Luggage allowance - those of you who know me will understand the struggle I went through, packing what I need for nine months. And how much are we allowed? 20Kg!! So here are my tips for those going on their first assisgnment...
What to pack? Well if you are going to Africa anyway then there's the obvious stuff - knickers, bras, socks.
Trousers: good and solid that can be hand washed with an inch of their life. I would say three pairs minimum.
Shirt: MSF give you shirts on most missions so don’t get to attached to your own if given some as they will be shared amongst the group in no time and besides, you don’t want everyone pointing at you and saying "Ah new girl, check out how white her t-shirt is!"
Nice clothes: pack a nice top/trouser/skirt whatever you fancy so you can feel pretty at least once a week, and you might get invited to a wedding or meeting. Bring some games for night time fun, I brought scattegories, not sure they are ready for competitive Brids!
Shampoo/conditioner: Africa is hot for the most part which dries your hair out and so I highly recommend a good conditioning treatment to use maybe once a month. Thank you Julia and Jamie for ensuring I am the envy of the camp with my soft lovely locks! Also its really expensive to buy, or impossible once in the field so you need to make it last. You can always buy more on holiday.
Head torch: all I am going to say is that if it wasn’t for this wonderful purchase (LOVE YOU BERRY) and a fast acting guard I may not be here to tell the tale. Maybe that’s dramatic but I would be but in a lot of pain; waaaa scorpions live in South Sudan. I have since planted lavender seeds as apparently they don’t like lavender, I'll feed back on this.
Sleeping stuff: my travel savvy friend Sophie gave me a sleeping bag, a really thin insert for a sleeping bag which is the best thing ever as I feel extra protected from the mosquitoes. I have a net of course and it's really light weight.
Hard drive: if like me you are computer illiterate you may not know what for but luckily I have computer nerdy - uhhh I mean savvy! - friends who hooked me up. Great way to make friends with other members of the team if you've got good movies or TV series to share! Thanks Valley and AD.
Things from home: these make you feel less homesick at times. My pals made me a lovely book with pictures and notes in. Really nice to know I have that, and also to prove I do have friends back home I swear :)
Something to make you feel special: for my birthday my dear friend Amy got me fairy lights, solar fairy lights in fact. Not only do they make me smile every evening, they also make it easy to decipher which tent is mine late at night.
Treats for the staff you are joining: they are your new family for nine months and bribery like in any good family gets you a long way! Find out what they might like, here's a top hint, if you have Dutch people in your project you can’t go wrong with some chocolate sprinkles and cheese.
Shoes: don’t do what I did and bring Birkenstocks as when it rains or if it gets muddy (and this can happen without warning) they become soggy smelly sandals that you hide under your seat at tea time and have to fake looking innocent and tell your team "no I don’t smell anything", its awkward! Pack comfortable flip flops, good walking shoes and some nice foot cream to keep them smelling fresh and soft
Hand sanitiser: If you live in North America, or can find a shop in Europe that sells them then buy a load of small hand sanitisers. You can carry them with you everywhere and then don’t need to worry if you can’t immediately get to a washing station. A bum bag is also useful to carry small things around with you. Apparently they are back in fashion so just embrace it.
Some books: kindles are great if you like them but if you are like me just bring two and ask family to send you some out later. People may want to swap with you so you may also have an abundance and people can just send you things you didn’t even think about, like glitter spray - why didn’t I pack that!? Although you may have a different regret ;)
And then I still had room for a pillow case from home, a toy scorpion as a deterrent (thanks Amy!), peanut butter, and my lulu lemons (Thanks Melissa!) for working out/yoga which is so important when you are forced to remain in a compound. Plus my Chelsea FC shirt and my laptop. Despite being nominated most likely to be over weight in luggage this time I was right on the money, well... almost!
Before you leave you should see the dentist but a good one. Don’t ask…
As well as the dentist go and see your GP/family doctor to ensure you are all up to date with any prescriptions or screening you are due for.
Make sure you are up to date with immunisations, I used Interhealth, but I am sure you can also use your GP or reputable travel health company.
Hope this was helpful, and do please add any other suggestions for new ex-pats!