Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sending Care Packages to Volunteers

by Sheryl Abrahams, T-11
In honor of Turkmenistan inviting a new group of Peace Corps Trainees to start service in the spring, we are pleased to share the following hints for those looking to brighten the day of a loved one serving in our favorite corner of Central Asia.

Nothing makes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)’s day like receiving a package!  But with increased postage costs, it’s always nice to know that you’re sending the right thing.  Here are some suggestions from returned PCVs to make sure you get the most for your money when mailing parcels to Turkmenistan.

- Krispy Kreme doughnuts: This is not because PCVs won’t eat 3-week old Krispy Kremes that have just come halfway across the world in a cardboard box.  It’s because we WILL.  Every last one, in one sitting, all while telling ourselves that the green spots starting to appear on the top are ‘sprinkles.’  We just don’t need this kind of temptation.
- Tea: By the time your PCV has finished his/her service, s/he will have consumed approximately 7,000 cups of tea, all without any help from you.  Trust us, tea is one thing that your PCV will not do without at any time. Ever.
- Unmarked powders: Though it seems like a no-brainer, this has been done before!    Don’t send your PCV baby powder or cream of tartar in a Ziploc bag, for obvious reasons.  Keep it in the original, marked container, or just let your PCV go to the Turkish supermarket in Ashgabat.
- Snickers: Turkmenistan’s shops and bazaars are stocked with these, the saving grace of not-yet acclimated PCVs looking for a little taste of heaven.  Same goes for M&Ms, at least in many parts of the country.
- Most any toiletries (soap, shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, razors, lotion, nail polish):  These are all available for purchase in most any local bazaar, including familiar brands like Suave, Pantene, Nivea and Colgate.  Cosmetics are more difficult to find, since most Turkmen women (and men, for that matter) don’t use them.
- Dill, parsley, garlic and bay leaves: While spices are a popular package-stuffer, these three are available year-round at any self-respecting Turkmen bazaar.
- Feminine products: These are available free from the PC Medical Officer (PCMO), and are name brand and of the same quality one would find in the US.  Better to empty out the box and use it as camouflage for other items you don’t want stolen in transit.

- Permanent markers: Good markers, and other good-quality office supplies, can still be hard to find, and expensive.  A nice set of multi-colored Sharpies will come in handy for both Health and TEFL Volunteers.
- Gifts for kids:  These can be given to host family relatives for birthdays, and used as prizes for students in classes, after-school clubs, or camps.  Coloring books are very well received by Turkmen children, and usually unavailable in country.  Often what matters is that the gift is from ‘The America.’
- Cooking spices like curry powder, cinnamon, ginger, and oregano:  It’s fun for Turkmen host families to try these new flavors, and they can give your PCV a taste of home on days when s/he craves something more familiar.
Photos from back home: Perhaps the only completely valid stereotype about Turkmen is that they love photographs.  Your PCV’s host family doesn’t know you, but based on his/her stories, they feel as if they do.  Capture family birthdays, vacations, weddings, and other events and enclose hard copies in your letters and packages.  The shared photo viewing will be a great way for your PCV to bond with his/her host community.

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