Tight Pants: Packing for Peace Corps Jamaica

Packing for Peace Corps is a tough job. How can you possibly decide what you will need for two years and fit it all into two bags, weighing under 80 pounds. We PCVs in Jamaica thought we would share our thoughts on what you can and can't live without. Disclaimer: The comments on this page do not express the views of Peace Corps, the US Government, or any other organizations named in these pages.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tight Pants

So here is a picture that explains why we called this blog "Tight Pants". This picture shows the popular style of guys wearing very tight, often stonewashed or white jeans. They are also break dancing in the picture, and tight pants are part of the dancehall dress for some males.

Some Questions...

1. What type and brand of sleeping pad would you recommend? $100 seems to be a standard price for Therm-a-Rest. That is a lot of money, so is it worth it?

The brand of sleeping pad isn't too important but it is a very useful item to have. We got the store brand ones from REI and they were cheaper than Therm-a-Rest ones but work just as well. The self inflating types are more comfortable than just the foam pads. Also the smaller the pad the easier it will be to carry on buses which means you will be more inclined to use it.

2. What type and brand of a solar shower would you recommend?

We have a 5 gallon one from Wal-Mart and it holds enough water for both of us to shower and has lasted 2 years with moderate use. For a single volunteer you might want a smaller one because it will be easier to fill and hang. I don't really think brand matters too much as long as it looks sturdy.

3. How formal is "business casual"? Is a nice skirt and top okay, or should it be business suits?

Lots of Jamaican women wear suits to work so you wouldn't look out of place wearing one, but most volunteers don't and wear a blouse (button-down shirt) and skirt or slacks. It is pretty easy to have a suit made in Jamaica once you are here if that is what your agency requires.

4. What kind of work shoes do you recommend that will look nice enough but be comfortable? Must they really be closed toe?

The shoes don't have to be closed toe, but they shouldn't be flip flops or Teva/Chaco type sandals. I have found a few pairs from Naturalizer that have worked well.

- Kaelyn

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Packing Questions

1) What gifts would you recommend bringing for a host family? I've read that calendars, hard candy, and postcards are common, along with footballs and soccer balls.
I would just bring something small with you, like your favorite candy that you can share with them the first night or something. Then I would get to know the family better and buy them a gift before you leave, this way you can get them something you know they will like and use. Or maybe there will be something that you have that you want to leave behind with them, for instance we gave our family one of our DVDs because our host sister watched it over and over again while we were there.

2) What is something that you brought with you that you haven't used?
A raincoat, it was really hot to wear it and Jamaicans don't use them so I really felt like I stood out and looked silly. I brought it back to the States the first time I returned. A nice sturdy umbrella that you can fit in your bag and carry all the time is really a much better option.
3) What is something that you wish you brought had with you?
I've had tons of packages sent to me which has been really awesome. Here are a few of the things I have requested: towels (both quick dry and regular bath towels), a solar shower (really great when you have to take a bucket bath because you can get a better stream of water), a coffee grinder and french press, a good quality can opener, and a good quality kitchen knife.
4) What is the difference between a world band and an emergency crank radio? If there is a difference, which would you recommend bringing?
One main difference is the fact that you can crank the one to recharge it, so it would be better in a case when you had no electricity and you ran out of battery power. The other advantage of the hand crank radio is that many have a cell phone adapter so you can recharge your cell phone as well. I have both and the primary reason I got the crank one was for the cell phone adapter. Also the main advantage of the world band is that it has shortwave radio, but Jamaica gets tons of FM stations (including BBC) so you don't ever need the shortwave stations. I'd say go with the emergency crank kind.
5) Sleeping bags and sleeping pads...are they essential? I've heard that they are nice for sleeping during training.
We have sleeping pads and find them pretty handy because we go visit other volunteers a lot and have people stay at our place pretty often. All the floors in Jamaica are concrete covered with tile so having that extra cushion is really nice. I don't really find that a sleeping bag is too necessary, we usually just bring a sheet because it is easier to carry and most places aren't very cold.
6) I saw that you used a pack from REI. Did you have another bag to put the pack in for the flight?
We checked our backpacks as they were and just buckled and tied up all the straps and they got through fine. But there really isn't any advantage to having a backpack because you won't be able to travel very easily around the island with a backpacking backpack (and it makes you stand out which could make you a target for crime) so I would recommend bringing 2 duffel bags or suitcases for your checked bags because they will be easier to pack.
7) I've come across recommendations to bring a laptop to Jamaica, as it helps with work, keeping connected with friends, uploading pictures, etc. What are your thoughts on this? Would my work be at a disadvantage because I do not have something readily available to type up documents, research, and such? Are many PCV's in Jamaica bringing laptops?
Lots of PCVs in Jamaica have laptops and I know several volunteers who didn't bring one at first and either had a visitor bring them one or got one the first time they went home so I would definitely say it is an item in demand. We use ours a lot for music, games, movies, etc. And to do some work at home. We don't have internet at home but we just save things on a jump drive so that when we do get internet we can upload things quickly (definitely a concern if you are paying for internet). I think the biggest use of laptops among the volunteers I know is not to do work for their agency but to help fight the boredom at home.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Updated Packing List

I recently made my own revisions to the packing list that Peace Corps Jamaica sends to it's trainees. Here's what I would suggest you bring:

This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Jamaica and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Jamaica.

General Clothing

The workplace (bring enough to last 2 weeks without washing):
• slacks (not jeans)
• shirts with collars (short-sleeved, lightweight button-down, wash-and-wear are best, polo shirts are acceptable)
• shoes: lace up leather (brown or black)

Fieldwork and Recreation wear:
• jeans (dark pants are preferable, as light colors show soil quicker)
• long shorts
• short-sleeved non button-down shirts and T-shirts

Special Occasions (e.g., swearing-in ceremony, church, weddings, and funerals):
• lightweight suit or sport coat
• tie
• dress shoes

The workplace (bring enough to last 2 weeks without washing):
• mix-and-match skirts (no miniskirts)
• short-sleeved blouses (no spaghetti straps or low necks)
• slacks
• professional pantsuits
• shoes: black or brown closed toed with or without heel

Fieldwork and Recreational wear:
• lightweight pants or jeans
• capri pants
• T-shirts or polo shirts

Special Occasions (e.g. the swearing-in ceremony, church, weddings, and funerals):
• cocktail dress
• at least one formal or casually elegant outfits appropriate for church
• one or two pair of closed toe dress shoes and dressy high heeled sandals

Other items to bring:
• Ball cap
• Belts (of any material except suede)
• Bandannas or handkerchiefs (widely available and cheap in Jamaica)
• Small collapsible Umbrella (Raincoat, optional)

Bring three or four pairs of shoes, including your work and dress shoes. They should all be comfortable and sturdy.. It is advisable to have more than one pair to allow for a day of “drying time.” Due to the high humidity, clothing and shoes do have a tendency to mildew. Although Birkenstock/Teva/Chaco-type sandals are nice to have for their comfort, they are not suitable for most professional situations.

Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
• Travel-size toiletries for weekend trips
• Brush, comb, hand mirror, nail clippers, nail file, razor and blades
• Contact lens solution, if you wear contacts (it is available in Jamaica but is costly and hard to find)
• Three-month supply of any prescription drugs you take
• Feminine hygiene products—tampons, maxipads, and panty shields are available locally, but are a little more expensive than in the United States, so consider bringing a supply
• Hair dryer
• Hairpins, barrettes, etc.
• Inexpensive, lightweight bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths
• One beach towel or backpacking quick-dry towels
• Insect repellent (provided by Peace Corps, but bring if you have a preference)
• Sunscreen (provided by Peace Corps, but bring if you have a preference)

• Basic cookbook or recipes for your favorite dishes
• Plastic containers (like Tupperware) ; available locally, but slightly more expensive
• Plastic storage bags in assorted sizes; available locally, but slightly more expensive
• Artificial sweetener (if you use it); available locally, but expensive

• Two pairs of prescription eyeglasses (if you wear them; photochromic lenses are recommended)
• Sunglasses (preferably with UV protection)
• Watch (inexpensive, durable, water-resistant) with extra batteries
• Satchel/Messenger bag and/or lightweight overnight bag (Volunteers often go on short, two- to four-day trips, so bring something you can comfortably carry on a crowded bus, backpacks tend to make volunteers stand out)
• Therm-a-Rest or other portable sleeping pad (for use when visiting other Volunteers)
• Duct tape
• Plastic water bottle (e.g., Nalgene) or canteen
• Earplugs for sleeping through loud music, roosters, and barking dogs
• Camera and extra film (available locally but expensive)
• World band radio (Portable AM/FM radios are available in Jamaica)
• CD player, or other music player with cord and batteries (especially important if you are not into listening to reggae and dancehall music all the time)
• Laptop Computer (if you have one, it is very useful)
• USB drive (very useful)
• Games (e.g., cards, backgammon, chess)
• Snorkel, mask, fins and swimming goggles (if you are so inclined)
• Hobby and craft supplies (available locally but expensive)
• Resource materials (e.g., textbooks, dictionary, thesaurus) and office supplies (e.g., small stapler, rubber bands, paper clips, scissors, tape, pens, markers); some host agencies will provide these, but others will not. You may want to prepare a box to be sent to you later if you find you need them.

Friday, June 30, 2006

One Last Ting!

Okay, so you are in the final countdown, and you've probably packed and repacked trying to get to your 80 pound limit, but here is one last suggestion. It comes from Logan, who will be a PCVL for Environment, so you will get to know him well. He's been on island two years now, lived through multiple hurricanes and Spanish town shootouts, so he knows the ropes. He says:
"The Eton FR300 is a awesome radio.  It is battery/crank/AC adaptor (not
included) charged and the best thing is that is can charge your cell
phone too! This is great during hurricane season and the rest of the
year when there isn't light".

So even if you have someone send you this one in your
first care package, it's worth it!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More answers to the questions

Some more answers to questions posted:
Do you need adapters for the electric outlets? Or are they like the US outlets?
Power out of the sockets here is 120vA, 50Hz. The notable thing here is the 50Hz cycle speed. In the U.S., we use 60Hz cycle speeds. Normally, this has no effect on most electrical equipment. However, it affects anything that uses cycle speed to calculate timing. This is why plug-in clocks don't work here, they run alot slower than they should. There are a few other items that I have seen that have not worked as a result of the 50/60Hz difference, specifically Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) from one manufacturer and some microwaves. Luckily, alot of Europe runs on 50Hz, so anything made for European markets works fine here. Most everything that isn't time sensitive works fine. The only other major factors are power outs and surges and in some areas, severe lightning. The Jamaica power grid fluxtuates especially in rural areas, with spikes and dips a constant occurance. Anything that is electronic should go through a surge supressor. Lightning is also a powerful effect that no surge suppressor I've owned has stopped. This just means you should unplug stuff if there is a storm.

Regarding backpacks. Can you elaborate on the satchel instead of backpack? What is a satchel and where can you purchase one?

Here is our satchel bag, hope these pictures help. This one is from L.L. Bean.

Is a money belt recommended?

I never used one, even though I brought one. They are very conspicuous, especially when you have to retrieve money from them.

Do I need bedding of some sort (i.e. sheets, pillows)? They never mentioned that stuff in packing lists, but i figure I'll be sleeping in some sort of bed.
Well, here's the thing about bedding. Your first two months will be in a host family home where sheets and pillows and pillow cases,etc, are provided for you. You should use these, as changing the sheets to your own is culturally inhospitable. BUT then you will have your own bed at your site. This will most likely be a 11 inch thick piece of foam, which is a standard jamaican bed (if you're a cheapskate you can get the 8 inch foam). The sheets available in Jamaica are all either polyester, 50%poly/50%cotton, have little to no elastic, and pill severely after a few washes. Our US sheets (100% cotton, high threadcount over 400) were cheaper than the polyester sheets available here. The fact that you can get a sheet in the US with elastic all around it is a big bonus because it stays on the foam pad nicely. So the recommendation is to bring a sheet set with you, preferably a dark color to hide stains, 100% cotton. Don't bother with pillows, blankets, etc, you can buy decent stuff in Jamaica. PLEASE don't bring the T-Shirt material sheets as they don't stand up to handwashing and they become too misshapen to stay on the bed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Countdown Questions

Here are some answers to the questions posted in a comment:

Do you need adapters for the electric outlets? Or are they like the US outlets?
You don't need adapters for most appliances, but a small surge protector would be a good idea. We use a surge protector with our laptop, but no adapter other than the one that comes with the computer. Electric clocks do not work, so bring a battery-powered one.

Regarding backpacks. Can you elaborate on the satchel instead of backpack? What is a satchel and where can you purchase one?
By satchel, we mean an over the shoulder bag with one strap, such as a messenger bag. Men often carry black ones.

During work hours, what is appropriate to wear? Long sleeve or short sleeve or both?
I would bring mostly short sleeve, because that is what most Volunteers where in school and office settings, but a few long sleeve are handy for important meetings or formal events. Some guys brought suits for these formal events, whereas I just wore a tie and long-sleeved shirt.

Is a money belt recommended?
I used a money pouch for the first couple months until I got comfortable traveling. Now I just disperse money into different pockets and my shoes while traveling. So that is a personal preference.

Should you bring an iron? They are just so heavy.
You don't need to bring an iron. Your host family will have one for you to use during training, and then you can buy one down here. Also, other Volunteers who are completing their service often give their irons away.

Also can you wear guayaberas to work? Do you suggest long sleeves or short?
I wore my guyabera shirt yesterday. They are good office wear for men. Bring a couple because then you do not have to tuck your shirt in and you can be cooler. I have only seen people in Jamaica wearing short sleeve guyabera shirts, which they call "bush jackets" down here.

- Shane

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dressed to distress (Male wear)

I'm going to give you my best tips now on what kind of clothing you can bring to Jamaica as a man to :

a) Feel properly dressed for most occassions.
b) Remain relatively cool.
c) Not have to work horribly hard to remove stains.
d) Not go insane trying to get your clothes to look professionally pressed.
e) Be decently unobtrusive.

I have found that a key element to Obtrusive Harrassment Management And Negativity (OH-MAN) is a combination of your walking style, your posture and what your wearing. There may be some OHMAN possible from your ethnicity, I'm not quite sure of this one yet, still experimenting, but for sure, your clothes speak volumes until you get the walk and talk down. Volunteers who violently disregard this factor are constantly confused by the anti-tourist, let's call it rhetoric, they receive. Imagine however, that you are a local, of say, Key West, Florida, or New Orleans, Louisiana and it's Spring Break or Mardi Gras respectively. Imagine now that thousands of drunk, stupidly dressed people are gawking all over the place. The temptation to openly mock, and in some cases, take advantage of them, is overwhelming. You feel great doing it and it makes you feel really like your much cooler than these loser tourists. Besides, you never behave like a moron when you go visit their podunk village, why do they have to act like such idiots when they come to your super-cool hometown? This is what you face in Jamaica.
The key is, dress like you mean business, not vacation. Your "Beers of Wyoming" t-shirt, flip-flops and palm-tree print shorts DO NOT say "I'm here to do a serious job for two years and to help your communities with professionalism and taste". Especially if you walk around a town or city wearing something like that. Shorts are for dancehall kids, rude boys and tourists. You will not be mistaken for the first two. You can wear shorts around your immediate community when you are completely not in Peace Corps Volunteer mode, but otherwise, don't say I'd never said nothing.
So what flies? Here it is straight (a.k.a. what i've seen work, other things might, but this is zain)

1) Button shirts with a collar. I've found that cotton-synthetic blends work really well. They stay pressed, don't make you sweat profusely and wash out really well. My favorite shirt is a 65/30 Polyester/Cotton blend.
2) Polo shirts, sometimes. Polos are not really big in Jamaica unless they are part of a dress uniform and/or have some emblem embroided on the breast. The Peace Corps Polos work well. Regular polos are okay though.
3) Those Cuban shirts with four pockets and pincuffs. That is old-school fashionable, and old men will give you big ups. It's as good as wearing a shirt and tie.
4) Long-sleeve, not white, dress shirts, with a tie. Having the white collar is cool, so it having the collar the same color as the shirt.
5) Dress slacks. With a solid color shirt, this is the standard for presentable young professional men.
6) Khaki slacks. Also acceptable. This is what I almost exclusively wear.
7) Jeans. Jeans are sometimes acceptable, depending on what you do and where you are. Jeans should not be worn with a t-shirt.
8) Cargo Pants are sometimes acceptable also, although I'd not wear them to anything requiring the 'look'. They fly if your going to do some labour/engineering/computer lab work.
9) Black/Brown leather shoes. This is part of the male professional standard.
10) Brown work boots. This has recently become an acceptable young male dress standard.
12) Canvas shoes/sneakers. Are acceptable for labour/engineering/computer lab repair work.

Hats are another issue. Normally, it is acceptable for men to wear a baseball cap. This seems to be relatively acceptable dress wear, as odd as that may sound. Don't bother with other types of headwear though. Straw hats, visors, cowboy hats, fedoras, etc. are either for farmers (which nobody will believe you are) or dancehall fashionistas (which few will believe and/or care if you are). Notice the absence of T-Shirts in my list. DO bring t-shirts. You will want to sleep. And you will have days when your only hanging out, in which case a t-shirt is fine.

Help us to reduce the OHMAN factor. Bring down Babylon by fighting the image of foreigners as only coming to Jamaica as morons. Only you can prevent tourist fires.


Likkle electronics

So its down to the wire!! You only have 22 days before you leave for staging! So if you are like we were you're probable pretty excited by now. I hope you've gotten your stuff in order or are at least starting to. If you are wrestling with some questions, just comment and we'll write back to you. Some things I wanted to know: Should I bring my computer? I would say YES. For a variety of reasons. You will probably want it to do work on, as computers aren't always accessible from your job. You will also want it to keep in touch with family and friends. If you are concerned about theft you can always lock it up in safekeeping in the Peace Corps office until you have a site assignment in August. That way you don't have to worry about it at your host family's house.
Should you bring a digital camera? Sure, it's been great to be able to take pics of our life here and show them to people through our blog. If you have the money you may want to insure these items while in the states, in case they are stolen, even after you are at site.
What about your cell phone? This matter could be discussed at length, but what you really need to know is that even if you have a phone that claims to be compatible with international SIM cards, it probably wont work. None of the people who brought these types of phones were able to get them to work when they arrived. Only people with satellite phones had no problems, but they are expensive even in the states. Just bring a little extra cash, or save some from staging, to purchase a phone when you arrive. They aren't too expensive, and we are trying to get you the best deal on this end, as we feel we were overcharged when we arrived. In training I paid the equivalent of US$65.00. When my phone was 'lost' in Portland, I paid the equivalent of US$35.00 for a new phone, same model (actually a little newer and better model). So current volunteers are trying to get you a deal. Cross your fingers.
Overall, don't worry about electricity. All volunteers have electricity. This doesn't mean constant electricity but typically you have it for most of the day. Therefore all your electronic gizmo's will work, but it is important to unplug EVERYTHING if you see a dark cloud in the sky. Surge suppressors do not suppress Jamaican lightning.