​My favorite things – the packing list

While preparing for Peace Corps service can be hectic among other more colorful adjectives, it’s an exercise in restraint. It was tempting to pack up my entire apartment in Washington, DC and bring all of that stuff with me to Swaziland. I’m very thankful that I didn’t. After searching other volunteer blogs and Reddit to decide what to bring, I narrowed my list down. This is my contribution to that pool of knowledge. There are some things that I’m very happy I packed (outside of the typical – clothes, phone, computer, etc), as they have proved most useful. 

  • Headlamp – I brought two. I have electricity on my homestead. I had electricity at my training site during my first three months in country. However, a headlamp is useful, especially on those 2AM runs to the latrine or when the power goes out while cooking dinner. 
  • Hydroflask – This could be considered a water bottle, but it’s so much more. To be able to have an ice cold (or steaming hot) beverage after working all day is pure magic. 
  • Duct tape – It’s multipurposed, and magical. 
  • Rechargeable batteries – These save me money and trips into town. I use them for my headlamps, camera, and other lights. 
  • Power bank – There are instances when the electricity goes out, due to heavy rains. There are also times when I’m not at home, and my phone, watch, or some other gadget is about to run out of battery. I can at least ensure that I have enough battery power to last until the next time I can plug in.  
  • Bluetooth headphones/speaker – I really enjoy music and podcasts. While walking. While running. While on a long bus ride. The speaker is especially great for music while cooking/washing doing laundry. The headphones are great for being able to hear the movie I’m watching over the pounding rain on my tin roof. 
  • Comfort items – This is going to mean something different to everyone. For me, it included pictures from my apartment in DC and various gadgets. I’ll throw snacks into this category, as well. Go overboard with your favorite snacks. Add in your second and third favorite snacks as well. If you have to choose between a few more clothing items and snacks, go for the snacks. 
  • External hard drive – We were told that there would be plenty of time to share media. This was correct. We were also warned that we would have a substantial amount of down time. This was also correct. Load up your favorite movies, music, tv shows, podcasts, porn, documentaries, etc. Having an external hard drive is also helpful when it comes to storing backups of your system. Your future self will thank you! 
  • Big, blue IKEA bags – I didn’t pack this. A friend was kind enough to send some to me. These things are an invaluable resource when navigating public transit after grocery shopping for two to three weeks. And it’s good for the Earth.
  • Pillow – This could go under comfort items, but it deserves its own bullet. While there can be too many pillows, that threshold is pretty high. I opted for a firm king size pillow. It’s delightful to fall asleep on it every night. 

Feel free to add your own favorite things in comments. Also, if any future volunteers have questions, feel free to ask them here. 

Be kind to yourself. 

Some questions. Some answers.

There’s a certain lustre and mystique that surrounds Peace Corps. At least, it seems that way when people find out that I’m departing for Peace Corps service next Tuesday. With several recent conversations in mind, I would like to answer some questions that have come up frequently.

Where are you going?
– I’ll be going to Swaziland.

Where is that?
– It’s in southern Africa.

So, you’re going to South Africa?
– No. Swaziland is a sovereign nation. It borders South Africa (and Mozambique), but it is separate.

Oh, Swaziland! That’s the little country that’s inside of South Africa?
– No. You’re probably thinking of Lesotho, another sovereign nation in southern Africa.

So, what exactly will you be doing?
– I’m not sure. It will be something related to youth.

Where will you be living?
– I know that I’ll be in Swaziland. Aside from that, I haven’t a clue.

So, you’re not going to have electricity and running water?
– Those things definitely aren’t guaranteed, and I’m okay with that.

What about internet?
– Internet is available, but it is not as fast and widespread as in the US. As such, internet based communications might be slower.

Why Peace Corps?
– Short answer. Why not? Longer answer. I believe in community, collaboration and creative problem solving. There is a certain “can-do” attitude of many returned Peace Corps volunteers that resonates heavily with me.

Why Swaziland?
– The Peace Corps sends volunteers where they are needed (and requested). I made myself available for anywhere in the world. It was decided that I could be of service in Swaziland.

What do your family and friends think about all of this?
– Most of my family and friends are very supportive. Those who are less than supportive respect my autonomy in my own life.

What are you doing with all of your stuff?
– I have packed two pieces of checked luggage, a backpack to carry on, and a messenger bag as my personal item. Everything else has been sold, donated, gifted, thrown away, used/consumed or otherwise disposed of.

Are you going to be able to come back?
– During service, volunteers are allowed to return to the US at their own expense. In short, this is an option though, I’m not sure how viable it is at this time.

How long are you going to be in Swaziland?
– Peace Corps is a 27 month commitment.

What are you going to do after Peace Corps?
– I’m not sure.

How can I keep in contact with you?
– I will attempt to update this blog with some degree of frequency. I will also have a phone, and hopefully, some data (internet). Let me know if you would like my new number. My email will remain the same. Texting will be best using WhatsApp (Android and iOS). Phone calls may be available for limited amounts of time.

Can I send you fan mail, care packages, postcards, etc.?
– Absolutely! All mail should be sent to

Kirby P. Riley, PCV
US Peace Corps
PO Box 2797
Mbabane H100
Swaziland, AFRICA

Please notice the emphasis on AFRICA. This is important as mail can end up in Switzerland. And we just wouldn’t want that to happen. Additionally, please write some sort of Christian sayings or scriptures (“God loves you.”) on any packages to help them get to me. Please don’t send anything that breathes, spoils, or leaks. Lastly, use USPS (cheapest option available – i.e., no expedited/express/etc.) when sending packages because everything takes between 2-10 weeks to get from the US to Swaziland.

What language do they speak?
– Swaziland has two official languages, English and sis-Swati.

Will you be learning sis-Swati?
– Yes.

What are you most excited about?
– This is a new experience with new people. The possibilities are endless. That excites me.

What are you most nervous about?
– My immediate nervousness stems from making sure I’m fully packed and don’t forget something important. Generally, I’m nervous about completely uprooting my life to move to an unfamiliar place.


Less than ten days to go!

There are officially less than ten days before I begin my Peace Corps service. With a little over a week left, it’s surreal.

I have (finally) packed my first piece of checked luggage. I am in the final stages of moving out of my home for past 6+ years. I made the decision that I will be getting rid of anything that is not going with me. There is nothing like a major move to be a reminder that I have entirely too much stuff. It feels great to be letting go of so much as I prepare for the next chapter in my life. 

Bag one. ✔

I have begun to share farewells with friends. I will be going to my final (for a while) November Project DC workouts this week. I will also be hosting a farewell happy hour hangout on Friday. Feel free to come workout and/or hang if you’re in the DC area.

I have been told that the next week will fly. I am excited for whatever the future holds.