So you’re a fantastic friend or a concerned parent with someone you know in the Peace Corps, huh? Don’t know what to send them? Let me help you out with that!
I will be completely honest with you, there is nothing more wonderful that going into town after riding the bed of a truck with 14 other sweaty people and a screaming child, heading to the post, and seeing that wonderful slip of paper from the customs officer that you have a package waiting for you! Care packages remind us that people are thinking about us, that they care about us, and a strategically secret stash of American goods can completely change your perspective on an otherwise terrible day.
Personally speaking, its awesome to get an unexpected package. I remember a few months back getting a package from a long time family friend that was full of wonderful surprises! A book I have been wanting to read for forever, candy, Christmas cards, lotions, coffee and Burt’s Bees products (with a Christmas stocking to boot!) it was a package I didn’t expect which made it even better to look through and enjoy.
Items received in a care package are coveted belongings reminding us of the world of plenty we came from, reminders of family, friends, events that happened in our absence. Most of my care package items are stored away in heavy duty plastic bins (no more rats eating my chocolate!) to be taken out on a day that I really need a reminder of home. Pictures are put up on my wall to remind me of weddings I couldn’t attend, babies that were born, and family events I couldn’t attend. I’m not posting this for selfish reasons, I have been well taken care of by my family over the past 21 months with a steady stream of love in parcel form, this is for parent or friends looking for a way to support their loved ones abroad.
Customs in Fiji- I can’t speak for any other country except the one I am serving in. Here in Fiji, seeds are NOT ALLOWED. As an island nation they take great care to preserve the biodiversity from invasive species so unfortunately you can’t send us those awesome tomato or basil seeds. They will get confiscated. Animal products are also not allowed. No beef jerky, no pre-packaged meals with any meat substance in them. A volunteer even had dog treats for her pup confiscated because they contained animal products. Other than that, keep your customs officer happy! I always take something from the package and share the wealth. They have to open it up at the post so they see everything inside, they know you got 3 pounds of chocolate… so fork some over. Trust me, it creates a special bond and makes things easier in the future.
So all that being said… what would you send your Peace Corps Volunteer? Here is a list of highly prized items throughout the Peace Corps community:
1. Coffee. On this island we only have instant coffee, and while on some days that may be sufficient, many days I want to wake up, but the water on, and smell the rich aroma of a real cup of coffee being made. It instantly brings me back to Washington and tastes like gold. Even though its nearing 100 degrees and averaging about 80% humidity, I’ll suffer through the sweat to enjoy a real cup of Joe. I have been blessed with people who know my obsession with coffee and obtained many pounds of this granulated gold over the past 21 months.
2. Personal Touches- a handwritten letter can go miles for morale. I have kept every single letter I have been sent while in Fiji and can honestly tell you that I have reread each of them a solid 5 times. Pictures are another huge thing. 26 months is a really long time. Most volunteers are in their mid 20’s and 30s meaning a lot of our friends back home are getting married and having children. Send us an invite to your wedding! We wont be able to make it but would love to feel included still. Send us your birth announcements! I have pictures of my little nephew Cooper hanging all over my house. I won’t know him until he is about 7 months old, but I’ll be damned if I don’t think about him every day. Newspaper articles- read something interesting? Send it our way! Hear about something exciting in the town we lived in? Send it on out! My sister, bless her heart, made me a book of letters and pictures from friends and family back home. When I first read through it I cried. Knowing that someone cares enough to do something like that, knowing that you aren’t forgotten, is such a blessing.
3. Chocolate or other candy- here in Fiji people use “chasers” to get rid of the taste of kava after each bowl. In the village we have Kopiko (coffee candies) and loli’s (lollipops). It’s an amazing feeling to be able to show up to a kava session with a bag of starbursts, m&m’s, trail mix, small chocolates, nerds, jelly beans! Anything! I can assure you the good stuff will be kept under lock and key… I use candy to bribe people. Not maliciously, but if a kid has been really helpful, for example helping me sweep out the library or re-arranging books, getting me some coconuts, etc. I will reward them with a few candies. It’s a great thing to have on hand.
4. Stickers or marbles- I give these out for the same reason listed above. If a kid has been helpful, they get to pick what they want from the box of goodies. Any small tokens (think little kid party favor items) can be really beneficial out here. Pencils, erasers, etc.
5. Personal Products- Maybe I am picky, but I have certain things I’m really attached to… Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, Burt’s Bees chapstick, Dr. Bronner’s soap (quite arguably the best thing in the world), my Venus razor (they only sell disposable here), Tom’s deodorant. It’s a small reminder of what you used to smell like before you entered the land of sweat and grime. And to have your bath (well really a shower unless you want to sit in a bucket with your own grime, but they call them baths here anyway) with some products that remind you of home is a beautiful thing. Throw in a couple scented candles or (bless you) citronella candles to keep the flies away and you would be a hero!
6. Duct tape- my grandpa believed that you could fix anything with duct tape. I am firmly of the same belief. I made a stand up fan with it, fixed holes in my tin roof, patched bamboo together, hang things on my wall, patched a container a pesky rat decided to gnaw on in the middle of the night, entertained myself by seeing if I could lure ants onto it and capture them, closed the top of an old wine bottle that cockroaches decided to inhabit. You get the idea. Want to be 10x more awesome? Get one of those colored rolls.
7. Camisoles, Underwear, Sports Bras- I have the same 4 thin strap tanks I brought with me 21 months ago. They have holes, armpit stains, other stains I cant even begin to imagine where they came from, all the elastic is gone. Underwear are amazing. Handwashing really takes a toll on your “delicates” so to speak. Not to mention the toll that being in a hot, humid, animal infested environment takes. I have had rats chew through underwear… spiders lay eggs on a pair that was left on the floor just a bit too long, pairs that have just shredded from scrubbing them with my washing brush and being damaged by hanging in the sun for too long. Be practical. Cotton my friends. We need no lacey garments! Who are we honestly trying to impress? Sports bras- amazing inventions. Super comfortable, cheaper than a real bra, there are no clasps that can rust off, I can wear them in the ocean, all in all a great thing.
8. Ziploc bags. Get rid of the packaging that things come in (it prevents us from having to find an appropriate way to get rid of some plastics and laminated items that can be difficult to dispose of properly here) and repack them in ziplocs. They are amazing. I use and reuse mine constantly.
9. Cards, card games, crayons, crosswords- basically anything that can help pass the time when there is no electricity and a storm raging outside. Cards are wonderful ways to pass the time and I’m sure the volunteer you are sending the package to will be learning new games from their country and may even be able to teach them a few games. Thanks to my dad’s poker sheets I have taught quite a few Fijians poker- but they still prefer Trump 10 the local game of choice.
10. Books- so you bought a book, finished reading it, though it was great, but probably won’t pick it up for the next 5- 50 years? Send it out our way. PC Fiji has a library at our office in the Capital and books are recycled through years and years of volunteers. Your contribution could help volunteers for 30 years to come! Even the busiest volunteer has time to read.
11. Music- load up a USB with some new music. Burn us a mixed CD like its 2004 again. Come on, you know you want to get a little nostalgic!
12. DVD’s or TV Shows- No, you don’t have to buy us the latest box set of our favorite TV show… although that would probably be VERY welcomed! Know a friend who downloads stuff? Ask for a couple shows or movies and put them on a USB drive! I have watched 6 seasons of How I Met Your Mother 4 times. Its something to do before falling asleep at night, or when you just want to check out for 20 minutes. Someone in our group had a few old Daily Show with Jon Stewarts and Saturday Night Live’s it was fun to hear about pop and political culture in America even though I was watching them about 5 months later.
13. Dried Fruits- My absolute favorite are the slab dried apricots from Trader Joes. I will hide that package so strategically in my house that the kids couldn’t find it even if I told them where to look. Fruit leathers are amazing too! Times like now, where a cyclone just came through and the availability of fruit is limited to cruddy “oranges” and the occasional banana it’s a total mood changer to indulge in a little fruit, especially if it’s a fruit that’s not available in your volunteers country!
14. Cheese- no, not your standard cheese you would get at the market. Grab some queso dip, we aren’t above eating a whole bottle in one sitting I promise you. Those cheeses that come out at Christmas time in those obnoxious baskets your co-worker gave you? Re-gift it! Those suckers don’t need to be refrigerated! Velveeta. That stuff has enough preservatives to keep it just fine out this way. Parmesan cheese shakers, keep fine out here! But do send the small ones because after a while the humidity will mold the crap out of those suckers and we can ration our indulgences.
15. Drink mixes- in Fiji we get Gatorade packets by the bag full if we so request from our medical office thanks to the incredibly high presence in our lives of persistent diarrhea. But after a while even the presence of a yellow or purple flavored Gatorade pack won’t do it for you. Some Crystal Lite, Lipton Iced Tea mix, hot chocolate, cappuccino mix, etc. can be an awesome relief. I cherish my tub of unsweetened Lipton!
16. Sauce mixes- lets be honest, eating the same thing all the time gets really boring. Adding some flavor to it?! AMAZING! Ill make potatoes, but add pesto to it. Mouth-gasm. Something like Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning, even cracked pepper, garlic salt, taco seasoning, gravy. Anything to spruce up another bland meal can change a volunteers world.
17. Baking mixes- Jiffy cornbread, their raspberry muffin mix makes amazing pancakes, and even though I don’t know a single village volunteer with an oven, if you sent a package of that cookie or brownie mix we would find a way to cook it… or in reality probably just eat the batter…
18. Themed Items- so its thanksgiving, and we know everyone back home is settling in for some of grandma’s delicious hominy casserole, mom’s potato skins, artichoke dip, and all the other fixin’s. a box of stuffing or cornbread mix would be amazing. It’s the Superbowl and we’re missing it for the second year in a row… throw in some Tostito’s queso dip and salsa! Its Easter, and though we can’t dye eggs and hide them for the kids, we could eat some Robin Eggs! Its Christmas… and we miss you. My mom sent me homemade Peppermint bark this year. And even though I’m an ocean away, I felt like I was part of the celebrations.