Thursday, May 28, 2015 about preparedness and lots of flexibility.

"Be infinitely flexible and constantly amazed."
- Jason Kravitz

Our departure date (June 23rd) is looming closer and closer and Grace and I are just starting to realize the immensity and the impending reality of our dream to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers. One question seems to linger on our minds as we close in on departure though, and that is:
How do we prepare to leave our families, our friends, our home, our country for 2 years of service in a country we have never been to before?

If you think like me, that question could leave you puzzled for weeks or even months on end. However, it is in the face of questions like these that I strongly appreciate Grace's propensity for preparedness.  We have been steadily preparing for this grand adventure ever since we accepted the offer to serve in Swaziland last fall.  What followed our acceptance was a laundry list of tasks mandated by the Peace Corps, each with a separate due date but all of equal importance.  I'll do my best to take you through these mandated tasks we completed but I must be honest, Grace was the one that led the charge.

To start with, there were a variety of portals on the Peace Corps website that we needed to create an even larger variety of log-ins for.  One of the portals was a training portal, giving us access to required training videos that we had to watch and log completion of. Another portal accessed a multitude of forms and questionnaires that had to be completed and logged as well, but perhaps the most important portal was the one that contained our tasks for medical clearance. Within this portal we discovered all the shots to be had, the questionnaires to be filled out, the forms to be printed, and the doctor's appointments to be scheduled.  Grace and I quickly called our dentists and doctors to get appointments and prepare them for the impending paperwork and process of the Peace Corps. We completed all the necessary questionnaires and we went to the health department to get all of the relevant vaccinations. Five shots for me, four for Grace...we've had better mornings.  To the average couple such a process as the one we were undertaking could be too daunting and cause undue tension, but with Grace diligently logging our progress, and gently reminding me to complete my tasks, I'm happy and relieved to say we made short work of the training portals and medical paperwork. We both received final medical clearance near the end of April, and with green check marks running down our screens on the myriad of pages on portals, we were officially good to go! 

Having received the blessing of the Peace Corps, we turned our attention to another form of preparation, packing.  Grace and I have been steadily acquiring items that we will need for some time now, and we have amassed everything from quick dry clothing to a solar shower. We have been guided in part by a very comprehensive list of suggested items provided by current volunteers in Swaziland, and in part by our experience from hiking and camping.  We have had no problems getting what we need (many thanks to family and friends who have helped us!) but we were a little concerned about our ability to get everything to Swaziland. Due to airline restrictions we are limited to 2 suitcases, 1 carry on, and 1 personal bag each.  To comply with these restrictions Grace and I are each taking a backpacking pack, a rolling suitcase, a regular backpack, and Grace will have a Kavu bag as a personal bag. To us, that definitely didn't seem like a lot of space, especially for two years worth of stuff.  If you check out the pictures I'm sure you would agree. So, in order to ease our concerns, we recently undertook a preliminary packing session using all of our bags and all of our gear.  To our surprise and relief, we were able to fit all of our clothing and shoes in our respective backpacking packs with no spillover into suitcases! Quite a feat considering just the amount of footwear we had to pack...5+ pairs each. in the interest of full disclosure Grace had 10 pairs of shoes but as they say at USPS "if it fits - it ships" so no paring down for Grace!  Once we considered the amount of gear we had to pack in our rolling suitcases we realized we actually have a different problem to deal with.  We have too much space leftover! We're cool, calm, and collected individuals though, so we're not worried about that problem for the moment.

In the moment however, we realize that the preparation process never truly ends, so we continue to make adjustments to bags, tweak the blog, double check forms etc. as our departure date nears. But to answer our previous question, if anyone ever asks you, "How do you prepare to leave your family, your friends, your home, your country for 2 years of service in a country you have never been to before?"  The answer day at a time with the love and support of family and friends and the reassuring knowledge that you are achieving your dreams.

Travel Itinerary:

We leave from Tri-Cities Airport at 6:20 am on June 23rd.  We will arrive in Philadelphia, PA for our Swaziland Peace Corps Staging session that afternoon, and we will depart for our international flight early the next morning.  We fly out of JFK Airport in New York, and a mere 14 hours and 50 minutes later we will arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa.  From there we will board a bus which will take us the final 4 hour leg of our journey, and we will arrive in Swaziland on June 25th.

Other items of interest:

1. During our training weeks we have been informed that there is limited to no contact with friends and family back home. We will be able to call once when we arrive in country telling our family that we are safe but future communications might not happen until 6 weeks into our service. 

2. Our phones will work in Swaziland. I know, minds blown! Although we will not have our phones hooked up until 6 weeks into service. I will go ahead and list the best way for communications here. The first ways that we intend to keep in touch is email, mainly using the account Next, the three apps that we know work well are Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, which are free and easy to use. We will be communicating through these apps the majority of the time since calling through a phone provider will become expensive.

3. Below is the address that we will be able to receive mail from the USA. According to the Peace Corps, important instructions in doing so are the following:

  • The stressed importance of Africa on the bottom of the address, Swaziland shares a very similar postal code to Switzerland (SD) and it only takes one keystroke from a busy postal worker for your package to end up in Zurich instead of Mbabane.
  • The flat rate boxes and excess tape is said to reduce the likelihood that things will be stolen in the shipping process. So really, anything that looks official and hard to open has a better chance of making it to us.
  • It takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for packages to make the trip from America to Swaziland, and in our experience 5-7 weeks is average. Flat rate boxes are probably the cheapest option from the US post office, don't send things on expedited shipping; they do not come faster than regular 'air mail'.                                                      
Sean and Grace Collins, PCV
PO Box 2797
Mbabane H100,