28 August 2006

What do you pack?

When preparing to go somewhere completely unknown to you, what do you pack?A flashlight? Well, if I pack a flashlight, I better bring batteries. That means I should get rechargable batteries & a charger. Oh crap, I bought a headlamp that takes Lithium batteries. I should bring a couple of extra lithium batteries. Who knows if they sell those down there. Maybe I'll be one of those traveling general stores that a guy packs on a mule & brings from town to town like the movies. No, that's me romanticizing a developing country -- they probably have supermarkets. Right?Okay, I'll come back to the batteries. What about shoes? Well, I need muckboots, and they said bring extra tennis shoes b/c nobody within 100 miles besides me will have size 12 shoes. And they said one pairs of sandals, even though it's culturally insensitive to wear them, and a pair of hiking boots. That's 11 pounds out of my 80 allowable. Hmmm. Maybe I should just pay extra & go over 80 lbs. Nope! I'm not going to be the stupid American bringing more shoes than anybody Guatemalan has & trying to slip a quetzal to convince a 10-year-old to carry my fourth bag. I'll just make up the weight somewhere else. Maybe I'll take less batteries.I've had about 600 conversations like this with myself (sometimes other people assume the voices -- my mother telling me to bring more, my friends from New Orleans, bringing less) trying to figure out what to bring. After going to New Orleans with over 80 lbs in my suitcase and needing about 20 of them, I'm very wary of overpacking.More than anything, I keep going back to the idea that the baggage I bring really is mostly just "baggage" -- preconceived notions of what my life is going to be while living there. Given the lack of information that I have going in, I know that the best thing I can bring is an empty mind.I'm trying to let myself accept whatever I'm getting myself into at face value, and not bog down my experience with unrealistic expectations from travel books and postcards and silly notions of what people in poor countries live like. I understand that that can seem like intentional unpreparedness, but it's more about trying to be prepared for all of those things I can't be prepared for -- like the first time I will get lost without the ability to describe where I need to be.I've edited this post three times thanks to Netscape locking up, I hope it makes sense at this point.

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