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Clare and a pile o' packages

Ideas for Volunteer Care Packages: Having finished my service and returned to the States, I can now post this list without feeling obliged to deny my (blatant) ulterior motives. Spread the care package love!

I’ve heard that padded envelopes travel better than boxes, but in my experience they’re about the same. A list of contents is a good thing to include in case a package is damaged in transit. Also, in Senegal at least, whoever picks up a package has to pay at minimum 1,000 cfa (about $2) to liberate it from the post office—therefore, don’t send two when stuff’ll fit in one. If sent by air mail, packages to Senegal can take anywhere from two weeks to three months to forever to arrive. I’ve found 3-4 weeks to be about average.

NB: While I received all packages sent to me except for one, many other volunteers had packages that either arrived missing some of their contents or that didn’t arrive at all. I would recommend against sending anything irreplaceable or extremely valuable through Third World mail—PCVs or their visitors traveling from the States are often willing to transport the important stuff.

Food:
(Should always be in one or even two ziploc bags, depending on how good it’ll smell to little nasties.)
Granola/muesli/cereal: a nice change from instant oatmeal or millet.
Dried soup or pasta sauce mixes: for when you just can’t eat another handful of millet and fish water; also good for times of stomach trouble.
Jerky: Mmm. Dried meat.
Dried fruit/trail mix: I’m a fan of dried strawberries and cherries. Raisins are good, too. For those of you on the west coast, Trader Joe’s All-Fruit Trail Mix is pretty fantastic. Hint hint.
M&M’s and other chocolate candy, including candy bars: chocolate here is awful, for the most part. They may melt, but I don’t think any of us are gonna be above licking the inside of the bag if it comes down to that.
Hard candy: it has the best chance of surviving the trip, and is easy to hand out to host families and other Volunteers.
Jelly Bellies: King of the jelly bean. Again, these may arrive as one melted mass, but it’s worth the risk (and some have reached Thies in perfect condition). Anyone who tells you that Juicy Pear isn’t the best flavor doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Drink mixes: everything from Gatorade powder to cappucino to hot chocolate to decent coffee (instant Nescafe is “coffee” in Senegal: bleah!).
Mixes: for baking at the regional house: brownies, cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc.
Seasonings like cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, etc., that are hard to find in-country.

Non-Food:
New music, on mp3 CDs: you can fit more on one disc, and everyone’s gonna have either a mp3-capable discman or an mp3 player they can upload ’em to.
DVDs: for those with access to a DVD player or computer (people near regional houses, PCVs with laptops), seeing all those movies we’d otherwise be missing over the next two years, plus old favorites, is fantastic stress-relief.
Magazines: anything and everything, from The Economist to People. You’d be amazed how knowledgeable PCVs are on American celebrity gossip (granted, always a few months behind).
Travel-size Kleenex packs: easy to transport, better than using precious toilet paper.
Purell or other instant hand sanitizer, well-bagged.
• For women: tampons (though I’d recommend this instead)
• For men (and women): good quality, triple-blade razors, deodorant, shaving gel, etc.. American toiletries are expensive here.
Tom’s of Maine toothpaste: This might just be me. Spearmint’s the best flavor.
Lip balm, moisturizer, etc. (Burt’s Bees is always good.)
Duct tape: very heavy to mail, but oh so wonderful.
T-shirts: good for wearing or trading, better if they’re from hometown businesses or attractions. Also, girls will always appreciate simple tank tops or camisoles. They tell us not to bring any because they’re not “culturally appropriate,” but that’s a big ol’ fib.
Postcards/pictures of home, of you, of your pets, etc.
Ziplocs, ziplocs, ziplocs: good for keeping rodents etc. out of whatever you’re mailing, and endlessly useful afterwards, as well. Big, medium, small, super-duper-big, it’s all good.

Family Gifts:
Moisturizing lotion: anything scented and inexpensive. The women here use lots of cocoa butter type stuff, but I think they’d enjoy some American products.
Playing cards & other games: kids will love anything from Uno to jacks. The hardier the better—anything that isn’t extremely breakable or unusuable once the pieces inevitably get lost.
Playing balls: real soccer balls (deflated, with a needle included) are worth their weight in gold around here. Small nerf, rubber, or bouncy balls would be popular, too.
Crayons & other art supplies: the kids in my village love to draw, but of course have an amazing ability to lose/destroy crayons.
Tapes of American music: most households have an old boom box and some battered tapes of African music. The teenagers would really enjoy American hip-hop—50 Cent, R Kelly, Snoop, Nelly, etc, are all popular here.