Peace Corps Videos

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My bags are packed; I'm ready to go!!

I will soon be joining 32 other people for the journey to Tonga. The group (33 including me) is larger than I had expected but apparently it includes both Education volunteers and Business volunteers like myself.

Today was final packing day. I'm heading to Virginia to begin a 10 day trek to say good-bye to my family before leaving September 30th for Los Angeles.

I have been out with friends here in Florida every day for the past week to say good-bye. It's exciting for me as the days get closer but also a bit sad knowing that I won't see many of these people for more than two years. A couple of friends have even promised to come visit and I hope they are able to work that out.

Because I’ve had a bit of time to plan, I have done a lot of thinking about what to take with me and still comply with the Peace Corps mandated 80lb limit for checked baggage. (No checked bag can exceed 50lbs and all bags must be 80lbs total.) I’m taking two bags to check and a backpack as a carry-on. Thankfully there are a number of volunteers who have posted what you need and don’t need to bring with you to survive for two years. The most helpful posting I found was on Tak's Peace Corps Tonga. I’ve made a few changes but am pretty much going with his list. I decided to bring a snorkel and mask but not fins, which are pretty bulky. I figure I can get a cheap pair in Tonga and those are not as critical as the mask and snorkel. I also took his advice and had my Cingular (now ATT) cell phone unlocked so I could activate it if I end up in a place with cell service. I already have a Bank of America ATM card, which was a very helpful suggestion. I bought a solar battery charger so I could charge the batteries for my camera, MP3 player and flashlights without electricity if necessary. I tried it out here in Florida and it seemed to work pretty well but hopefully I will have a good supply of electricity when I get my final assignment. I also am bringing a bicycle lock which another person suggested as a handy item to bring because you can use it not only to lock a bike but also to secure other items.

When you look at this photo it doesn't look like a lot of stuff to last for two years but I have been able to make it all fit into two bags.

I know I'm over the weight limit, probably by about 10lbs, perhaps even 15lbs. Hopefully I'll be able to sneak through with the extra weight. The airline we are flying to Tonga says you can have two bags up to 50lbs each. If that's the case, then I will be fine. However, I don't know if the Peace Corps has some kind of special deal or if we will follow the same weight requirements as the airline.


Oh and I got MORE forms today to fill out from the Peace Corps. These had to do with W-2's and direct deposit. We actually get taxed on the small stipend that they give us as volunteers. It is currently $280 per month or $3360 per year. We also get a $24 a month vacation allowance and a one-time move in payment of $516 to buy basic household items once we get our permanent job assignment. That comes to $4164 for the first year. It doesn't seem like much but apparently it is more than adequate. You are expected to live at the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. One volunteer in Tonga claims to have saved money because she didn't need the whole amount.

You can check out some of the other people who will be going to Tonga with me. I've put up links to the blogs of some of the other people in my group. They are listed under the Heading "Group 73 (my group) Tonga Blogs".

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