Posted by: Handstand Andy | March 26, 2010

My Life in Bags.

Hey Folks,

I can not believe it is complete.  I can not believe that after the months of planning, the innumerable hours researching, and the countless shopping trips, that I have finally finished packing my life for the next two and a half years into two checked bags and a carry on.  To be honest I feel cheated in a way though. For it almost seemed a bit too easy.  It all came together a little too well.  I guess I was expecting more of a challenge.  I was anticipating having to make many more decisions on what goes and what stays.  What is really needed, and what I can acquire once in country.  And maybe most importantly, how many sticks of Cherry ChapStick is really enough?

I am not saying the entire process was without some uncertainty and frustration, but when considering the task at hand, I am taken aback by how smoothly it all went.  I was somehow able to not only pack everything I had hoped, but also a few extra items.  All the while staying within the strict confines of  airline luggage policy which only permits each person to check no more than two bags with a limit of 50 pounds per bag.  The Peace Corps does a great job of identifying essential and important items to bring as well as addressing items that are not worth packing.  They also provide supplemental lists of what past volunteers have brought, with insight on what has worked well and what has not.  As these lists are not concrete formulas, and since there is no way to physically reserve room for all suggested items, having the lists does add to the anxiety level, but nonetheless still serve as a beneficial guide.

Without further ado, and to answer several peoples questions about what it is that I am actually bringing, below is the list of items that encompasses My Life in Bags.

Bags:

1 X 95 Liter Pack

1 X 28 Liter Pack

1 Extra Large Duffel Bag

Clothes:

1 Suit

3 Ties

2 Slacks

5 Chino Pants

8 Button-down Shirts

2 Sweaters

4 Jackets

1 Polartec

1 Rain Coat

1 Rain Pant

3 Short Sleeve Button-down Shirts

5 Travel T Shirts

2 Sets of Thermals (tops and bottoms)

2 Beanie Hats

1 Set Glove Liners

1 Set Gloves

1 Scarf

3 Belts

10 Boxer Briefs

7 Pairs Hiking Socks (wool and non wool)

6 Pair Dress Socks

2 Pair Dress Shoes (black and brown)

1 Pair Hiking Boot

1 Pair Hiking shoe

1 Pair Running Shoe

1 Pair Sanuks

Gear:

1 Tent (2 person 4 season)

1 Sleeping Bag

1 Air Mattress

1 Inflatable Pillow

1 Pair Climbing Shoes

2 Climbing Harnesses

6 Locking Carabiners

2 ATC Belay Devices

1 Grigri Belay Device

1 Daisy Chain

20 Feet of Utility Cord

1 Brain Bucket (helmet)

2 Head Lamps

1 Crank Flashlight

1 Hand Pump Water Filter

1 Nalgene Water Bottle

1 10 Ounce Dromedary Hydration

1 20 Ounce Camelback

1 Leatherman

1 Pocket Knife

1 Flint Fire Starter

1 Microfiber Towel

2 Duck Tape Rolls (“mini”)

1 Roll All Purpose Tape

1 Roll Medical Tape

2 Pair Glasses

1 Pair Sunglasses

Toiletries:

2 Bottles Shampoo (small)

4 Tubes Toothpaste

8 Toothbrushes

4 Sticks Deodorant

1 Extra Large Shaving Cream

4 Bottles Aftershave

2 Facial Wash

1.5 Boxes Antibacterial Wipes

3 Bottles Antibacterial Gel (small)

2 Tubes Neosporin

1 Fingernail Clipper

1 Toenail Clipper

1 Mirror

1 Tweezers

2 Pair Scissors

1 Stick Bug Bite Removal

4 Bottles Advil

2 Bottles Excedrin

300 Multivitamins

3 Boxes Claritin

2 Boxes Mucinex

2 Boxes Imodium

2 Bags Cough Drops

1 Sewing Kit

Electronics:

Refraining from this topic for obvious security issues.

Gifts:

3 Bags Ghirardelli Chocolate

4 Bags Beef Jerky

Assorted Pictures / Postcards of Washington D.C.

Assorted Toy Airplanes, Stickers, and Games for Kids

2 Beach Balls (yes!)

Miscellaneous:

Peace Corps paperwork and training materials

3 Books

1 Professional Notepad / Organizer

Language Materials

Personally Sentimental Items

Photos

Travel Guide

Assorted Spices

A Pocket Full of Patience

An Open Mind

An Open Heart

Cherry ChapStick:

26 Sticks (crossing my fingers this is enough!)

Well there it is; short and sweet.  I may have forgotten a few items as I did not write everything down, however, this should give those curious a pretty clear picture of what I packed.  There are undoubtedly items that I will instantly regret not packing upon discovering needs for things I do not have.  I will be okay though.  I am comfortable and confident in living like the locals and in doing without if what I am missing is not available in country.

Friends,  it has all happened so fast and soon it will have already begun. I can not wait; it’s going to be beautiful!

Posted by: Handstand Andy | March 11, 2010

A Long Time Coming.

To My Wonderful Friends, Beloved Family, and Quirky Comrades,

The wait is almost over.  After much anticipation and a great deal of preparation, my grand adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in “The Alps of Central Asia” is set to commence in a few short weeks.  For those of you not familiar with the reference, “The Alps of Central Asia” is commonly used to describe the dense mountainous country known as the Kyrgyz Republic (previously Kyrgyzstan).  As an outdoor enthusiast, my jaw nearly hit the floor when I first discovered the rare and unique beauty found country wide.  With the prowess of the Tian Shan Mountains, the flourishing Fergana Valley, and the awe-inspiring Lake Issyk Kul all in my new backyard, my heart is already racing as I envision all the potential exploration of such untapped wilderness.

The twenty seven month journey of a lifetime will kick off at the end of this month with a stateside orientation intended to finalize any last minute paperwork, administer immunizations, and mentally prepare (if that is even possible) us Volunteers for the exciting ride that awaits us.  After this brief one day stint, we will be off and away; destined for our new lives in the country we will soon call home.  Our itinerary from the U.S. to the Kyrgyz Republic will be hectic, our sleep schedules scarce, and our senses overloaded, but we will be in country and ready to hit the ground running only days after our illustrious au revoir from our cherished Motherland.   

Shortly after our arrival in country, my fellow compatriots and I will each move in with a Kyrgyz family with whom we will have the privilege of living with for the next three months as we undergo intense language, cultural, health, safety, and job specific training.  Given there is much to learn in a short amount of time, the pace will be rigorous and the days long.  However, the obvious idea behind such earnest diligence is to equip us with the essential tools and cultural appreciation to not only survive the next two years as Volunteers, but to thrive and excel in our positions.  Assuming one completes training (not all do), it is then with a deep-seated passion for service and newly acquired skills that a “trainee” becomes a “Volunteer”.  Thus, earning the unique opportunity to serve the Kyrgyz Republic and her people.

I know many of you are curious as to what it is that I will actually be doing when serving the Kyrgyz Republic.  Well, I have been assigned the role of a Sustainable Organizational and Community Development (SOCD) Volunteer.  Essentially what this entails, or so I have come to understand, is working with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on a grass roots level to assist in a variety of ways in the development and advancement of sustainable business and community development initiatives.  Through my readings of Peace Corps literature written about the position, and information contained in current and past volunteer’s written works, it is clear that professional exposure and experiences vary between SOCD Volunteers.  Although the main objectives for sustainable development are the same, the actual work done may differ depending on the needs of the NGOs a Volunteer becomes involved with.  Additionally, job functions and specific roles are not always well defined within all NGOs, and areas of focus may or may not be obvious.  Consequently requiring creativity, flexibility, and vision from Volunteers to conduct needs assessments and identify and implement appropriate courses of action.

I am told that business in the Kyrgyz Republic, by nature, runs a little slower and operates a little different than what is considered customary in the U.S.  I have also been told to expect a certain amount of frustration as part of the job as setbacks are common, and progress can be torpid. Although I am very optimistic about the impact I hope to have, I am not naive enough to think that I will miraculously bring about any radical change.  For progress in developing Nations, like the Kyrgyz Republic, is measured over years and through the work of many.  However, I do believe through cultural understanding and active partnership I can tailor my approach to that of a Kyrgyz approach, thereby (or at least in theory) maximizing the effectiveness of my efforts.

The hour will soon be here.  The excitement is barely containable, and the expectations are high.  For those of you that know me best, I truly feel this is the next step for me both personally and professionally.  I am deeply passionate about the work that I will be doing and hope the experience will speak to my soul.  I will be brining my laptop and my camera with me so I can document my work and my adventures along the way.  I hope that you will join me in this conquest for global citizenship, and through your support, maybe, just maybe, some positive change can be brought to the world we all live in.

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