Packing for Rwanda

Disclaimer: It's been a few years since my service with Peace Corps Rwanda (2010-2013). Since this packing list makes assumptions about what Peace Corps provides and what's commonly available (and not available) in Rwanda, I recommend verifying these things before making your final packing decisions.

This page is devoted mostly to Peace Corps Invitees who are going to Rwanda, but others who are planning to go to Rwanda or Africa may find this helpful. Most of the information here is covered by the Peace Corps Rwanda packing list, however, I hope this page helps by prioritizing some of the items and offering my own insights into their value. I encourage any invitees who read this list to send their questions and comments my way, so that I can continue to improve it.


Clothing and Gear

For clothes, you'll want mostly to dress nicely, professionally. Khakis or slacks, button-up shirts, polos, and loafers will be your main wardrobe. Skirts and dresses for women should be cut below the knee as those cut above are not appropriate outside of Kigali. Some more casual clothes are okay for days off or time spent around the house. Shorts are strictly for playing sports. Flip flops are strictly shower shoes, but bring a pair (they are widely available here, but you might not have the opportunity to get them right away). Rwanda is not particularly cold, but the weather varies by region. In my region in the west, my jacket, flannels, and thick socks are nice to have. If I lived in the east, I would never use these things. Keep in mind that a lot of second hand clothes from all over the developed world are sold cheaply here-- you can always build up your wardrobe. Try to bring what you already have, and worry about finding the rest here.

You can get most things in Rwanda, but some things you'll want to bring from home because they're either a) expensive or b) low quality. Below are some ideas:
  • A raincoat/poncho - Both health and education volunteers arrive during a rainy season, so one of these things will be helpful.
  • A swiss army knife - Knives aren't great in Rwanda, so a portable one with good blades is helpful, especially if it has a corkscrew and can/bottle opener
  • Can opener - Most Rwandans stab open cans with a knife, but this is not a great way to spend your time.
  • Kitchen knife - Something to use in your new home. You can buy kitchen knives in Rwanda, but they aren't good quality (even the handles break sometimes). You can bring your own sharpener if you already have one, but sharping it up on the bottom of a ceramic mug (available here) works just as well.
  • A few good soft-bristle toothbrushes - it's hard to find a good toothbrush in Rwanda. Typically, their bristles are way too hard and sometimes the bristles fall out
  • A tide pen - Clean clothes are important, so stick one of these in your backpack to stay right culturally or just to prevent a bad stain from setting
  • Stick deodorant - This is somewhat expensive and only available in Kigali. So when PCVs go to Rwanda, it won't be available to them right off the bat.
  • Your favorite shampoo - The generic shampoo here is not great.
  • Photos of your friends and family - Pre-Service Training in Rwanda involves living with a host family. Having photos is a good way to break the ice, especially when your communication is difficult in the first few weeks. You could also bring a couple copies to give the host family as a memento and a way to say thanks.
  • A couple of good pens - Pens are cheap and easy to find in Rwanda, but they aren't high quality. If you write a lot, bring a few pens you like and never, ever lend them to anybody.
  • Nail clippers/nail file


Money

If you're planning on bringing some money for vacations (a great idea if you can), bring hundred dollar bills that are 2006 or current. Large bills, which most places define as hundreds only, get the best exchange rate. Money changers and banks will sometimes refuse bills older than 2006 and will often give you a bad exchange rate if they do accept them. Peace Corps recommends $300-500 and I think that's a pretty good number, considering you can save some of your living allowance every month. If you think you might want more money along the way, it's good to know that Western Unions are all over the place and electronic transfers are possible.

A credit card is a good idea if you think you'll want to buy plane tickets. Many volunteers end up flying somewhere during or after their service and a credit card makes buying a plane ticket easier.


Technology

My take on technology in Peace Corps is that 2 years is almost long enough for your gadgets to become obsolete, so if you've already got something useful, bring it. Having something like a laptop is great because it allows you to communicate with friends and family easily (a USB modem and pay-as-you-go internet are cheap in Rwanda). You probably won't be able to skype on a portable connection, but just to be able to send and receive e-mails is really nice. Electricity is widely available throughout Rwanda and even if you don't have it in your home, you can usually charge up somewhere in town.

For those travelers who are still unsure about bringing a computer, laptops are available here. You can get a small netbook for 200,000 francs (~$330). I ended up selling my heavy old thinkpad to a coworker and buying a more portable acer netbook for that price, and I was able to do it with leftovers from my moving-in allowance (something volunteers get to help them buy materials for their new house).

Other than a laptop I recommend:
  • A camera - I've never seen a disposable camera here, but film is available.
  • An external hard drive - To share music and movies with other volunteers. There's a great volume of stuff that gets swapped around among PCVs.
  • A portable USB flash drive - available here, but a little pricier and lower GBs
  • Antivirus software - Absolutely essential in Rwanda. Nobody uses antivirus software for their computer, so viruses run rampant and are on practically every flash drive that someone wants to put in your machine. If you can't pay for antivirus updates, I use and endorse AVG, a free antivirus. Try to install it while you're still in the states.
The Peace Corps packing list recommends a transformer or voltage converter. Unless you are bringing small appliances, such as a blow dryer, you probably don't need a voltage converter. Many camera and laptop cords have a black box on them which regulates voltage and says the range that they are capable of handling. Rwanda is 230V. Check your electronics and appliances to see if they'll be compatible and if you don't need a converter, don't get one. More information on transformers and Rwandan electricity is available here.

Power strips and plug adapters are cheaper in Rwanda, so I wouldn't recommend bringing them unless you already have them. While your US power strip will be of undoubtedly higher quality, you will need a plug adapter to use it in Rwanda.


Non-essentials/not for everybody

If you've packed all of the essentials and you don't have extra space, you've gone overboard. Most likely, though, you'll have extra room. Here are some ideas for how to fill it up:

Camping gear, binoculars, art supplies, board/card games, soccer ball, sleeping bag, inflatable matress, aloe vera, lotion, a musical instrument (guitar is a popular item), books (English dictionaries are desperately needed, but also bring some for yourself), a head lamp, a suit (to really wow people at weddings), beef jerky/other snacks, stickers, and if you know how to cut hair, do us all a favor and bring some shears!


What not to bring

Over-the-counter medications - The Peace Corps medical kit includes multivitamins (pre-natal, lots of iron), advil, tylenol, pepto, bandages, antihistamines, decongestants, throat soothers, sunscreen, iodine tablets, malaria profilaxis, condoms, insect repellent, chapstick, hydrocortisone cream, antibiotic ointment, and many other essential things. (Do come with a 6 month supply of your prescription meds if you have any, per Peace Corps' policy on that.)

Peace Corps will also provide a mosquito net and a water filter. For those who are not going to Rwanda with Peace Corps, you'll want to look into these things based on the length of your stay and where you're going. Pharmacies here carry a lot of medicines, all hotels have mosquito nets, and bottled water, soft drinks, and beer are available pretty much anywhere.


Other Considerations

Before coming to Rwanda, I often wondered if facial hair was okay in this conservative culture. Rwandans generally don't sport anything more than a mustache, but it's okay for foreigners to have other styles of facial hair. It's easy and cheap to get a shave or trim at a local barber anywhere you go, so your own equipment is not really necessary unless you prefer to shave with a razor.

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you have about your preparations for Rwanda. Your questions will help me to continually improve this page.

2 comments:

  1. good advice. i only lost one of my livers from ebola because your antivirus software didnt protect me. not

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. if it wasnt for the antivirus software i wouldve lost both my livers. thanks

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