Day 331 - Volunteer Service - Sage advice for incoming PCVs

**New Update***
Contacts are great, just make the extra effort to keep your hands and cases clean. I know PC says not to, but many PCVs use them. Jeff has gotten pink eye once. So now we use hand sanitizer before taking the contacts in or out. I say hell yes bring them. PS. Nobody checked to see if we had two pairs of glasses.

As far as computers, I say bring a nice cheap or old model. If it's a fancy computer say worth more than $500, get insurance too. Also backup your photos frequently. You don't want to lose those memories.
In response to the request by the Iowa couple coming to Peace Corps Panama (how cool is that?), I have prepared some sage advice.

What I wish I knew when I started training that I know now:
  • Do not judge your success as a volunteer by when you finish a project that brings X things to Y Panamanians. We like to have quantitative proof we are getting things done. But in the end, a Peace Corps Volunteer is here to share culture and insight change. Change that may take many more than two years to come.
  • The Peace Corps Office has a library. You just take and give on your honor.
  • Insurance - if you bring any electronics over $500, get insurance. Stuff gets stolen.
  • Couples go to really remote places. None of the five couples from our group have sites with electricity.
  • Panama City has a store called Riba Smith where you can buy all your weird american and organic food you can't find anywhere else in Panama.
  • Training is going to be stressful, know your limits. Sometimes you just have to take a mental health moment, then get back in the grind.
  • FYI - Peace Corps will force women to have pregnancy tests if they say they have had sex since their last period before they get the yellow fever or hepatitis vaccine. There will be a sneaky health form that will ask you these questions and others during your first week retreat.
  • Ask your cellphone provider to give you the code to "unlock your chip". Then you can buy and new chip for four dollars when you get to Panama and use your old cell phone in Panama. Not all cell phones work on the providers here, but it is a much cheaper option and you'll have a way nicer phone than the other volunteers, who bought the $30 model.
  • Peace Corps volunteers get half off all Chacos sandals. There's a special order form in the Peace Corps Office you fill out to get the discount.
What to bring, or not:
  • One head lamp per person. They are so useful!
  • Quick dry camping towels are wonderful in a humid climate. All of Panama is humid.
  • Quick dry clothing is also wonderful.
  • Short wave radio - you might just get NPR or the BBC
  • Board Shorts - Jeff lives in his.
  • Men's leather dress shoes - don't bother, Jeff's are just sitting molding in the closet. He wore them for swear in only. Some guys wore Chacos to swear in.
  • Duct Tape - It's expensive here, if you can find it. It is useful.
  • Magic Eight Ball - all signs point to maybe
  • Filter - don't bring one, Peace Corps provides them.
  • Pajama pants or shorts - you wind up sleeping in dormitories a lot.
  • White Clothes - don't bother they stain, 'nuf said
  • Dress Clothes - are lovely if they can also double up as everyday stuff.
  • Music and a way to play it. Sometimes it's the only thing that will keep you sane.
  • Black sharpie marker
  • Silica packets to put in with cameras and electronics to prevent humidity damage. Many cameras and computers are lost to humidity.
  • Jump drive or other USB memory device
  • Map of the world, so you can show where you live and just how small Panama is.
  • Ziplock baggies of different sizes
  • Pictures of your home and the state. We have a book of pictures of Iowa and our neighbors love to look through all the pretty pictures. Printed pictures of your family are also nice, especially when your laptop gets stolen that had all your photos on it.
  • Hair buzzer - two guys from our group had friends send them hair buzzers, so they could cut there own hair. This made them incredably popular with the Panamanians as well.
Most importantly don't bring anything you wouldn't mind losing. Stuff gets stolen, damaged or moldy. We took that mentality to it's extreme. We are wearing $10 silver bands instead of our real wedding bands. When we were robbed of our computer, it sucked, but we had our insurance and we brought the computer knowing it could get stolen or damaged.

Also, you might get inspiration from our packing posts:


  1. Thank you so much for the great advice! Brandon and I had been debating on the water filter for a while, as well as some of the other items on your list- it really has helped us quite a bit. Have a great weekend, and hopefully we will have the chance to meet in Panama!
    -Ashley and Brandon

  2. I'm just about to leave for Panama and stumbled upon your packing list. I wanted to say thank you for the helpful advice and to suggest that maybe you should take over writing the packing list for the Peace Corps!

  3. Anonymous4/03/2008

    You are almost half way threw your assignment of 2 years! I am going to Africa again this summer, I leave May 30. Sounds like your dress code is much more relaxed than mine. I can't wear shorts or show my shoulders. And it 90 degrees with 90% humidity. Skirts and dresses are more comfortable than long pants. I think I will invest in some quick dry clothes too. I'm also looking for a back pack that has wheels so that I can either wear or pull it. I do enjoy your blog site and keep up the good work. I'll keep praying for the two of you. Aunt Pam