to come home. As much as we were sad to leave our Peace Corps service early, Rob and I have both whispered to each other with guilty expressions how glad we were to leave early and have immediate plans for our future rather than finishing our service and having time to “tread water” afterward. I think the transition “home” has been a lot easier than it might have been simply because we have plans, and a place to be. We are transients in America right now, and without even mentioning the pre-election media coverage (or Trump, because #Ijustcan’teven), I feel like that’s exactly how I want to be. America, and even Alaska in some much smaller way, just doesn’t feel like home right now.

You can’t go home again. – Thomas Wolfe

We knew that coming home from Peace Corps would be tough. Nearly every RPCV we’ve ever talked to say the hardest part of Peace Corps service is once it’s finished. The return journey and reintegration into our native culture is harder in many ways, primarily because we no longer have the excuses of language, culture, or nationality to excuse our ignorance.  In Zambia we lived with our heads in the proverbial sand when it came to any world event that didn’t make the BBC evening news. We rarely had contact with live media. Being home, we are bombarded by the news at a nearly constant rate, and it’s almost always stressful, upsetting, or scary. Living in Zambia had its stressors, but nothing like the constant-information age we live in here in the U.S. It’s phenomenal how much there is to read about, to listen to, or to watch, and how little of it actually contains information worth the energy it takes to absorb it. I feel exhausted by everyone speaking in idioms about climate change, the 2016 election, or DeflateGate. I want to scream at everyone, “Pick a topic and give a sh*t about it!”

Thankfully, Rob has A) helped taper down my caffeine intake and B) understands the process of coming home. Being able to relate to each other’s experience as we reintroduce ourselves to The West (and her wicked witches) has been indescribably helpful. I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to do it alone (experientially speaking). Our first year of marriage is working out to be one for the record books. It’s pretty strange to not learn how your spouse drives until you repatriate rather than how one normally would – on a first date!

That’s not to say we’re not having a great time. As you read this, we’re settling into our new apartment in Lillehammer, Norway after three weeks in Alaska, a week in Florida, and a little over three weeks CO. We’ve had a wonderful time with family, hiking, dog reunions, and sampling all of our favorite foods (over and over and over again).

Rob hiking across Grace Ridge. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Rob hiking across Grace Ridge. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

We’ve fulfilled our edible cravings and have been welcomed into the loving arms of family and friends. It’s been wonderful to come back to our respective stomping grounds and be “home”. But, we’ve both realized that Peace Corps changes something about how one sees the world, and we are slowly accepting that being the global citizens we want to be means that we can’t really ever return to our pre-Peace Corps lives where running water was unremarkable and social equity a given.

It hurts a little, almost like losing a friend. I guess, in a way, we’ve lost that part of ourselves that guided our views of the world pre-Peace Corps. Now, we owe it to ourselves and to those who were part of our service to see it differently. I think our challenge now is to rectify that difference in viewpoint with the relationships and homes we had before all those changes. We are different, and though it’s awkward at first, it’s also okay. That was the point. We didn’t join the Peace Corps to remain the same.

Fortunately, some things don’t change. Family. Great beer. Favorite pets. Best friends. We now appreciate more than ever that the most important things in life don’t have a physical address. They remain with us no matter where we call home.


What Happens When You Leave the Peace Corps (ET)?

As you know from last week’s post, Rob and I recently early terminated (ET) our service with the Peace Corps. Though many volunteers ET from their service for a huge variety of reasons, it’s a rather mysterious process to those who aren’t on their way out. ET happens differently for each volunteer, but there are a few set of norms. Today, I want to demystify this process (to the extent of our experience).

Here’s what happens when you voluntarily decide to leave the Peace Corps.

Rob and I got notice that I had been offered a PhD position in Norway early this month while we were on vacation with my parents (who were visiting from Alaska!).

After much squealing and excitement, we knew we would have to ET from our service. We were actually really unsure of what to do at this point. We knew that we wanted to spend our last week with my family and then return to our site, but we had also heard that Peace Corps wants to get you out of the country ASAP once you announce your intentions to ET. We reviewed our handbook (the Bible of Peace Corps regulations for PCVs) and decided the best course would be to inform our program manager and go from there.

Our program manager is wonderful and has backed our efforts throughout our service (from net grants to marriages!). He congratulated us on our decision and facilitated passing our intentions to ET on to our Country Director.  From there, we worked with our CD to determine a good time for us to make the transition from site to getting on the plane. For us, we had three major steps:

1. Leave our site in an orderly manner
2. Visit our provincial house and work with our volunteer leader to return Peace Corps-issued items (bikes and our water filter).
3. Travel to Lusaka to complete our medical clearance and administrative clearance with Peace Corps staff.

We chose a busy week to ET where provincial staff were not able to come and get us from our site. So, we had two busy days packing up all our things and giving away everything else (Christmas in July in our village!), and then we had to arrange our own transport to our provincial capital. I think if we had ET’d at a less busy time, Peace Corps would have been willing to come and pick us up.Leaving our village was both really hard, and surprisingly easy. We returned to our village with just three full days to get ourselves ready to go. We knew that our leaving would mean that people would be all over the emotional map. Some people would be very sad to see us leave. Some people might feel betrayed by our departure. Some people might feel happy to see those damn muzungus get out of town. And, as we were dreading, some people might feel that it was free reign on all the stuff in our house. 

So, to negotiate all of that, we told our closest friends and neighbors about our departure. They were sad to see us go, but Zambians also handle departure and loss with grace and aplomb. As the village gossip mill spun wildly over the weekend, people from other villages began arriving at our doorstep to verify the rumors that we were leaving. We had to sadly explain, “Eh mukwai, twapita.” Yes, we are going. It was hard, but the goodbyes and “we hope you returns” from so many people were heartbreakingly wonderful to receive. We hadn’t appreciated that so many people knew us, cared about us, and were sad to see us go. 

Over the weekend, we packed up all our things and began to give away all our household goods. Each of our neighboring families (like Tamar, who you may remember) received a giant bucket and shopping bag full of food items, plastics, and other items difficult to find in the villages. People were very happy to receive goodies, but contrary to our expectations, there was no horde of people waiting to adopt our things. This may sound very negative on our part, but people in the village have long and openly coveted many of our goods and had placed claims on certain items over a year in advance of our original departure. So, knowing that Zambia always wins in the end, we planned for the worst and were delightfully surprised by the sane and sensible departure we had. 

We left the village on a Monday morning thanks in huge part to our missionary friends, Rita and Steve, who went way beyond the call of duty and picked us up with our mountain of junk (where did we even get all this crap?). Our best friends gathered around our hut as I locked the door for the final time. There were big smiles, big hugs, and many hands shaken in a farewell. I exhibited extreme emotional control to not bawl like a child in front of everyone, as Zambians aren’t big on tearful emotional displays (except at funerals, but we were just leaving, not dying). It felt like suddenly our last 16 months of struggle and illness and work and sweat and toe-infesting parasites were suddenly coming down to these few minutes of goodbye. These last few moments with friends whose depth of love and care for us is indescribable. I had a sudden feeling of homelessness as we pulled away and the hut disappeared behind the wall of waving hands and smiling faces. This place had been a home, even if I had never quiet gotten away from the feeling of a being a stranger in the village. And now were were leaving. Yes, for a big, wonderful, fully-funded adventure of my academic dreams, but we were also giving up this dream to do it. Peace Corps and Zambia and all that those things had entailed for us, was over. I know it would have ended 10 months later anyway, but somehow it felt a little harder because were were choosing to end the adventure early. But, that’s the difficulty of decisions.

“We are our choices.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

After we left our village, we spent one day at our provincial capital handing over our Peace Corps items and buying tickets for the bus to Lusaka the next day. We were lucky to come to the house during our provincial meetings, which meant we were able to say goodbye to all the volunteers in our province. Sometimes you don’t realize the friends you’ve made until it’s time to part. We had some really special goodbyes and got on the bus at 5am the next morning with full hearts (and suitcases).

Our time in Lusaka was surprisingly easy. Peace Corps has a checklist of things you have to complete/write/sign/etc. before you can leave the country. Peace Corps booked us tickets all the way back to Homer, Alaska (where I’m from and Rob had changed his home of record to), and we spent a full day checking out with various administrative folks. We met with our country director, our program manager, and medical. Because we were departing the next day, medical staff didn’t have enough time to complete a physical and so sent us home with lots of vouchers to have our post-Peace Corps medical work done at home. We each wrote a Description of Service (DOS) report that detailed our trainings, project goals, and our actual work as volunteers. This DOS is what will prove our service and act as a “Peace Corps resume” for future employers. We didn’t ask for non-competitive eligibility because we’re not returning to the states for work. I’m not sure if they would have give it to us, but we qualified for it (since we had completed one full year of service prior to our ET) and I’m reasonably certain they would have granted it if we had asked. 

There was a surprising amount of money involved in our departure. We had received our living allowance for July and a payment to attend our provincial meetings, both of which we had to return to Peace Corps (as well as the pro-rated part of our June living allowance that we weren’t using since we were leaving before June 30th). Peace Corps then gave us per diem for being in Lusaka (as is standard PCZambia policy) and “transit money” for our trip home (about $32USD), so there was a lot of money being handed back and forth at the cashier’s office. We were pretty frugal with our living allowance, so we ended up with about 4000 Zambian kwacha (about $550USD) we had previous saved (which we were allowed to keep). So, overall, a pretty nice chunk of cash to go home with. On top of that, all volunteers accrue their readjustment allowance (the money you receive at the end of your Peace Corps service) throughout their service. For us, we received about $4,600USD (each) after 14 months of service and 16 months of being in Zambia. So, financially Peace Corps worked out really well for us and fully-funded our move to Norway and our time back in America visiting family (where we are now). 

A final note on medical: so far we haven’t run into any obstacles in receiving the post-service care Peace Corps promises, but we’ll wait until the final bills have been paid (hopefully in full by Peace Corps) before I breathe a sigh of relief. Because we had recently had our mid-term conference where all volunteers undergo a medical evaluation (including dental), there were some things we didn’t have to do when we arrived home. Sadly, stool samples were not one of those things and so we’re busy collecting three days worth of that before we’re able to turn all our tests in and wait for results (stool samples are important for parasite and ova detection). Bleah. 

Additionally, Peace Corps gives volunteers who ET the same one month of insurance coverage that COSing volunteers receive. So, we’re covered up until the end of this month. Then, we have the option to buy two additional months (it’s about $250USD/person) of coverage. I like this option, but since we’re moving to Norway (hooray socialized medicine!), we won’t have need for additional coverage. 

So, there you have it. That’s what happens (to us, anyway) when you ET from the Peace Corps. Overall, I felt really good about our departure. Peace Corps lets you go pretty easily when you decide you want to leave, and staff are well-trained (in Zambia, anyway) to handle the departure. When we ran into staff in the office and they learned we were ETing, they had obviously been trained not to ask why. We told them, and their faces brightened with happiness for our new opportunity, but it was clear that volunteers are supposed to be treated with discretion and respect for their choice to leave Peace Corps, no matter what the reason may be. There were a few communication problems that created stress over our ET, and I know not all volunteers have had the pleasant experience that we did. But, I hope that this post sheds some light on the process for anyone who is curious.

Last note: if you do plan to ET, I highly recommend not telling Peace Corps until you are absolutely, 100% ready to leave your village/community. We almost didn’t have the opportunity to leave our village gracefully due to some communication problems and some misunderstandings about our intent to leave. This post could have had a really different ending if we hadn’t had a good relationship with Peace Corps administrative staff and were able to work things out with them. So, if you’re ready to leave the Peace Corps, be sure your bags are pretty much packed before you make that phone call.

And to all those who are in the Peace Corps and considering an ET, remember that there is no wrong reason to ET. Life is full of choices, and your service will ultimately be what you bring home with you and the memories you leave in your community. Do what you can to make those memories fond and what you bring home with you luggage, not baggage. Enjoy your service and remember to let it change you, and if it’s time to come home (for whatever reason), be proud of your decision to go in the first place.


ET Goes Home

This is a weird post to write (hard? surreal?), because I never thought I would write it.

Quite a while ago, I wrote a post about early termination, and why people sometimes choose to leave Peace Corps. I wrote it at a time when I was contemplating just what the heck I was doing in Zambia, and what purpose my service was truly serving. Mine? Zambia’s? My government’s?

Over time, I fell back into the rhyme and reasons of why I was here. I didn’t doubt the reasons of my service, and I still don’t.

But, I’m going home anyway. Or, I should say, we are going home.  I never thought I’d say these words, but Rob and I are going to early terminate our Peace Corps service this week. On Tuesday, June 23rd we boarded a plane to America, and on Wednesday, June 24th, we landed in Homer, Alaska. Our Peace Corps service is over.


Victoria Falls

Why did we leave? Well, because sometimes life doesn’t time itself perfectly, and because somethings an opportunity comes along that you just can’t pass up. For us, we were offered that opportunity.  For those of you who are long-time followers of this blog, you know that fisheries and fisheries research are a great passion of mine. A few months ago, I applied (on a long-shot chance) to a PhD program offered at a Norwegian university. The program is a fully-funded 3-year PhD that takes a multidisciplinary approach to anthropology and conflict over fisheries resources. It’s a social science degree, and as is rather unheard of in the world of social science research, this program has offered to pay the Norwegian krone equivalent of 50,000 euros to their social sciences PhD candidate. The research takes place in Norway, Germany, and France, with training programs aimed at early-stage researchers (such as myself) all over Europe.

If you’re thinking, “This sounds waaay to good to be true,” then you are not alone.  I thought the same. Funding? Travel? Being paid to study something that would shape my ideal career? Work with a robust and excellent department of social scientists? What parallel universe IS this?

Rob and I discussed it for several weeks before we arrived at the same conclusion: I’d be a fool to not at least apply.  So I did, and a few weeks ago, I received an email I had given up on ever coming. They offered me the position, and (after Rob and I jumped around with excitement mid-teeth brushing), I happily accepted the position.

But, we knew from the beginning, from the day I applied, that if I was accepted we would have to leave Peace Corps early. This is a one-time program; it starts in August and there won’t be a repeat. So, if we got the word to go, we knew we’d have to be on a plane quickly after.


Snorkeling off the coast of Zanzibar

I worried a lot about how this would affect Rob; we were “married” just six months ago, he had moved to a whole new village, and he would be leaving for me and not for his own reasons. To my amazement, Rob never hesitated when I first told him about the program, and never lost faith (even after I had) that I would be offered the job.

Rob spent eight months living in The Hague during his undergrad, and traveled widely around Europe during his studies. His favorite country? Norway. His favorite city? Berlin (where I’ll be doing a substantial amount of work). We had discussed many times that the only way we’d leave Peace Corps (barring a medical separation) would be if the perfect opportunity came alone. When I read the call for applications to Rob, his first response was, “Wow, that sounds amazing.”

And it is, but not just for me. Because I will have the equivalent of residency in Norway as an employee of my university (PhD students are given employee status!), Rob will have access to Norwegian schools where he can pursue a masters degree for the grant total of about $100USD per semester. I will give you a moment to stare slack-jawed at your screen, because that’s what we did to each other when we figured out what tuition would be. $1-0-0 buckarooskies. Per semester. That is some kind of academic miracle (also known as socialism, I think) that, after both of us working our butts of during school to avoid crippling debt, gave us tremendous hope for our academic futures.

And that brings us to this week, where after 16 months of Peace Corps service, we find ourselves back home with six weeks of home time head of us before we make our big move to Norway. We are both on our way to the academic programs we want to be doing, and we will have the money from my salary (and a neat-o part-time gig Rob’s dad has helped him find) to live a modest but comfortable life. And, c’mon, after our time in the Zambian bush, any sort of running water and/or electricity situation sounds pretty high-roller.

None of this, of course, makes leaving Peace Corps any easier. Leaving our village and all the people who have been friends and neighbors to us was heart-breaking. We’ve made so many great friends in the Peace Corps, and we hope we will see them again in the future. We have gained more from our service than I could ever describe in words (or wedding rings), and I wouldn’t take back my decision to join Peace Corps for all the cheeseburgers and clean public restrooms in the world. Zambia is etched in our hearts. We wish we could have stayed another six months and been that much closer to our true close of service date (April 2016), but sometimes life calls you and there are things you can’t pass up. Peace Corps was one of those things, and this is too.


So, should you find yourself in Norway, dear readers, look us up. Oh, and stay tuned to this blog! I have many more draft entries about Peace Corps and Zambian life that I’ll continue to publish, along with my This Peace Corps Life series and all my adventures to come. In the meantime, thank you for your continued readership and being so wonderful and supportive of my (and our) journey.

Good fishing to you all.


Packing for Peace Corps (Zambia)

My intake is closing in on our 1 year mark of being in Zambia. Our plane touched down February 5th, 2014, and a set of unhappy medical circumstances (more about that in another post) had Rob and I walked across the same tarmac and through customs just recently. It was odd to stand there and look so vividly into a past that is, by the standards of time, not far behind us, yet by the standards of the human heart seem an eon ago. It’s rare we have those moments where we can stand in the same space and look back on our younger selves so candidly. As I stood on the sidewalk outside the airport where we took our very first group photo together, I realized that the girl in the headband that got off the plane almost 1 year ago is, in many ways, gone. Replaced. Grown out of, or perhaps grown into.

RAP 2014

Fly-In Photo


Either way, reaching our own 1 year mark means that we are about to enter our second year of service, and a new batch of trainees is about to fly in to country. While the worries I had in the days before I left for Zambia are laughable memories to the worries I have now as a more seasoned volunteer, I remember the volunteers who answered all my questions and helped me narrow my obsessive packing choices. Seven pairs of underwear or eight? Do I need two solar panels? What if they don’t give me a water filter? Maybe nine pairs of underwear is better…

In these days, “older” (meaning volunteers who have served longer) volunteers were my comfort in what seemed an endless sea of unknowns.  Lately I’ve scoured the Peace Corps Zambia: February 2015 page for packing questions, summarized them, and have provided my answers here (subjective, of course, but hopefully helpful).

What clothes should I bring?
Peace Corps will provide you with a list of clothing they recommend. As a RAP or LIFE volunteer, you spend most of your time in the field and formal clothing is extremely unrealistic. I would recommend bringing ONE set of suitable clothing that you would wear to an interview (skip the heels, stockings, tie clips, etc.), ONE pair of practical semi-formal shoes to wear with that outfit, and the rest should be clothing you are comfortable working, playing, and traveling in.

Gals: You will have the option of wearing citenges, which are large pieces of cloth that you wrap around your waist, usually over something else like a skirt or leggings. These are ubiquitous in the villages, especially rural villages. I wear one almost all of the time unless I am doing field work, for which I have two pairs of quick-dry trousers (pants). I also brought one pair of jeans which I leave at my provincial house and only wear when I’m in bigger cities (Kasama, Lusaka, etc.). Everyone is different, of course, and you might hate wearing citenge. Either way, I highly recommend at least two to three pairs of non-sheer leggings.  Otherwise, brings lots of very comfortable bras and underwear (I wish I had brought more to last me my service), tee-shirts, and thick-strapped tank tops if you wish. Any dresses or skirts should be AT LEAST knee length. Very long shorts are appropriate if they aren’t too thigh/butt huggy, and are great for vacations.

Cultural note: You will see other volunteers wearing skinny straps, tight pants, etc. Peace Corps tends to be pretty “live and let live”, but realize that even if other volunteers are doing it, that doesn’t make it necessarily culturally appropriate. Showing respect for the culture with your clothing and language will go a long, long way for you, so try to dress appropriately as you can.

Guys (with help from a guy volunteer): Peace Corps will formally tell you otherwise, but you can wear shorts pretty much all the time except during training. So, bring a couple of pairs of long pants (lightweight, quick-dry, etc. are nice to deal with the heat and wet). They will also tell you not to wear sandals during training, so bring a pair of clean sneakers or something. Eventually they will let you get away with it, but not immediately. One long-sleeve button down shirt and tie are good for formal events both in and out of the village. Otherwise, clean tee-shirts and trousers are fine. As with the ladies, bring lots of underwear.

Cultural note: For RAP and LIFE volunteers, it’s important to plan your clothing with the idea that you will be outside most of the time. So, wear things that can protect you from the sun, rain, bugs, and leering eyes. Also, keep in mind that being nicely dressed is a huge deal for Zambians and they will take note of how nicely you are dressed when you attend meetings, travel, etc. even out in the villages. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a tux or gown to every event. It just means you should make every effort to be bathed, wear clean(ish) clothes, and be presentable when you are going around your community, district, and province. There is a saying in Zambia that Peace Corps volunteers are often the worst dressed people at community functions. Sadly, this is often true and is embarrassing for everyone. Don’t be that guy.

What about my tattoos?
Peace Corps will tell you to keep tattoos covered as often as possible, and that they may be frowned upon in the village. Every.single.volunteer. I have talked to with a tattoo says that they essentially don’t matter anywhere outside of training. One volunteer told me that his tattoos (two very large tattoos on his calves) are often a source of compliments and Zambians are curious to know what they are and how he got them. If you have tattoos, don’t worry about it. If they are in unusual places (face, neck) or are of a very violent, sexual, etc., be prepared that there are some circumstances (going to church, women’s clubs, etc.) where it might be prudent to cover them up. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Am I required to have a cell phone?

Yes. All volunteers are required to have a working cell phone for safety and security.

Do I need to bring a phone from the US?
No. Peace Corps will take you to purchase a phone in Lusaka during your first few weeks of training. YOU will pay for the phone, but they will take you to the shops and help you sort through your options. Once you buy a phone, you will also buy SIM cards and talk time, which is how you make calls and buy data packages. You can buy talk time almost anywhere in the country, and with many phones you can set up a Mobile Banking option through Barclays Bank (see question below) and buy talk time right from your phone. I highly recommend the Samsung Chat phones, as they are dual SIM (meaning you can use two networks from the same phone)b, have small keyboards, and have some internet access. However, you can also buy a much cheaper “brick” phone that allows for basic calling and texting only. It depends entirely on how much you want to spend and what sort of access you need. I recommend bringing about $100USD to purchase a phone and SIM cards in country.

However, there are other options. You can buy a phone in America and bring it with you. I did this with a Samsung Galaxy S and really loved it until I went to my site and found that it didn’t work there. I had to sell it and buy a local phone instead.  Be aware that if you have a particularly rural site, your phone might not work there.

If you do choose to bring a phone from home, MAKE SURE IT IS UNLOCKED BEFORE COMING TO ZAMBIA. I know several people who spent long hours on the phone trying to get phones unlocked from afar, with varying degrees of success. Don’t do this. Get it unlocked in America. Finally, be aware that smart phones eat data FAST, and data can be expensive on a Peace Corps budget. They also aren’t very battery efficient compared to brick phones, and solar charging can be tough during the rainy season.

All that being said, many people have iPhones (etc.) in Zambia and use them for music, cameras, and phones. It’s pretty awesome to have that all-in-one capability, and a lot less to keep track of or have stolen when traveling. If I had to do it again, I’d go the iPhone route and have a spare brick phone for local use and battery conservation.

Last note: Blackberries are cheap to buy in the USA and you can get incredibly cheap unlimited data packages on them through Zambia’s cell carriers.

Should I bring a solar panel?
Peace Corps has been providing Sun King lamps during training. These are awesome lamps that come complete with a solar panel and a variety of chargers so you can charge your phone and other small gadgets. Even with this lamp, I recommend bringing a solar panel for travel and as extra juice when charging is tough (rainy season). Voltaic, Goal Zero, Enerplex and Solio all offer discounts to Peace Corps volunteers if you provide proof of invitation.  I personally use a Goal Zero and am generally happy with it.

Do I need a surge protector or outlet converter?
Most of your electronics already have power converters built into them, so don’t worry about the 220/110 conversion. Electric trimmers, curling irons, and blow dryers are really the only things that would need conversion, and those are things you probably don’t want to bring anyway.  You do not need to bring a surge protector as most of the houses have them, and generally they are the only place you’ll have access to regular electricity. You DO need to bring an outlet converter. I recommend a universal one.

What about shoes?
This differs for everyone, but for LIFE and RAP you will just need good, solid walking/work shoes. I don’t recommend heavy duty work boots (your farmers will all be barefoot anyway), nor hiking boots unless that’s what you wore daily in the states. As a general rule for all wearable things, if you didn’t wear it at home, you won’t wear it here. You can buy rain boots and casual shoes here. Personally, I spend about 99% of my time in Chaco sandals (Chaco, Keen, Merrell, Teva, and Backcountry all offer good shoes at discounts for future volunteers).

NOTE: If you have very large or very small feet, bring extra shoes as your sizes are extremely difficult to shop for in Zambia.

Do I need to bring a tent and sleeping bag/pad?

Short answer: No, but you’ll probably be glad you did.

Long answer: There will be times (probably more than you expect) where you will need to sleep outside. First and second site visit are good examples of this. You may also have friends visit (or you will visit them) and there won’t be enough bed space for everyone inside. These are all great times to have your own sleeping bag, pad, and tent. If nothing else, the sleeping bag is a must (something cheap and lightweight is fine) and you can make friends with tents to share. I brought all three items and am very happy to have done so. I use my tent fly to keep rain off my bed in the rainy season (I am a fanatic about having a dry bed), use my sleeping pad as a cushion sometimes, and use the sleeping bag all through the cold season when my blanket is not enough (Peace Corps issues the blanket and pillow during training).

What about (insert specialty food item here)? Can I get it in Zambia?

You can buy nearly anything in Zambia. In Lusaka. At a special store that will likely be difficult to find. Otherwise, your village diet may be fairly limited depending on what foods are sold near (or far) from you. In my village, I can buy small tomatoes, and occasionally some leafy greens. On rare and special occasions I might score some onions. All my other food (excepting treats sent to me from America and my hot sauce collection) is from Shoprite (the Zambian chain grocery store) or small shops in Mbala, all of which requires 1-3 days of travel from my rural site.

Nearly all volunteers have special treats sent to them in care packages, but it’s rare that volunteers eat solely imported foods. This is because the diet of Zambians is a huge part of their culture, and most volunteers adopt it into their life to some extent. This not only shows respect to the culture, but also helps the volunteer to understand the lives of Zambians (2nd goal). So, before you start worrying about living without organic chia seeds or coconut oils as part of your daily life, remember that sacrifice and assimilating yourself into Zambian life is a big part of why you are here. Are treats great to have? Absolutely. Many a night have a reveled in my hot sauces from America, sent by loving and patient friends. But remember that treats are special because they are rare, and Zambia has everything you need (and Peace Corps gives you plenty of money to buy it) to stay healthy and full in your village. Forget the fair trade hemp oils and enjoy the local peanut butter.

Where can I find discounts for Peace Corps volunteers?

The Peace Corps Wiki offers a great page of companies that offer discounts for incoming volunteers. Some are pro deals you have to apply for via email, and some are just discount codes you can enter at checkout. You’ll have to shop around to find out which is which. Health Designs, of course, also offers a discount to PCV readers of this blog! You can find out more on how to use that discount here, or you can enter promocode: hannahgoesfishing at checkout.

Please note! These recommendations apply to LIFE and RAP volunteers/trainees ONLY.  RED and CHIP volunteers have different job requirements for work and should pack a bit different (especially clothing).

Aside from these things, here’s my “must-pack-would-be-miserable-without” list for PCZambia:

1. Water bottle
2. 1 roll Duct Tape or Gorilla Tape (infinite uses, like fixing leaks in your roof)
3. Knife and/or heavy-duty multi-tool
4. Headlamp
5. Good shoes
6. Sunglasses

Short and simple. Everything else I can get here, could (unhappily) live without, or I simply don’t really need. So, when you’re packing and re-packing and agonizing over what to bring, just remember that less is more, and you really can get almost everything over here. Many volunteers seem to forget that the whole point of Peace Corps is to live like the people of Zambia, which means giving up a lot of things. And, as most volunteers do, you’ll find you really don’t miss all those things after a few weeks.

Are your eyes bleeding from reading this marathon post? I’ll wrap up by saying that in the end, what you packed will almost immediately stop mattering once you get to your village. You are about to be a Peace Corps volunteer (!) and your greatest adventure will not be determined by what’s in your suitcase. But, if you’re still wondering, you should check out these packing tips from Matt over at Fishing in Zambia. You can also check out my packing post from back in May, as well as my official packing list from before I came to country.

If you have any other questions, comments, or feedback, please leave them in the comments or you can send me an email via my contact me page. No matter what you bring, we look forward to meeting you in Zambia!