Monday, February 8, 2010

An Essay on Achieving Baggage Minimalism

Oh the packing…
What is “essential” to bring when one’s destination is largely unknown? Especially when any error in judgment must be carried on one’s back, so to speak, both physically and mentally.
My room, for the moment, has been overtaken by a giant pile of potential items to bring, and like bread rising in warm environments, the pile seems to expand exponentially, day by day, hour by hour. What was a neatly sorted ensemble has quickly become a jumble, and now resembles the remnants of some catastrophic event that took place within the confines of my abode. It has even been given a name… The Pile. The next job on my to-do list- sorting through The Pile and weeding out those items that are unnecessary, not worth bringing, available in the country, or excessive. Here goes. Wish me luck.
Clothes are going to one side, folded by type… Shirts here, pants there. Those will be dealt with later. Everybody has told me to decide on what clothing I want to bring and then cut the amount in half. That, my friends, seems to be a very difficult task and one I may not be up to at the moment. I am waiting for the help of my mother, who is a clothing dictator and can always be counted on to help me get down to the basics.
Secondly, organizing my toiletries. The list of items to bring is expansive. My room is now morphing into a chemistry lab. Small airplane-sized bottles are bubbling over with shampoos, conditioners, and face washes. Bottles are then being sorted by function- shower items into one bag, post-shower items in another, and medicines in yet another. The difficulty will be determining what is in each one of these anonymous bottles, as one would generally like to avoid washing one’s hair with lotion instead of shampoo.
Ziplocs are an essential part of every packing experience. Two boxes emerge now; one filled with large, gallon-sized bags and another with smaller, quart-sized bags. Ziplocs are sure to help maintain organization, as my goal is to prevent the simple transition of the Pile from the floor of my room to the inside of my bag. When packing for such a long trip, organization is key, and although I acknowledge that starting organized does not necessary mean ending organized, the effort is there to at least begin with the most organized intentions. Ziplocs are also useful to prevent leakage of any liquids from their container to the rest of the contents of the bag.
Items are now beginning to fill my bag. Some of the more interesting items I have decided to bring are:
Spices- Apparently, they are few and far between in Rwanda, and for that reason, very expensive. In addition, I am not sure to find some of the spices I am in the habit of cooking with. I know I will probably be learning a book of new recipes while living in Rwanda, but I also know that one of the things I will miss most while gone is home cooking. To solve this problem, I am bringing with me a small taste of home. I also find that no matter where I travel, the one food I tend to miss the most is Mexican. Why this is, I do not know, but what can be easier than whipping up some chicken fajitas on a homesick day? If they have chickens and I have fajita spices… Well, you know what happens after that… chicken goes into the frying pan and dinner is served.
Sunscreen- On first thought, not an “interesting” item so to speak. But the kicker is that I am currently in the possession of the world’s largest bottle of sunscreen. I kid you not. Guinness Book of World Record, right here. Don’t tell anyone though. I wouldn’t want to be dealing with a news crew asking questions about my bottle of sunscreen a week before I leave. I still have so much packing to do.
Yoga mat, dumbbells, and exercise videos- Pretty much an entire mobile gym that may be set up in my new African home. Exercise keeps you healthy and strong, and since there is no guarantee of equipment in Rwanda, I have opted to bring my own. I hope this is not one of those regrettable decisions that I have to carry on my back. Besides, I figure that if I don’t use the exercise mat for exercise, it could always double as a bed mat. Life in Rwanda may be all about finding new functions for old objects.
Apples to Apples- Okay, not REAL apples. It’s a game, a game of hilarious comparisons. There are two sets of cards. Cards in the first set have a noun and description of that noun, while cards in the second set have an adjective and a couple synonyms. Each player holds seven noun cards in their hand. The judge picks an adjective card. The players determine which noun in their hand is best described by the adjective on the table and places that card before the judge. The judge determines the best fit and the player that played that card keeps the adjective card. They say that the group of adjective cards each player has collected by the end of the game describes their personality. Okay, Apples to Apples may not sound like “the best” game in writing, but I will tell you that, in most cases, one must stretch their imagination to make two cards fit together. Most of the time, the result is entertaining. For example, the adjective card on the table may be “pointless” and each player may regard their cards and submit the following based on what they have in their hands: “speed bumps,” “spork,” “commercials,” and “soup and salad.” Being the judge, I would consider each submission and based upon my own experience, my line of thought would be as follows: I hate speed bumps, therefore, that is a valid choice. But lets consider the rest before making a final decision. Sporks- incredibly efficient, albeit a bit frustrating to use, therefore not pointless. Commercials- not pointless… they have a very established point, that being to make us buy things, therefore discard that option. Lastly, soup and salad… definitely not pointless… the best choice for a light lunch or dinner and a tasty combination. Therefore, my final choice for the most pointless item would be speed bumps. That player would win the “pointless” card. Therefore, the game develops into a game in which each player must play the judge, as well as their cards. I figure it will be a great pastime for us Peace Corps volunteers. In addition, if the other Peace Corps volunteers are not as entertained by the game as I and while speaking of secondary functions for old items, the game, being full of English nouns, adjectives, and sometimes phrases, would also work as a great tool for English classes.
I have a very established method of packing, for there is a certain skill to it. I am the queen of fitting large amounts of stuff into small spaces. I have opted to only bring a knapsack as my purse, a 40-liter backpack, and a large duffle bag. Clothing is rolled into tight balls to decrease surface space and then placed among the other objects, therefore also acting as padding. Sometimes, zipping your bag can be a problem. I find that sitting on top of the bag helps to remove excess air from the interior. Who wants to cart extra air around the world? Packing light is a very liberating experience. I have always felt weighted down by possessions, and I don’t mean this literally. The thought of living out of two bags filled with only those items that are essential for my life is a giant relief. Although, I must admit that sometimes I wish I could get my hands on the carpet bag that belonged to Mary Poppins because the process of packing would be greatly simplified if everything fit in one bag and conjuring the thought of the item one is searching for would allow one to pull it from the inner depths. Hey, who doesn’t dream about taking the easy way out? Someone should really invent that bag…

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