All That We Can Desire: Packing for Peace Corps

All That We Can Desire: Packing for Peace Corps

In February when the Peace Corps accepted my application to teach English in South Africa, my brain started turning over the all-important question: What to pack?

“I’m hoping to go with just a backpack,” I told a friend.

She was aghast. “No!”

Maybe she has a point, I thought.  It doesn’t seem like much for two years and eleven weeks of living abroad.  What if I’m not ready?

As of June’s end, my preparations included reading three novels and a dozen history books and memoirs from the Peace Corps Recommended Reading List, learning five phrases in the language of my future host family (isiZulu), and stocking my Kindle with classics for a twenty hour flight.

On Monday, the final countdown began. I packed and re-packed, comparing my pile of possessions with the current volunteers’ recommended packing list. More than once, I wondered whether I should give in and add a duffel bag. What if I left behind something I needed?

Then the good-byes began. My little brother (who’s not so little) made an appearance four hours before his usual wake-up time to see me off. As we lingered on the front step, it hit me that I didn’t know when we would be together again.

“We’re taking a picture,” I announced. “Come here, Stephanie.”

It wasn’t easy to fit all three of us into the frame, but here we are, ages inversely related to our apparent heights: the Helmick siblings.
My flight departs from Philadelphia in less than twenty-four hours. Before we settled into the hotel, there was one more stop we needed to make: a last meal at the home of Greg and Rachel.

All this spring, Greg and Rachel hosted the other John Jay Fellows and me for fabulous dinners and warm fellowship.  They are my family away from family.

I was looking forward to seeing them so much, I had forgotten to anticipate their amazing cooking. We feasted on ribs and cornbread while their labradors lounged on our feet.

The moment before we served our plates, I called, “Wait! Let’s take a picture.” It was a moment I always want to remember: one more reunion for the road.

In the end, I fit everything into the bags in the photo at the top of this post. Clothes, shoes, notebooks – those are easy to replace. The most important things I carry with me won’t weigh in on the airport scale.

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