Today it is exactly two weeks until staging in D.C., when all of Peace Corps Kazakhstan’s new ‘generation’ of volunteers get together to fill out our final bits of paperwork, finally meet each other, and receive our new PC passports and airplane tickets for departure the next day. I’ve come to realize there is no way to truly prepare for such a life-changing expedition, especially with so many unknowns. Ultimately I have no idea whether I will be put in a village or a city, what kind of organization I will be working with, how often I will have internet, or any real specifics about the weather, ethnic composition, size, etc. etc. of my permanent site. I can only leave all those crucial things to the powers-that-be (PC HQ) when they tell us a couple months in to Pre-Service Training (PST), and try to micromanage the only thing I have left — my packing list. 😛
Clothes: I’ve gotten conflicting advice from current PCVs about this. Many say to bring only the bare minimum practical items and to never bring anything you will want to wear again after the 2 years…but others counter that you will want your favorites to keep your mood up, and that Kazakhs are very fashion-conscious. As someone whose mood is very affected by my clothes (I have been known to dress up for final exams at school…it just makes me feel more put together and productive), I’m just going to bring what I like and have an excuse to go on a shopping spree when I get back if it all gets ruined. 😛 So far I’ve splurged on 100% wool and 100% silk long underwear, thermal socks, comfortable work shoes, sandals and flip flops, and a couple of skirts. The hardest thing is going to be paring down my “favorites” list, esp. since I probably own 40+ dresses alone! The first thing I know I’m going to cut though are all of my trendy “sweaters” that are about as warm as wearing netting. I think I will wait to buy the more hard-core winter jacket, boots and accessories there, as I imagine they know what they’re doing when it comes to braving the cold (and I don’t want to stick out like a sore foreign thumb in some poofy white marshmallow coat. Roxanne, shush :P). Other than that, I’ll take my Winthrop sweatshirt for nostalgia’s sake (the only item with the word ‘sweat’ in it that I own), 2 pairs of jeans, some business casual clothes, warm PJs, one or two suits, and have my mom mail me a pair of hiking boots from Beijing.
Accessories & Toiletries: They have everything there, so I’ll just take the basics. Plenty of hand sanitizer in the mix, though. I am happily leaving all my jewelry at home, save for one fake engagement ring that I bought at Claire’s for $6. It is fantastic, looks real (about the size a 20-some-year-old would buy me ;), and will hopefully stave off the unwelcome suitors. You think I’m kidding, but I’m oh-so-serious…men in that area are not always known for valuing consent, unless they view you as another man’s property. Best piece of must-have packing advice I got from an RPCV girl, hands down.
Electronics: I got my new 13″ MacBook, external hard drive, USB keys, and a new Kindle. I’m a sucker for books, and this will save me so much space (plus, I’ve already loaded for free the complete works of Dostoevsky, which will keep me busy for a little while as I’ve probably only read half the list). My cousin, god bless her, got me an unlocked Triband phone so once I get a local SIM card I should be ready to receive texts and calls from you all (there’s even a free texting website that I will post up when I have a number!). I also have a Eurasian plug converter and hair dryer from previous travels…how convenient.
Miscellaneous: This is a large category. I bought a self-powered crank flashlight in case of power outages, a Nalgene, a repair kit for my glasses, some American gifts from NYC/DC for host families, shoe glue and waterproofing spray, a luggage lock, bug-repellent baby wipes, some heavy-duty household gloves (for washing clothes by hand, etc.), and lots of Chinese cooking sauces that will hopefully help get me through the meat+lard Kazakh cuisine. 😛 I need to get some fly paper, Febreeze, stationery and envelopes (because I will have plenty of pen pals, right??) and possibly replace my old worn Oxford Russian-English dictionary. I’m also copying down a survival guide of my mom and aunt’s best recipes, and bringing plenty of photos to show my host families and to browse through when I’m feeling homesick.
Writing down all these items (and worrying about whether I’ll be able to fit them all in two 50 lb suitcases?!) makes me concentrate less on my real problem — how much I’m going to miss this life that I’m already so lucky to lead here at home in the States. I’ve been all over the U.S. in the past month, to L.A., San Jose, Chicago, and Philadelphia (in addition to New York and D.C.) to visit dear friends that I may not see again for a while. My 1.5-year ‘anniversary’ is tomorrow and my birthday is the very next day…all big milestones that I will be happy to share with those closest to me, but it will inevitably be very bittersweet. While two years is a long time, I also look back on how quickly the four years of college passed, and the one year right after…how precious those times were, but how each step brought me somewhere exciting and taught me something new. I remind myself that I’ve had to pick up and move before halfway across the world before, and that it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Through all that I still managed to keep very precious old friendships that I’m sure will last a lifetime. Still though, doing this makes me appreciate the difficulty of uprooting all over again, and makes me aware that this time it is of my own volition – which almost makes it harder.
Somehow, you just have to hope that the things you’ve already built will still be there when you return, know that new opportunities will also arise, hope feverishly for the best, and trust yourself. 🙂 Cheers to that.