Feb 18, 2013 - General    4 Comments

Reflections on packing

When I was packing for my move to rural Zambia, it was very difficult to know what to take. I didn’t know what I would be able to buy in Zambia, I didn’t know what my day-to-day life would be like or where I would be living… and how much do you need for a year? Friends would ask me questions like “will you have a fridge?” and “are there supermarkets near you?” I didn’t know the answers, and I was just guessing as I added belongings to my luggage.

Now, half way through my year in Katete, it is easy for me to look back and divide my packing into two groups: things I should have left behind, and things I can’t imagine being without.

Here are some examples of items in the ‘why did I bring that’ group:

Leather shoes – they may seem like a good idea, something to smarten up an outfit. However, they get dusty and muddy within seconds of being outside the house, and are highly impractical in the rain. They’ve been left untouched in my wardrobe since I arrived.

Skirts/Dresses that end above the knee – in Katete, women cover their legs. This isn’t true of women in Lusaka, who will happily bare their knees. However, here in the Eastern Province, showing your knees is like wearing a very low cut top back home… You get a lot less attention if you just keep them covered.

Here are some examples of items that I can’t imagine being without, and that should be in the suitcase of anyone leaving for a stint in rural Africa:

Crocs flats – a plastic shoe may seem silly. However, when there are no pavements or tarmac, and the conditions are either incredibly dusty or incredibly muddy, it is beneficial to have a washable shoe that is waterproof and comfy!

LED Lenser Torch – In central London streetlights, shop signs and car headlights mean that you are never in the dark. In rural Zambia, there are no streetlights, and half the time there is no electricity, so when it goes dark, it goes really dark. Do not move to rural Africa without a good torch. In the UK, before Will left the house, I would hear him mutter a checklist ‘phone, keys, wallet’. Here in Zambia, it goes ‘phone, keys, wallet, torch’. The LED Lenser is so bright it feels like daylight, and it is rechargeable. It makes walking into the hospital at night when I am on-call much less scary – good for spotting snakes on the path, dogs in the distance and other such hazards! LED Lenser have a range of different torches, including a pocket sized torch (for me), and a superbright, find-the-animals-in-the-trees torch (for Will).

Hand-held blender – My hand-held blender takes up barely any luggage space, and has opened up the world of soups and smoothies. Nobody should ever move to a country that has an abundance of tropical fruit trees without being able to blend. Having mango trees but no mango smoothies would be a crime. Mango season is over, but recently I discovered two guava trees in my garden, which are now fruiting, and guava smoothies are pretty yummy too. Nat’s seven ways with Guava? I’m working on it…


  • Lovely blog post, it made me chuckle. X

  • Packing usually involves at least a little guesswork, but, wow, packing for a year-long stay in a place so different from home … what a challenge. Sure is a “live and learn” adventure.

    At least you have a good flashlight. Snakes on the path? Shiver!

    You said the nights are really dark, so your view of the night sky must be spectacular.

    That mango smoothie looks delicious.

  • Oops, I mean guava smoothie.

  • Hi Natalie, hope you and Will are Ok and that first 6 months seems to have flown by.

    Sheila and I are about to have a week in Tenerife. Not quite so hot as where you are and I dont think we will have the packing problems.
    When we go abroad, which is mostly Greece, Sheila always wonders what to take. My answer is always, take as much as the baggage allowance allows, then you have always got choices, even if you don’t wear it.
    In your case, if you had a weight limit, it must have been a nightmare.
    It must be a women thing, but Sheila seems to pack too many shoes.

    I can remember a friend of ours went on a 100 day, round the world cruise. I never gave it much thought until I see him afterwards, he had taken 100 shirts with him. He said it was cheaper to buy them here, take for one a day, than using the chinese laundry on the ship.

    I can remember one holiday we had we had to watch out for frogs on the way to the restaurant, not snakes.
    Sheila would not have been happy, as she had an encounter with a large adder in the garden when we live in Fountains Place.

    Look after yourself and Will and keep those smoothies going.