A very, VERY nice RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) who was in Uzbekistan in the mid-1990's, has been giving me a lot of great advice, even in the middle of her graduate school mid-terms. There is also advice from a current PCV in Uz that I've updated in orange.
1. Dark clothes: they show the dirt less…most of us washed our clothes by hand, so dark clothes also help hide the wear and tear on your clothes.
Don't go overboard with clothes. You will be wearing the same outfit everyday anyway, especially when you have to start washing by hand. It is just easier to have one to wear and one drying after the wash. Socks and underwear are things that you may have a hard time finding here. I can't find socks that I like, and I tend to destroy them quickly. Don’t expect to bring everything to last for the whole two years...it is impossible. You will be buying clothes here and whenever you leave for vacation or other escapes. I bought extra stuff while on medevac in DC.
2. Bring two nice outfits—you won’t have to wear them all of the time, but there will be some occasions for which you may want to wear them.
3. Take WARM clothes—even in the capital, it will be normal to have unheated buildings in the winter. If you are going to be teaching, bring gloves with the fingers cut out so that you can write on the chalkboard. In my school, not only did we not have heat, but many of the windows had broken glass (no money to repair them), so the wind came through the classroom as well. Most of the time in the winter, I taught in my long coat and gloves. Also, bring a full length warm coat.
Poly pro long johns - Other basic things to layer. I often use a pair of poly pro and a pair of regular long johns at once to keep from freezing.
4. DON’T SKIMP ON SHOES!!!! If you make a major investment for your trip, this is the one to make. Bring several pairs of comfortable shoes for winter and summer (and sneakers!). If you are having shoes shipped to you from the States, have ONE of the shoes shipped at a time. Things are getting MUCH better in terms of officials not going through your packages and taking items, BUT it still happens and shoes are a hot commodity due to the quality and expense of shoes there.
You may want to cut the number of shoes brought to save weight and maybe have some shipped, or ship them to yourself before you leave if you want them when you get here. You will want good sandals for summer and flip flops for the shower and easy use when you go in and out around your house since you have to take your shoes off whenever you go inside. You will need something that will pass as “dressy/professional” for work, but that is a flexible condition. I used to wear work boots everyday, and now I wear Chacos or cowboy boots every day to my clinic. They must be shined regularly, or at least that is what my clinic staff keeps telling me ;p Running shoes if you run are needed. Some of the people here are looking for them here, I don’t know if they ever found good ones.
5. Bring one or two pairs of shorts for traveling or working out in a gym in the capital (if you have the opportunity). Even though I lived with conservative host families, females wore shorts around the house in the summer. This is completely, if you don’t have a host brother.
6. Swiss Army knife or Leatherman - I have the Wave which seems to do most of what I need, and I was used to having a large number of tools before I left.
7. A supply of U.S. stamps. There will be a box in the Peace Corps office for letters to be hand carried by anyone going back to the States. There is someone (either volunteer or staff member) going to the States at least twice a month, and they are usually good about taking the mail with them to mail.
8. Bring lots of pictures (that you don’t mind giving away or getting bent) to show your host families and friends. It’s a GREAT ice breaker, when you first get there and may be dealing with language barriers. Also, they love to see what your life is like in the U.S. This may sound strange, but take/bring pictures of things that you may think are mundane, such as a picture or your car, your house, the grocery store, your high school, college, etc. People love to see all aspects of your life in the U.S. And take pictures from various stages/events in your life, as well. American magazines are also a nice ice breaker (and “gift”) for host siblings who are younger.
9. If you will be teaching (either at camps or training sessions), bring some American chalk. The chalk there is very difficult to use and of poor quality. Perhaps in the capital you will be able to find better chalk, but it’s easier to bring your own (white and colored).
10. If you think it will be relevant to your job, start doing research now on companies/organization that have book donation programs. It is very likely that your school or organization will be interested in receiving English textbooks. If you are working at an English resource center in your spare time, which is quite likely, this will help out greatly with their collections. One that I can think of off the top of my head was Darien Books. I THINK ACTR-ACCELS does this as well.
11. Since you will most likely be organizing a camp of some kind (sports, girls’ leadership, teaching methodology, NGO organizational training, etc.), start thinking now about possible donors (of either material or money) for them. Bring a database of addresses and contact information (snail AND e-mail) with you, so that you can write to them when you start your planning.
12. Other supplies that are available, but of poor quality and may be difficult to find are Scotch tape, packaging tape, DUCT tape—very very impt for repairing just about anything!, tons of film, batteries—best to bring rechargeable if possible, you feel less guilty and there is no proper way to throw them out there, so you either bring back used batteries or use the rechargeable kind, and general office supplies.
13. Of course, bring a camera. If you have a digital, bring it, but also bring a less expensive one so that when you are in more public places, you don’t draw even more attention to yourself.
14. The Lonely Planet guidebook—this was invaluable when I was traveling around the country to visit friends.
15. Peace corps will provide you with dictionaries, but if you are looking for a very good Russian dictionary (should you choose to learn both languages), I suggest the Kenneth Katzner one. It’s a large red dictionary in paperback and is the best source I have found for Russian. It’s about $30 and is available commercially.
16. Bring plenty of little gifts—lotions, perfumes, nice gloves/scarves make great gifts for women. For men (host fathers, brothers, etc.), aftershave, razors (sounds strange, I know), blank tape cassettes (the quality of tapes there is not so good), and nice, thick dress socks are good. For children, balloons, pencils, stickers, markers, coloring books, picture books are great as small gifts. Also, a GREAT gift for when you arrive would be a nice coffee table book from the U.S. Either a book on the city in which you live/were born in or the (I think it’s either TIME or National Geographic) “Day in the Life of the United States” coffee table book, which is GREAT to show them the range and diversity of the U.S. and the family dynamics here. Host mothers LOVED to receive cookware or tools for the kitchen (like vegetable peelers, nice bowls). Of course, they have cookware there, but for smaller things, they enjoy using the higher quality stuff.
Games and such…backgammon is huge here, you can get hand carved wooden boards, they play it constantly and they will win ;p, almost everyone can play chess also, as well as the Russian version of checkers that is not too much different from the American version. Uno is freaking addictive for these people(at least for everyone I've taught to play), and a good way to practice your colors and numbers. You may want to bring some extra decks as gifts. Inflatable globes are great, I wish I had brought more than two.
Some of the other volunteers are Scrabble nuts. The people will love anything with pictures, calendars and post cards are wonderful…advice from someone else to a friend that came to visit was “it may seem like beads for the natives, but they eat that shit up.” The most gaudy American thing you can find will be loved by most people here.
17. Bring a cookbook for yourself. Peace Corps also has a great one that the Uzbekistan PCVs put together for recipes specifically designed seasonally (i.e. what is in the bazaars). Also, bring vegetable peelers for yourself, if and when you move out to be on your own. They are MUCH safer and easier than what is there. Then again, I learned (after many cuts) to just use a knife for peeling, which you may prefer. Oh! Also bring your favorite spices—cinnamon, basil, oregano are particularly difficult to find. Also, bring a salt/pepper and vegetable spices mix…the salt they have there usually comes in a lump and you have to dissolve, which creates large chunks. It’s a bit frustrating at first. If you plan to do any baking, corn syrup or vanilla extract are essential!
18. Bring a small and larger flashlight, such as a maglite. This absolutely necessary when you live with a host family in a village or visit friends/participate in camps. You will need it for using the pit toilet outside in the evenings, in case the power goes off, which is quite often, etc. Also, there is poor lighting (except in the capital) in general at night, so if you are out at night with friends, it can be very useful.
19. Bring the world almanac as a reference book or as a gift to English-speaking friends. It is particular useful, if you end up teaching, for random facts.
20. Bring your favorite music—don’t skimp on this either, if you enjoy music. You will most certainly get into the music there and enjoy it, but it’s nice to bring some stuff from home.
21. Bring an overnight backpack/bag, since you’ll be visiting friends a lot and taking many many small trips during your time there.
22. Bring plenty of pads/tampons…they are expensive there and may not be of the same brand/style that you are used to Peace Corps supplies some, but they are usually the very bulky kind, so bring what you are used to.
23. Bring a head scarf. You will be able to find plenty there, but just in case you need one when you first arrive, it’s good to have one. In general, you will not have to wear one, but when you visit friends in villages, or go to the old part of Tashkent (to the bazaar, to visit friends), you should wear one.
24. Bring mostly long skirts and pants and very few (if any) sleeveless shirts. Even in the summer, I ran in jogging pants. Even though you may be in the capital or a larger city, you will be in enough of a fishbowl, so it’s better to dress as modestly as possible.
25. Bring plenty of toiletries. They are of course available in Tashkent and elsewhere, but will be expensive on your PC salary.
You can get toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, tp(its kind of rough, but easy to get used to), razors ( I buy Mach3’s but they are a bit expensive), sewing supplies, safety pins, nail clippers, and such in the bozor so large amounts are not needed.You will get floss, chap stick, vitamins, scissors(little metal ones), Tylenol, Sudafed, Benadryl, pepto, di-gel, ibuprophen, sunblock(it works but it sucks, bring your own), even Gatorade (but only in smaller amounts) from the med office for free.
26. If you wear contacts, it’s best to go with glasses for the two years. It’s annoying, but contact solution is difficult to find there. Also, it’s quite dry and dusty, so they will get irritated. Bring two pairs of back ups just in case your original pair breaks.
27. Bring some of your favorite food for when you first get there or ship it to yourself before you leave.
A laptop w/DVD player & lots of MP3s is a wonderful thing. Be sure to download a simple ripping program before leaving so you can add the CD's of other volunteers to your collection. Mine has grown considerably since arriving here. You could bring a few good movies...movie nights are popular...you can get ripped DVD's here for between 5000-7500cym ($5-7.50) Some are real VideoCD releases. The quality can be great or kind of iffy, and sometimes they are only in Russian, but even then it is nice to have something to watch. I often buy movies long before they are released in the states. Sanity is a precious thing.
Sleeping bag - Go with down bag with the smallest stuff sack size possible...you will want to travel with it easily. Some people don't bother with this and are happy with the choice, but most who didn't bring one regret it when they are at a camp or visiting away from site. We tend to sleep on the floor or on the ground on a regular basis.
I would suggest a digital shortwave radio with an external antenna…it will be much easier to use.
My mother and grandmother bought me a brand new Dell just before I left. I bought a cheap cd/mp3 player from Memorex. I had intended to burn new mp3 cd's to listen to, but about the only time I use the cdplayer is when I fly. I take my laptop all over the place and just listen to it. You may want to consider some extra speakers if the sound from the laptop is not good. It seems to be a common thing here. Several people, including me now, have the cheap little yellow speakers from Radioshack. The sound is great for the size and the fact that they are not powered. I think they run $4-6 depending if they are on sale or not. You can get powered speakers here for about $8-12 if you want more sound, and they are local so they have the right plug and work at 220v. I chose the smaller ones for size so I can transport them easier.
I use my camera all the time to take notes...like the other day we were looking at reports about iodine deficiency, but they were all in Uzbek and Russian beyond our language, so I took pictures of all the pages and passed them to my program manager to look over. Things like this come up and the technology is wonderful to have. As for the Ipod, they may tell you during training not to go around with headphones because it will make you stand out, but then you get on the metro in Toshkent and half the teenagers are walking around with them. If it makes you happy…bring it. <--this is the best advice anyone gave me before coming here.
I actually forgot to pack my DVD's when I left for staging =0 I meant to do it and just forgot with everything else I was freaking out about, but I brought my whole collection of about 54 with me when I came back from medevac. There are others here with DVD's, and I think I told you that you can get DVD and Video disks here. Many are in Russian, but they are still good. I had the second Lord of the Rings on video disk months before it was released in the states on DVD.
Digital photo storage is something I am going to have a problem with. I am the kind of person that likes to keep as much on my hard drive as possible since hard drives tend to be the most reliable storage option, but I have almost 5000 pics at this point. I am a nut when it comes to pictures, and often people complain about the number that I take, until they want some to email home. One of my friends ended up sending a picture in which she is actually cursing about me taking pictures. Before I left, I bought a cheap digital camera thinking that I didn't want to be too extravagant, but when I went back for medevac, I went all out and bought the best digital elph that canon makes with extra battery and a big memory card. I have had several times when I have had to change batteries in the middle of an event, so that is something you may want to consider. Digital has other advantages such as when the locals are saying "Just take one more, and the battery goes dead, you have an excuse, or when they expect you to give them free pictures, and they will expect you to give them free pictures, you can say that you don’t have them because they are only on the computer...since most don't understand how it works or that you can get prints made here from digital pictures, but you can't let yourself become the village photographer. I am fighting that at this moment. Everyone will think you are rich no matter what you bring or don't bring, so it doesn’t really matter. You are American, so they think you automatically have so much money. When they ask how much something you have costs in America, just say that you don’t know because it was a gift from your mother or grandmother or someone and they usually buy that excuse...I use it almost daily now.
Make sure that you have proper plug adapters and step down converters for everything. Most of what I brought with me runs at both 110 and 220, so they only need a plug adapter. You can get them here, but the quality of the converters is questionable. Plug adapters are just metal, so them I don’t worry about too much. They run about 200cym, once you find a place that has them. I have not checked the price of converters.
My hd is 20gb, and I should have gotten the 40gb when I had the chance, but I was trying to cut costs. The 10gb ipod sounds really cool, but I would also keep a cd backup, as I am doing now, since the photos I have are the only thing that could not be replaced if lost.
I bought a surge protector, but the fuse was broken and i cant find another....I have chosen to not worry about it until something burns out. I just make sure to never leave anything plugged up when it is not necessary.
Something that I was never warned about when packing is that during PST, you will get a shit load of books, medkit, distiller, mosquito net, fire alarm, you will have to carry some water (BUY a Nalgene bottle or two if you don't already have them. Small mouth is easier to drink from, large mouth is easier to mix stuff into) and other stuff. You will have to be able to transport all of this, plus your own luggage to site. You will be able to make two trips, one on site visit with your counterpart to help you haul it all, and then again alone when you move to site. Leaving stuff at site on site visit can be risky if you have a sketchy family or counterpart, but option of carrying all your stuff alone won't work. When I went to site visit, all the families had backed out because they wanted a girl, so my counterpart put a lock on one of his rooms and let me leave my junk there and I took the key, so he was locked out of part of his house until I came back....still without a family to live with :(. Many of us packed so much stuff that we couldn't carry it all in the airport, and then the added junk from PC made moving to site very hard. You will need a lot of stuff, but keep in mind that you will also have to be able to carry it to and from different forms of transportation.
You may want to bring a few small luggage locks. I had two cut off on my trip back and forth on medevac. I don't think anything was stolen either time, and NSA didn't do it, but I often leave one of my bags locked when I leave so my little host brothers cant get into some of my stuff and they can't see some of the stashes of food from home and such that I keep hidden. Also, the contract the family signs says that you must have your own room with lock.
Food and Household
Bring coffee…I am not a coffee drinker, but all you can get here is Nescafe. You can get cocoa easily, but hot choc mix is easier to use. Some homes have great cocoa every morning with breakfast. You can get oatmeal easily. You can get spices to make curry(the Spice guy in Bukhara has good stuff) I don’t know about soy milk, but you can get tofu from the Korean ladies in the bozors so anything is possible. You can get olive oil as well in Tashkent, as well as peanut butter.
You can get utensils here, even things like garlic presses are easily available(I brought measuring cups and spoons which are a good idea). You can get something like Tupperware, often metal pots with plastic lids, but they serve the purpose well. Ziploc is great(I use gladlock since every Ziploc I have ever used has leaked on me).
Bring the duct tape. Bug spray you can get, and basic poisons are cheap and easy to get at the bozor.