As I was about to embark on this six month Nigerian adventure, one of the many things I did was google “questions to think about before moving to Africa” and “what to pack when moving to Africa.” Except all it got me was lame-o generic questions and lists that may suffice for someone going on a weeklong safari, but were not at all useful to help me think about living in Nigeria. And it did not get me any useful advice on “outside the box” (yet practical and reasonable) ideas about what to pack or what kind of preparations to make or questions to think through. Thankfully I spent the past year preparing to go via our Global Health seminar, “cultural competency” sessions (we all admit it’s not the best name, but what can ya do?), safety and security seminar, and dozens of conversations with those who “have gone before me.” However, to help out others who may not have these preparations and who may be googling around for pointers, I wanted to write a series of posts to share some of the advice and tips I acquired throughout this process.
Today I'll start with some general packing tips.
~Bring some foods or spices that you love, especially if you’ll be in a place where “Western” food is not available. Various suggestions include energy bars (I love the box of assorted mini Clif bars), powdered drink mixes to add to water (I brought some Crystal Light lemonade mix), peanut butter, taco seasoning mix, tea or coffee, nuts, dried fruit, and your favorite candy or gum.
~Don’t overpack on clothes. On the whole, most people in the world own vastly less clothing than Americans, and in many places it is totally acceptable to wear the same outfit multiple days in a row. Furthermore, if you’ll be in your new location for some time, you might (should!) buy local attire, and that will boost your wardrobe a bit. Bring versatile items that you can mix and match, stay away from dry-clean only items, make sure you’re considering local standards of modesty, and bring as many items that don’t need ironed as possible. Bring half the number of shoes you think you need, and invest in a good pair of cute-but-durable shoes that you can wear all the time and will hold up on bad roads/sidewalks/terrain.
~Do bring toiletries that you are particular about. Some may disagree with me on this one, arguing you shouldn’t be picky and just buy shampoo and deodorant when you arrive. But I would argue that in a new place/environment/culture/home, you just need a few things that are familiar, particularly to help you feel clean and comfortable. I sweat like it’s going out of style, and I have only ever found one deodorant that works (Mitchum, in case you’re wondering). So I brought four of them with me for my six months in Nigeria. I am a Crest girl through and through, and I am serious about my dental hygiene (cavity free!), so I brought that as well. I also splurged on a Bath and Body Works salt scrub, so once a week I can exfoliate and scrub away the ick. Chap stick. Dental floss. Razors. Lotion. You may or may not be particular about having any of these things and/or having specific brands, but if you are, I say (within reason and weight considerations), go for it.
~Bring hard copies of pictures. Yes, like actual physical printed-out 4x6 pictures. In Nigeria (and I’ve heard this is the case in other African countries) people love seeing photos, especially of your family. It’s nice to have an assortment of 25-30 pictures in a small album to “tell” people about your life back home. It’s also nice to have photos to put around your new living space, even if it’s just arranging a bunch of unframed pictures on a wall in your bedroom. It can make the place feel more homey and bring a bit of comfort when you’re feeling lonely. Unless you’re in a remote area, there is likely a place that prints photos, but they can often be expensive (I just went to print some today and they were $1.25 for each 4x6!!) and/or of poor quality, or it may simply become “one more thing” to deal with as you’re adjusting. So, I’d say just bring some with you.
Those are the big general tips I can think of, but if you have others, please feel free to include them in a comment! The next post in this mini-series will contain a list of specific items to consider buying or bringing if you're moving to Africa.