(...in which I discover that packing for two years in one night is a heinous thing to do to yourself.)
This post is 1000% inspired by Tyler's clear, tidy, and concise post. But my experience packing?
It consisted of claiming a corner of the floor in my mother's sewing room to chuck stuff that I invariably thought of during random moments during the two months leading up to leave date. Like, while peeing in the middle of the night, "Man, I gotta find a flashlight to bring with me..." Or while fixing the toilet for the umpteenth time, "I NEED A SAW...or perhaps just a multipurpose tool." Or (in a non-toilet-related-example) while dreaming of summer during another blizzard, "Crap. I'm going to have to bring a swimsuit." (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)
As for packing it all together, that happened the night before I left. I won't even pretend to wish I'm kidding. I work best under pressure. (Tell that to my mother and sister, who sent me to bed an emotional mess at 1am while they finished the final sort-through.) Even then, I ended up throwing random stuff from my suitcases onto the airport floor while checking in to make weight.
About 10:00PM, upon the realization that I literally could not afford to bring any paper books. Tears.
P.S. I'm fully aware that's the derpiest face I've ever made.
About 12:00PM. Reading between the lines, "I HATE MY LIFE."
I packed in one giant suitcase, one small-ish suitcase (the red one in the photo above), a 35-liter hiking pack, and my college backpack. It's an act of God that any PCV can successfully carry all their crap...but somehow we do it. Unless you don't mind paying extra for the extra weight (and then carrying it), don't bring a giant suitcase if you can't keep it under 50 pounds. Keeping things under the weight limit was by far my biggest challenge.
No one needs another comprehensive list of what to bring/what I brought, so here are just some important highlights. Some of my random absolute non-negotiables: sleeping bag (it may be a lot warmer here than at home...but a cement block is a cement block and a cement block is COLD at night), skittles (or your favorite American candy, for your mental health), and slippers with rubber soles. Everyone wears slippers here, especially in the bathrooms because the floor is always wet. Additionally, my host family had multiple buildings, so to go from my bedroom to the bathroom, I had to cross the farmyard...which I wouldn't recommend doing in socks. Also, baby powder because there's no way you're going to want to shower as often as you're used to. Every day? LOLOL. Use some baby powder to stretch your hair-washing to every 3-4 days.
Some of my personal random items I am extremely glad to have with me: an old flannel shirt of my dad's (perfect for snuggling in on a rainy day), a flannel pillow case from my childhood (because the sheets here kinda suck), my bible, samples of my perfume (unbreakable-ish AND you get to smell clean and nice and like yourself), and my lucky travel buddy Hogan (the stuffed puppy...dude, I love that thing. Also he's my Valentine this year. Forever alone.). Bring things that you don't think you can live without or that are just comfort items. I didn't bring my infamous* fleece pajama pants because I had a more multi-purpose pair packed; and I found I actually missed them. And when my mother sent them to me in the mail, I didn't take them off for days.
The pink pants. Not just a style, but a way of life.
For the lady volunteers:
Bring some good bras. You can't find quality ones here, and getting stuck with a crappy old stretched-out bra is no fun. Especially when your replacement options only come in neon orange, studded, or star-spangled-banner.
As for what hemlines and styles are appropriate in your community, that really remains to be seen. But it can be pretty lax, especially in the summertime - most girls wear short dresses or skirts. Bare shoulders are always a taboo, however, so bring a couple light cardigans for work days when it's hot. (But feel free to wear a white see-through crew neck and fluorescent pink bra because that's somehow considered modest). I will say this: men and boys here tend to stare like it's an olympic sport, regardless of what you're wearing. One of my favorite moments happened when Megan and I were returning from visiting another volunteer for the weekend - so no makeup, wearing our wrinkled travel clothes, unshowered (me), tired - and as we walked home from the bus stop after our 3-hour trip we passed a bar with a bunch of young men. They all swarmed the door and one called out (to our backsides, just after we passed), "Do not be afraid of me!" Because yes, nothing's as appealing as when a guy tries to pick you up using a kidnapper's line.
Additionally, there is a ton of pressure within the female community to always look your best. Say goodbye to running to the grocery store in your sweatpants...because everyone will know and ask you if you're feeling better, because only the deathly ill would go out looking like that. I know some female PCVs who have been sent home from work to put on make-up because they weren't wearing enough that day. I wear eye liner every day now...while this time last year I could barely put on mascara without stabbing myself. Additionally, the brighter and sparklier the clothing, the "fancier" it's perceived to be. My most successful item of clothing is my sparkle dress - it was a graduation splurge before I left to live in my Peace Corps mud hut (at the time I didn't know where my assignment would be), but after I got wind that Albanians like sparkles, I packed it. I've worn it to almost every important event I've attended, and am frequently asked "how the dress is doing" and if I've worn it lately. (That last part is mostly Lena. The average shqiptare isn't nearly as idiosyncratic.)
At my host sister Florida's wedding last August. See: sparkle dress.
Also (verging on the TMI): DIVA CUP IT UP. Seriously. I can't say enough good things about the Diva Cup. Buy it now so you can practice it once or twice before coming here to get the hang of it in a familiar environment (i.e., your own private loo). I would also bring just a few tampons/liners just in case you're like me, and there's always at least one day where you can't be bothered to put on pants let alone deal with cleaning out a diva cup and you're just all, F*CK IT ALL. In case you missed the video on Facebook, watch this epic rap video and be convinced:
What not to bring? Your toms shoes (because I have yet to meet an Albanian who wasn't embarrassed for me when I wear them in public, plus I have another great pair of walking shoes), sunlight battery recharger (even if your uncle bought it for you and shipped it special cross-country), and kitchen tools as gifts (my host family preferred the candy...and my host mom and sisters LOVED the scented lotion).
Don't worry too much about it. What you can't find, someone else will have. Or you can buy it. You can't get care packages until May (due to lack of working address), but after that, tell your family/friends to use flat-rate USPS shipping. But I promise you, you'll survive. Even when you feel like you won't (hello, long-term relationship with a sinus infection), there will always be someone to cheer you up - be it your new friends in PC or your host mother banging on the door with buttery tea, hand-knit socks, and a few local kids.
*TRUE STORY: I've had these pants since sixth grade. (I was a tall twelve-year-old.) My last semester of college, after living with a group of girls for three years, I overheard someone make a comment along the lines of, "...Mary...bitch pants...chocolate." And so I indignantly barreled into the kitchen and demanded to know WHAT DO YOU MEAN, unintentionally proving their point that when I wore my pink pants, it meant I was in a sour mood. And then I laughed because, dude, it's so true.