There are a number of things that I packed and lugged all the way over here that were a waste of space and energy. I knew that when I was packing and lugging them over here, I just didn't know which of the million things I brought would be useless. Now that I've been in country for almost six months (what?!) I feel like I have better sorted out what is amazing and what is crap.
Ballet Flats? Crap. I only ever wear my rainbow flip-flops. PC says we're supposed to wear nice shoes, look smart, yada yada, yada... the reality is that my rainbows are as nice and smart as most of the shoes I've seen. The ballet flats aren't even out among the shoes I rotate through - rainbows, second pair of rainbows, running shoes, shower shoes, chacos (which I haven't worn since training), they're neatly packed in my bottom drawer. I feel like constantly stooping to empty sand and rocks from my sweaty ballet flats would be silly, and so they will stay packed until I either give in and give them away to a Ugandan (which I hate the thought of because it perpetuates the idea that white people are here to give things away), throw them in the free box for another volunteer to get excited about only to realize they're useless in Africa, or throw them in the duffle bag I'll be bringing home and leaving there next spring.
Standard sized pillow? Fabulous. I put it in a vacuum sealed bag and shrunk it down to lay flat in the bottom of my suitcase. I love it. Peace Corps gave us a decent pillow when we went to homestay, but it's not quite the same as having my pillow from home. It's also super helpful when I have people stay with me, and having two pillows on a bed is just more homey, and we all know that's really what PC is all about. (No, for real. A homey home will keep you sane.)
Beer Koozie? Useless. While I used my beer koozie all the time in the states, to the point where I just kept it in my purse, it has proven to be a pointless addition to my packing list. The beers here are 500mL where the ones in the states are 333mL, so it wouldn't fit even if I wanted to use it, which I don't, because 90% of the beer here is served at room temperature and doesn't need to be wrapped in neoprene. Not to mention the fact that I never drink here except once in a blue moon.
Pushpins? Mildly useful. All of the buildings here are are built of bricks with a covering of cement to make them look smooth and smart. Because of this fun construction fact, pins are a non-option for hanging things on the wall. I did, however, use them to decorate, tacking some cloth to some ugly, unfinished wooden panels on a cabinet. Had I not had them I could have used glue or something else, though.
Duct Tape? omg omg omg I should have brought 5 more rolls. I love it. Things I have done with duct tape: hang every single card, letter, envelope, and box front I receive on the wall in my bedroom, hang every single picture I brought in my sitting room, make funnels to stick in cut-open water bottles to trap fruit flies, cover the wall where I'm going to put a nail so the cement doesn't crumble (it took me a few tries to figure this out), tape closed my bucket when I was moving so the contents wouldn't spill out, label cords so I know which solar lamp goes with which plug, fix a pair of cheap sandals, label tupperware, etc.
Northface Rain Jacket? Ugh. This is a love/hate thing, because apparently Northface rain jackets' lining deteriorates after a few years and they become no better at keeping rain off than a tee-shirt. My jacket is now eight years old and well past its prime. It's especially awesome that the neck was the first place to go, so on the two occasions I've worn it, my neck has gotten soaked. I can't bring myself to throw it away though considering how expensive it was and how wasteful it feels to throw things away here. I should have done a better job appraising it before leaving and just bought a new one then.
Planner? Have you met me? I'm a bit anal about things, somewhat stubborn, like to organize, and am a visual learner. I always get the same planner several years in a row and get genuinely annoyed if the company discontinues it or changes it somehow. I brought one with me mostly as a comfort thing, but I use it all the time here. As disorganized as the school system (and every other system) here can be, it would drive me nuts not to have some sort of calm center where I keep track of meetings that are supposedly taking place, lessons I'm most likely not teaching anyway, trips I'm planning, and, most importantly, when I'm getting together with fellow PVCs. I also use it to make sure I'm both on track with my malaria meds and bathing often enough. When it comes down to it, I know myself very well and am glad I listened to that voice that said "you're going to want a planner." Jacque is picking me up a 2012 version when she's stateside this winter.
Awesomely bad 20 degree rated sleeping bag? I live like 2 degrees north of the equator, I knew this before coming here. What was I thinking? Yes, it does get chilly here, and yes I sleep under a blanket, but the whole sleeping bag thing could have been done a lot less intensely. I could have gone with a 60 degree bag that would take up less room and be way more useful. I brought a sleeping bag to take with me when I visit other volunteers (which is hilarious by because we all just pile in a bed 3 or 4 deep) but usually leave it at home since it's so impractical here. I am planning a camping trip on Mt. Elgon next month though, so hopefully it'll be a little colder there and I won't feel so stupid.
Measuring cups? Love mine. Bright orange kitchen aide ones. I probably could have found them somewhere in country, but I would have put it off and estimated shit for a few months and then eventually bought some when and if I thought of it. Bringing my own I was able to measure accurately from day one and have not thought twice about trying to find some or lamenting that my tortillas just don't come out quite right. I do, however, need some measuring spoons (if anyone could get orange kitchen aide ones, that would be awesome. I like to match.)