Advice to Future Turkmenistan PCVs

*Initial Disclaimer*

This is all based on tips I've gotten and/or wish I'd gotten before I left for staging. This isn't meant to be the end-all for packing or anything else. Other good advice can be found in the "Peace Corps" group on Myspace, the Yahoo Peace Corps group, and also the "Turkman Chaihana" website.


Bring some fun "hanging out with the Americans" clothes, like *at least* one pair of jeans if not more, and some casual tops and stuff. There will be all-vol conferences, parties, and vacations so you will have plenty of chances to wear them. Also, cool clothes are hard to find here so you might as well stock up beforehand. Don't forget it's ridiculously hot in the summer (anywhere from 100-130 F); in many places you can get away with wearing shorts at least at home or at camp, so bring a pair. You may also want to consider bringing a heavy coat for winter, although you can pick one up at the bazaar, too.
As far as work clothes, bring a few outfits that look nice and professional, but make sure it's all durable and easy to clean. I made the mistake of bringing a couple of "dry clean only" items and they may as well have been made of toilet paper - they disintegrated that fast. Females tend to have it a little easier in terms of work wardrobe because Turkman koyneks (dresses) are cheap to have made, easy to take care of, and work in just about any professional or social setting.
Caveat: You may well gain or lose 10 pounds or more once you get here, so try to bring stuff that would look good if you were to gain or lose a size.
Best advice I ever got was to bring about 20 pairs of good underwear with you - with half of them sealed up in a ziplock bag marked "do not open until next year" (the harsh laundry soap wreaks havok on delicates and by next year whatever you've been wearing will be pretty beat up). Also if you have a lot of underwear, you won't have to do laundry as often which is nice. And you'll be less likely to have to resort to the hideous granny underwear at the bazaar (trust me, it's really bad).
Shoes: You can get shoes here but a lot of them are either stiletto heels for females or pointy "elf shoes" for males. So if you care about comfort and/or looking geeky, bring your own. Chacos are durable and comfortable and you get a "Peace Corps" discount. Also don't forget something warm for winter.


As far as hygiene items - shampoo, toothpaste, etc. - they actually have pretty decent stuff here so you probably don't need to bring a huge supply from the States, just one of everything to start you off. If you're really hooked on a particular product, bring it but otherwise don't waste the suitcase space. On the other hand the cosmetics here are rather cheesy so bring extras of those. You might miss items like toner, exfoliants, masques, and other stuff like that so if you use it, bring it.
Also it's dry as hell (huh, big surprise), so bring lots of moisturizer. I recommend cocoa butter lotion because it not only moisturizes but it soothes sunburns too.
Hand sanitizer is a great thing to have, and little travel-packs of kleenex will be handy too. Never enter a public restroom without them.


You don't need to bring a lot of books because the Peace Corps office has a library that has tons of them. If you have a favorite book that you like to read over and over again, or if there are some reference books you want to have handy, bring those, preferably in soft cover. Bring any language books you think you might want, i.e. Russian or Farsi. Also English grammar textbooks and easy word-search type books (stuff kids can work with) could be useful for TEFL volunteers.
Another idea is to ship books to yourself via media mail the week before you leave for staging so as to avoid carrying that extra weight in your suitcase. I didn't do that so I don't know anything about the cost/feasibility.


I highly recommend bringing a laptop/notebook computer if possible. A notebook is good for pre-writing emails to people back home, watching movies on, preparing lesson plans, etc. Not everyone in our group brought a computer but I think everyone who did was glad to have theirs. If you bring one, also consider bringing software like the Encarta Encyclopedia - you may want to look up various facts while you're here and you won't have the internet & library access you're used to in the States. Also, DVDs (try to bring some TV shows as well as movies because you'll miss American TV), CDs full of music files (mp3s), and a "thumb drive" (USB memory stick).
Don't forget your backup software, manuals, surge protectors, voltage transformer/converters, and plug adapters for all your various electronics. For voltage you want something that converts 220/240V AC to 110/120V AC. The plug adapter you'll need is a two pin 3-400 "D" adapter, which is what's common in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. If you still don't know exactly what you'll need, do a little searching online and you'll figure it out. Notebooks generally come with their own voltage converters but you'll still need a plug adapter.
Also bring some kind of camera, definitely. Digital (preferably) or otherwise. And blank CDs to back up your pics on if you have a digital.
I brought an iPod and it served me well for 3 months and then it got stolen. I won't say "Don't bring your iPod" because I think it's a worthwhile thing to have out here, but I will say never let it out of your sight.


You might want to bring some spices for cooking. Cinnamon, Ginger, Cumin, Garlic Powder, Montreal Steak Seasoning, and Lime extract are all spices I found useful. Don't bother bringing black or red pepper because they have it here. There's also plenty of fresh dill and cilantro. Get spices in plastic containers rather than glass (because glass is heavy and will eat up your weight allowance) or else put them in zip-lock baggies.
Also, some things PCVs end up craving are: beef jerky, good chocolate, mac and cheese, soup mix, oreos, hot cocoa mix, and peanut butter. If you have any extra suitcase space you could always stuff a few of these things in the extra spaces. Another idea: There's lots of dried pasta here. Get a hundred boxes of mac and cheese and liberate the cheese packets from them and just bring those in your suitcase.
Make sure you pack all food items well, because ants and mice are a problem.

Miscellaneous Packing

Don't bother bringing medical stuff - Peace Corps gives you all the medicine you could need, and that includes everything from ibuprofin and vitamins to bacitricin and maxi pads. They also give you sunblock so you don't need to waste suitcase space on that either.
As far as suitcases; anything that isn't total junk will be fine because you probably will only be using it a few times while you're out here. However, your carry-on should be a really sturdy backpack (and if you have a notebook computer, an inside laptop sleeve is extra nice). Anytime you take off for a weekend trip you'll be using this backpack and it needs to be able to withstand heavy abuse.
Money is technically not necessary because Peace Corps gives you enough to cover the necessities. But if you're planning on doing any traveling during your vacation (and just about everyone does - why waste an opportunity to see other parts of the world, especially when plane tickets here are as low as $150 USD round trip), you're going to need to bring cash. People all have different opinions as to how much you'll need - I heard everything from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand when I'd asked around. I guess it depends on where you want to go and how thrifty you plan to be. Don't worry too much about your money getting stolen because you can keep your cash & valuables locked up in the Peace Corps office. Credit cards won't do you any good in T-stan because they don't have the technology to deal with them here. However, they might be useful to you when you travel.
Many people brought a sleeping bag and are of the opinion that it's a required item. I agree that it's useful but I didn't bring one and have made do without it just fine.
Turkmen LOOOOVE looking at photo albums. Bring a big, fat photo album full of every aspect of American life you can find. Take pics of your family, friends, house, your old school, the mall, the bank, the video store, the farm, skyscrapers, the streets, nearby attractions, whatever. Every little detail of your hometown. Even if you think it's silly, Turkmen will think it's great; wouldn't you be interested in seeing pics of Japanese temples, shops in New Delhi, or Mongolian yurts? You can also use the pics for vocab lessons later if you want.
School supplies may be helpful. You probably won't use them right away but eventually colored paper, folders, crayons, and stickers will come in handy. T-stan does have notebooks, markers, colored pencils, and pens.
You'll need to bring some kind of gift for your host fams (training family and permanent site family); calendars from your home state are not too expensive and are always well received. Cheesy souvenier-type items (like little snow-globes with the name of your city printed on them and whatnot) and candy are good too. If you have extra space in your suitcase you could bring similar stuff for future gifts for local teachers and HCN friends.
It might be helpful to bring something to hang on your wall, like pics of your family/friends/pets/whatever would be good for your morale.
When you're at the airport getting ready to fly off into the wild blue, buy a few magazines. Whatever you're into - Spin, Computer World, sports or fashion mags - it's your last tabs into the world you're leaving behind.

Stuff To Do Before You Leave

Appreciate your family and friends. You know all of those people you swore you'd call before that you never did? Call them. All those high school/college buddies that you fell out of touch with? Call them too. Go out with them and enjoy some good American cuisine one last time, as many times as you can. Exchange email addresses. Build up some memories. Take pictures. Have an all-night movie marathon at your place. If you like Playstation (or any other video games), knock yourself out playing Tony Hawk or whatever until your eyes bleed. If you're so inclined, use some of your spare time to jog or lift weights or generally get in better shape before you ship out - it might help fight off some of the nasty microbes that you'll run into overseas. Start a blog! Your community back home probably doesn't know anything about T-stan. Get ready to enlighten them because, hey, that's the 3rd goal of Peace Corps...


If you have any questions I'll be glad to try to answer them for you, although keep in mind my access to the 'net here is spotty so you might have to wait a couple of weeks for a reply. You can get ahold of me on Myspace (look for br3it) or else at the email address posted on this site.

Official Disclaimer:
This is a personal blog, owned and operated solely by the writer, Britain Anderson. The contents of this blog reflect the opinions of the writer and do not in any way reflect any policy or position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

Copyright (c) 2006