Packing list for Burkina Faso
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Burkina Faso and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Burkina Faso.
Peace Corps Burkina Faso Packing List
Packing List (Items in bold are those most recommended by Peace Corps/ Burkina Faso Volunteers) Please see Electronics Guidelines below for suggestions about technology (laptops, cameras, etc.)
- One or two pairs of jeans (no holes, nothing ratty)
- One pair of sweatpants (or other lightweight pants for sleeping) and a lightweight cotton sweatshirt/sweater
- 3-4 pairs of socks (more if you like to go running)
- Four to six cotton shirts (preferably not all white or light colors—everything turns brown here with the dust and it’s hard to beat out when you wash them by hand. Also, some Volunteers prefer non-cotton wicking shirts, but these are expensive.)
- A pair of sturdy sandals/flip-flops (e.g., Tevas or Chacos) and a pair of athletic shoes. You may want a nice pair of shoes for dressing up, but these can also be bought here
- Baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat
- Breathable rain jacket
- Swimsuit (there are swimming pools in the capital and other cities)
- Belt (you may lose weight and need one to hold up your pants)
- Sturdy sunglasses with UV protection (plan on losing them; you may want two pairs, but they can also be bought here)
- Two to four pairs of shorts for around the house and biking
- Two to four pairs of comfortable lightweight pants
- Two to three sets of “dress casual” clothes: shirts with collars, casual slacks
- One dress-up outfit (shirt and tie is sufficient)
- Nice dresses (or long skirts) for training and teaching (make sure these cover your knees, even when you sit down, and are not see-through, very important for teachers)
- Two nicer outfits (think spring/summer wear that covers your knees)
- One or two pairs of comfortable lightweight pants or long capris
- One or two pairs of longer shorts for around the house and biking
- Lots of bras and underwear (bring comfortable stuff that you don’t mind ruining; many female Volunteers prefer wicking sports bras for transport and biking)
- Cosmetics and hair accessories (mascara, bandanas, etc., if you use them)
- Your favorite jewelry, but nothing too dear to you.
A note on clothing: Burkinabé, while not excessively formal, put a great deal of emphasis on a professional appearance. Dressing appropriately will greatly enhance your credibility at work, improve your ability to integrate into your community, and increase your odds of having a safe Peace Corps service. You’ll probably feel a lot more comfortable in village, too. Men should expect to wear shirts with a collar and casual slacks; women should wear below-the-knee skirts, dresses, or casual slacks with shirts that are not revealing. This means, for men and women, no tight or see-through clothing or ratty and worn articles. For women especially, please note that Peace Corps does not consider spaghetti strap tank-tops, skirts that reveal the knee, and pants/skirts that reveal the top of your underwear (this goes for the men, too) to be appropriate, professional clothing. For fancy occasions like your swearing-in ceremony, many Volunteers opt to have special clothing made from cloth here rather than wear the dressy outfit they brought. You are expected to dress appropriately at all times when you are in public and while at the Peace Corps training site. That said it is fine to dress down when you are hanging out with other Volunteers or while you are at home and in your courtyard. It' a good idea to bring dresses whose pattern you particularly like - tailors here are good at copying.
Very important: Don’t bring anything that you can’t bear to see destroyed by the dusty climate, harsh soap, and merciless hand washing.
- Bring a three-month supply to get you through training
- Deodorants (very hard to find your favorites here)
- Acne soap (you might have skin problems here. Peace Corps supplies antibacterial soap, which can be used on the face.)
- Soap holder
- Shampoo and hair conditioner (if you’re picky about brands)
- Razor and supply of razor blades (available here but very, very expensive)
- Foot care items (sorry, but your feet will get trashed, so you may want a pumice stone and other exfoliating devices; you can find inexpensive shea butter and shea butter products here)
A note about medical supplies: Unless you need a special prescription medicine, the Peace Corps supplies all of the basic medical supplies you may need. This includes multivitamins, sunscreen, bug repellent, lip balm, hand-sanitizer, and lotion. However, if you prefer a certain brand name over-the-counter drug or product, bring it. Peace Corps also provides you with an excellent water filter and several water purification options for travel as well. You do not need to bring your own water filter.
A note to females: Peace Corps/Burkina Faso provides feminine products including Tampax and OB tampons and sanitary napkins, but if you have a preference, you may want to bring your own supply. Some Volunteers recommend the “Keeper” or “Diva Cup” in lieu of disposable products. The medical staff recommends the “Diva Cup” because it is latex-free.
- Sturdy backpacks. Day packs (some like fanny packs or the tops of larger packs) are nice for work and bike rides. Medium packs are good for short trips. And large packs are recommended for longer trips (if you plan any) and getting all your stuff here.
- A good headlamp
- Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
- Durable water bottle (e.g., Nalgene; you might want to bring two as they tend to wander off)
- Lightweight screen mosquito tent for sleeping outside in the hot season and traveling (Peace Corps provides mosquito nets, but many Volunteers recommend Tropic Screen Tents or REI's Bug Hut)
- Good can opener
- Duct tape
- Solar bulbs or/and solar power panels. With a power panel you can charge your cell or any other low-voltage USB-port devices, such as IPod, Kindle, etc. All you need is sun, and that's plentiful. You may want to check the Nokero and Solio products. Peace Corps Volunteers get a 25%-50% discount on Nokero products when they join Market for Change
- Ziploc bags (in various sizes)
- Lots of good pens and craft supplies (special papers, sharpie permanent markers, highlighters, pencils, pastels, etc.)
- A book or two of U.S. stamps (Volunteers traveling home can mail letters for you)
- Good nonstick frying pan and plastic spatula (can be found here, but they are expensive)
- Sharp kitchen knife (if you plan on cooking, this is essential; knives here are very dull, you may even want to bring your own knife sharpener)
- Pot holders (although you can get kitchen towels here that will suffice)
- Good scissors (and hair-cutting scissors if you want them)
- Family pictures and anything from home that will make you feel more comfortable (pictures, posters, your favorite book or teddy bear, journal, scented candles… but, again, don’t bring items too dear to you)
- Eyeglass repair kit
- Travel sewing kit
- A durable watch with alarm (nothing you mind losing) or travel-size clock
- Do not worry too much about books. There are plenty of books already here, especially classic novels, fiction about Africa, Oprah’s book club, Harry Potter, and way too many romance novels. You may want to bring a few to get you through training or some newer novels.
- Powdered drink mixes (e.g., Crystal Lite or Kool-Aid; sugar is available here)
- Cheese, soup, and sauce packets
- Your favorite spices
- Power bars and granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Candy and your favorite junk foods
You can conserve packing space by preparing a package with food, books, and anything else you feel you may not require right away during training and ask your family to ship it to you.
You also might want...
- Musical instrument (if you play or would like to take up a new hobby)
- Sleeping pad for sleeping outside or on the floor (e.g., Therm-a-rest)
- Travel-size board games (Scrabble, Boggle, etc.)
- Small towel or a special pack light towel (although most volunteers end up using what's called a pagne - a fairly large piece of cloth you can buy in any market - that dries quicker than other towels)
- Small battery-powered fan with water spritzer
- And if you’re at all picky about pillows, bring your own
And if you really like to bike...
- Bike gloves
- Bike shorts
- Biking hydration system (e.g., Camelbak)
- Any other bike accessories you prefer (like a padded seat)
Things you can get here
- Gas stove, cooking utensils, pots, forks, spoons, etc.
- Second-hand European and U.S. clothing
- African and European cloth that can be made into any kind of clothing you desire at very reasonable prices (if you’re interested in making Western-style clothing you may want to bring a few clothes catalogues with pictures to take to the tailor)
- A wide selection of plastic flip-flops and cheap sunglasses
- Bring your calculator
- If you can find one, a good French/English technical dictionary in your discipline may also be helpful
Guidelines for Electronic Equipment in Burkina Faso
The following are a few suggestions put together by staff and Volunteers regarding electronic equipment that you may wish to bring to Burkina Faso. These suggestions are not at all intended to be comprehensive or authoritative, but rather they are meant to provide some guidance in a complicated and confusing area.
- By no means should you think that you must bring a laptop to do your work here. If you don’t have the money for one, don’t worry about it. Volunteers do a wide variety of work with and without computers. However, most Volunteers who have brought laptops are glad that they did. It may make things a lot easier for you, though most Volunteers do not have electricity in their villages and need to charge their laptops elsewhere. A computer is an enormous symbol of wealth in Burkina Faso; if you reveal that you own one, it will affect how people view you and could make you a target for theft.
- The electrical current in Burkina Faso is 220 volts, twice the strength of the current in the U.S. Make sure you understand how to adapt your equipment before you plug it in. In some cases, this simply means turning a switch from 110 to 220; in other cases, you will need a transformer or converter. (One trainee who wasn’t aware of this ruined a laptop when he plugged it in immediately upon arrival.) 110-220 watt converters are of better quality in the U.S. and we suggest purchasing this before arriving in-country.
- Whatever electronic equipment you will need, bring it with you. Almost anything can be purchased here, but often only after a lengthy search, at exorbitant prices and of inferior quality.
- You may type documents in French. Often the software that comes with your computer lets you install a French dictionary and spell check. Load this sort of thing before you come. If you don’t have such a package, consider purchasing one.
- Electrical outlets here have different prongs than in the U.S. Here it’s two round pegs like in France, rather than the two flat prongs as in the U.S. You can buy these adaptors in the U.S., but they are much cheaper (about 40 cents) in Burkina Faso where they are available in most hardware stores. If you choose to purchase it in the U.S., it is called a French adaptor.
- Very few organizations that Volunteers work with have a desktop computer. Volunteers who have UBS jump drives or flash memory are glad they brought them. They can carry documents and pictures around as needed. This is a good idea even if your organization does not have a computer, as all Volunteers can save work done on computers in Ouagadougou.
- There is Internet access now in almost every large town. This will be at a public cybercafé where you will pay anywhere from $.75 to $3 an hour. Connections can be slow and unreliable. Often you can hook up directly to the cybercafé’s connection via ethernet or even wi-fi using your own laptop.
- Most Volunteers have digital cameras.
- Batteries sold here are of very poor quality. Bring a charger and rechargeable batteries for your camera or you will spend a fortune on batteries.
- Radios, boom boxes, CD players, etc. are very expensive here and often of poor quality. While shortwave radios are available in markets here, many Volunteers suggest bringing your own shortwave from home. (Grundigs are great and they make a hand crank model that doesn’t require batteries. Some Volunteers are fond of World
Space Satellite Radio, but it is expensive.) If you want music, make sure you bring something to play it on; iPods work well. If you don’t have an iPod or MP3 player, many Volunteers bring Discmans and find that they can use these despite the dust. Bring good portable speakers, too.
- Most volunteers buy cell phones on arrival, but some bring GSM phones (ie not CDMA phones from Verizon) and swap out the SIM card.
During your training you will be living with a host family. It would be a good idea not to show off your electronics. If community members know you have something rare and interesting, it will build pressure on you to lend it out, etc.