Friday, April 19, 2013

Peace Corps Volunteers: We are ideal guinea pigs

Before Peace Corps, soon-to-be volunteers often purchase safari-like attire and equipment such as solar chargers, Swiss Army knives and heavy-duty travel packs for whatever adventure lay ahead. And no matter how well volunteers take care of that which they bring for the two-year service, some items last but many do not.

In West Africa, we become experts on items that persevere the African sun and unpredictable climates. For this post, I gathered incite from several Northern-Togo volunteers for their opinion on products: good vs. bad.

Additionally, I include some toiletries to both lists as we receive and test many products within two years.

So here goes:


Kelty 6000

Two Patagonia bags I brought to Togo--still in excellent condition.
Computers and electronics
Macs (others do not survive electrical outages and reboots)
Kindles are nice, but not the knock-off brands
iPods are great, though buy a protective case

Bras and underwear
American Apparel
Victoria Secret

Birkenstock (lives up to the hype)

Patagonia blue jeans
Skirts from Eastern Mountain Sports or Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)
Colombia outerwear
Foot Locker T-shirts
Lightweight pants from Eastern Mountain Sports (easily washable and still no holes after almost two years!)

Foot Locker Women's t-shirts. 
ENVIROSAX foldable, reusable bags (one of the best items I brought to Togo)

Gaiam Yoga mats

Camelbak water pack

Female feminine products
Diva Cup (no wrapping, no fuss)
O.b. (I stocked up on whatever O.b. tampons I could find in department stores since they are no longer manufactured, but there are other products similar to O.b. that work just the same.)

Bathroom supplies
Soleil razors (razors are terrible here)
US toothbrushes
Coppertone Ultraguard sunscreen

American pens!!!


Fruit of the Loom underwear (cannot stand hand washing)
Cheap T-shirts from H&M

Computers and electronics
Touch-screen cameras
$200 notebook computers
Inexpensive solar chargers (spend money on better quality)
Apple earbuds do not last, on my third pair (but climate is a factor)
Batteries found in Africa are terrible, rechargeable batteries are great

My second pair of earbuds. Notice the electrical tape!
*Although I have been very lucky with my Chaco sandles, almost every volunteer who owns a pair in Togo has complained about the soles completely falling apart—this happened twice for a friend of mine. Perhaps they just can’t stand the heat. Sad.

Bathroom supplies
Vanicream Sunscreen
PACKTOWL PERSONAL (microfiber towels start to smell bad quickly no matter how many times they are washed)
Regular Band-Aids (they don’t stick in extreme humidity)

I hope readers find this post useful. This is merely a mini list to help future volunteers or even people who intend to backpack in Nevada or make a trip to Kenya. No doubt, more can be added to this list, so feel free to comment for interested readers.

Thank you.

Until next time… 


  1. I'm surprise what you say about microfiber towels. I've found them easier to wash than a typical towel and mine don't smell. Maybe you are the smelly one :P

    1. This came from four other volunteers. Mine don't smell either. :P