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Packing Guidance for Ethiopia

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

In Ethiopia, the climate varies mostly with altitude, and it goes from the hot and arid climate of the lowlands to the cool climate of the plateau. Lying just north of the equator, the country experiences little variation in temperature throughout the year.

Rainy season is from June to September, but it only affects some areas, namely the plateau and the mountain slopes exposed to the southwest, while in the southeast of the country, there are two rainy periods, though less intense, usually from March to May and in October to November in some parts of the country.

Peace Corps Ethiopia provides the following items:

Health supplies

  • First aid pocket guide
  • Bandages (assorted sizes)
  • Elastic bandage
  • Gauze pads, sterile (3” x 3”)
  • Butterfly skin closures
  • Adhesive tape
  • Disposable thermometers
  • Bandage scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Exam gloves, non-sterile
  • Condoms, lubricated without Nonoxynol-9
  • Dental floss, unwaxed
  • Lip balm with SPF 15
  • Sunscreen cream SPF 30
  • Insect repellent 30% DEET
  • Safety whistle
  • Mosquito net
  • Face masks
  • Malaria rapid test kits
  • COVID rapid test kits
  • Pulse oximetry
  • Smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
  • Hand sanitizer

Water treatment

  • 20-liter water filter
  • Liquid, non-iodine water purifier

Medications

  • Acetaminophen tablets
  • Ibuprofen tablets
  • Bismuth Subsalicylate tablets (Pepto-Bismol)
  • Diphenhydramine capsules
  • Phenylephrine HCI tablets
  • Antacid tablets
  • Anti-diarrheal caplets
  • Cough suppressant lozenges
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Clotrimazole cream
  • Calagel anti-itch gel
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Iodine water purification tablets
  • Saline eye drops
  • Various antibiotics
  • Plan B

Other

  • Electronic devices (simple cell phone, tablet: you would be provided with sufficient funds to purchase locally available devices,
  • Dongle/wireless MiFi for VRG and training purposes
  • White coat for classroom teaching,
  • Dusters for chalkboard cleaning
  • Flash disks with relevant resources uploaded
  • Coverall, vail, gloves and boots for beekeeping (for Agriculture Volunteers)

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Peace Ethiopia encourages you to consider getting ready for transitioning to locally made or acceptable clothing to help speed up your integration to host community.

As part of the efforts to help you learn the local clothing norms, you will be trained on how you can wash your clothes using locally available cleaners and air (sun) drying. Generally, for air drying, the summer months here are rainy and slow the drying process in which case you will be advised to buy more clothes for reserve.

Depending on where you would be assigned, the summer season may have whole days of rain, muddy paths to and from your house for which clothes in (non-dark) bright colors will not be advisable.

Availability of water in your CBT community and permanent site may be scarce hence your laundering schedule should be cognizant of this and may have to plan for a monthly wash. You would be taught on how to launder and what to buy for local laundering (bowls, jugs and drying lines with pegs for inside your compound, etc.).

Work clothing

For the Education sector, Peace Corps Ethiopia provides white coats that teachers at all levels are required to dress in schools especially when teaching classes. These coats will be purchased per your sizes and provide them to you in the last week of your PST before swearing in.

For Agriculture and Health sectors, for work that involves practical demonstration at workplace (such as gardening beekeeping or poultry activities) jeans and button-down shirts or T-shirt should work well. All training tools will be made available for trainees for practical activities here at post. Therefore, it is not necessary to bring these (hammers, machetes, shovel, axe or big knives).

Appropriate professional attire for every Volunteer includes:

  • Long pants (business casual pants, but not jeans)
  • Long skirts or long dresses reaching below the knee
  • Button-down shirts or tops (either long or short sleeved) to cover the shoulders and upper arms, waist and lower back. In fact, tops should be long enough to cover upper body reaching down below the waist and not showing any parts of the body around the waist or lower back. Short low-cut or sleeveless garments are not appropriate.

Long leggings, yoga and exercise pants, or opaque tights are culturally inappropriate and may attract unwanted attention. Long sleeves are highly recommended if there are tattoos or marks on the arm. Skirts should be wider (not tight at all) and long enough to reach well below the knees to give comfort when sitting down. Workplaces are generally conservative here.

Given that most of our sites are humid to warm, we encourage lighter fabrics for the dry seasons but warmer for early morning and evening dressings. Clothes may wear out, or fade or be torn from overuse or rough washing. A great care must, however, be taken to always put on clean, well-kept professionally presentable clothes for all occasions. Ethiopians value neat and clean dressing top to bottom; dirty, soiled, ripped, or stained clothes or shoes are not welcome in professional and public settings.

Some types of casual dresses are occasion-specific: Shorts are worn mostly by children and for sporting purposes but not common among adults and in professional environments. It might be rare to see these in some place; hence do not bring them for public use. For running and exercises, people dress in sportswear (in the form of pants, T-shirts, and jackets). But none of these should expose the body since this is inappropriate in most places around the country. Younger women wear pants but mostly in town areas. In rural settings and around religious institutions, they should put on longer dresses with shawls over their shoulders and around their necks.

Color perception varies from rural to urban locations but most people are aware of the types and associations that colors have here. Likewise, there is a custom of distinct coloring for men and women here. In most settings, women wear pink, purple, rose, yellow, orange, red, green in either high or lower tones; men commonly dress in brown, black, navy blue, dark green and gray colors with low tones. Shirts for both could be white; and some of these men colors are still acceptable for women on many occasions. However, it is very uncommon for men to dress in purple or any of the above women-type colors on all occasions.

Special occasion outfits

Peace Corps Ethiopia expects you to be dressed in clean formal professional attires on your swearing-in ceremony. This could be pants (black or dark blue) with white or light blue button-down shirts with ties. A jacket in complementary colors on top fits the occasion as well. This kind of formal dress is still welcome on formal occasions at your sites including at school or cultural festivities such as weddings, religious festivals or professional meetings hosted by senior officials.

Undergarments

All types of underwear can be available at local markets but given that they might be of lower quality and come in different size formats than ones in the US market, we would encourage you to buy some that hold you for the first year at least.

Prices in local market

Most dress types that your counterparts or schoolteachers wear are imported mostly not from the US. These clothes are available in different sizes but mostly applying Chinese or European size measurements. We would encourage you to bring your sizes in good number to hold you for months.

Leisure and recreational clothing

Common leisure or recreational activities that volunteers engage in include hiking, visiting friends in the neighborhoods, attending cultural festivities such as birthday celebrations, religious occasions, weddings, etc.

Before or after work, when you are around your home, you might want to engage in personal leisure time by yourself, solo sporting activities (including running), gardening, domestic chores of your own choice, visiting family friends, compound cleaning, etc. For such occasions, you may need some of these types of clothing:

Leisure

While inside your house or compounds, including in the company of host family, undershirts, tank tops, leggings, summer T-shirts that are lightweight are appropriate for sleep or doing Yoga at home or for lounging or relaxing at home. Baseball hat or wide-brimmed hat, comfortable fleece or hoodie might be good include in your packing.

Exercising

It depends when you are doing this. If you engage in yoga or related activities at home, any of the above cloth types (undershirts, tank tops, leggings, shorts or yoga pants) are appropriate. In fact, there is no restriction about the shoe types you want to put on these occasions. When you are outside running (provided that main roads to suburban areas or open plain fields around your host community are recommended for their safety), you might want to dress in leggings or longer pants with T-shirts, jackets and running shoes.

Swimming

You do not swim in rivers and lakes in Ethiopia for health reasons. However, you can engage in swimming when you get a chance to visit bigger cities with swimming pools; for swimming, regular one-piece swimsuits or broad shorts will be acceptable with tank tops for girls.

Skin protection

Ethiopia is known to have full year of sun light; but the rays of the sun might be strong and dangerous to your skins. Sunscreens are difficult to find around the cities and sunglasses and hats may not be of good quality either. We generally recommend that you bring these with you.

Bigger stores in the capital and regional cities sell a range of locally made leather products for comparatively fair prices but sizes may be an issue for you. The largest size is 45 (European) or 11/11.5 in US chart. But these may not be available at all stores. Imported high-brand shoes (such as sketchers, adidas, Nikes, polos, puma, under-armor, etc.) might be available but at extremely higher prices. We strongly recommend that you bring these with you. Also, good to keep in mind that unless you have changes some of these may wear out soon given that you walk a lot around your communities in all types of weather.

For workplaces

Shoes of the above types are acceptable for regular wear but for professional appearances closed-toed non-rubber unicolor canvas or leather type shoes are recommended. The same styles are recommended for women- closed-toed lightweight business casual leather or canvas shoes that are inexpensive are recommended. Tennis Shoes, flip flops or sandals are not acceptable for workplaces or professional occasions.

Shoe polish

The roads and paths around your offices are unpaved and even muddy for parts of the year. The muds and dust could be hard on your leather shoes in which case we recommend that you bring with you at least one tin of shoe polish of the right color to maintain and keep your shoes clean and presentable at all times.

Recreation and hiking

We recommend that you bring a pair or two of shoes for any of your preferred recreation (hiking, running or walking) during your free times.

Rubber slippers

Common inexpensive rubber slippers or plastic shoes are appropriate for casual community or family engagements. You might wear them when visiting friends in the neighborhoods or walking in nearby locations for shopping or going to local open-air markets but not to schools or official workplaces.

Rainy seasons

The rainy seasons in Ethiopian summer months are strictly rainy. The roads and paths to your sites including highways to the regional capitals will be filled with muddy waters in potholes. The roads get muddy so fast and the grassy plain would also catch lots of rainwater to walk through for which you have to adjust your footwears during those months. Rubber boots, or hiking canvas shoes are recommended for such roads provided that you clean them very often. Such plastic waterproof shoes are not easily available in the local market; where available, the qualities may be lower and sizes may not fit you. We recommend that you bring a pair of rubber boots with you.

Raincoats, umbrellas are available in Ethiopia but may not be the quality you are used to. We recommend bringing a raincoat or waterproof jacket and umbrella. These months are also chilly for which bringing thicker jackets / sweaters should be considered.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Additional guidance for Peace Corps Ethiopia:

Toiletries such as toothpastes, deodorants, soaps, lotions, etc. are also not provided by Peace Corps, and Volunteers are expected to procure their own supplies.

Voltage

Power supply in Ethiopia runs on 220v. It is therefore strongly recommended that, prior to purchasing or bringing any electronics to Ethiopia, you make sure they are compatible with the 220v here. This will fry 120v devices. Please do not trust the converters you might want to buy to bring along with your 120v devices.

Power outages

Outages are very common with a chance that one of them might be followed with a surge. We recommend that you bring surge controllers/stabilizers that are also compatible with the 220v.

Access to power

Access to power varies from site to site depending on where you would be assigned for your service. Rural sites are mostly without power requiring that you consider recharging your devices when you go to next towns. It is therefore highly recommended that you bring power banks, extra batteries, solar chargers, one rechargeable headlamp or lantern. For backups, candles and flashlights are available in bigger cities to buy.

Power outlets and fixtures

It is not uncommon to find that power outlets and fixtures on the wall do not fit properly, and therefore it is advisable to bring a good quality adapter or adapter set to keep your devices charged with properly fitting fixtures.

Personal devices

Many Volunteers would find personal laptops, unlocked smart phones (with VPN, WhatsApp or Viber apps downloaded) and hard drives (of at least one tera bites, with movies, podcasts, shows and music stored on them) extremely useful for both personal as well as professional purposes. Peace Corps Ethiopia provides small brick phones for everyday use and safety of your more expensive smart phones. But since you must access resources online for your work including the Peace Corps TEFL online trainings and since you will have to create your quarterly reports and email them to your program staff, we strongly recommend that you bring laptops with hard drives that might help you store and produce resources for your services. Experience has also shown that such devices will also help volunteers with personal entertainment during your off hours.

Connectivity

Connectivity is improving in Ethiopia. The local vender is called Ethio-telecom which is a government owned service provider. Currently, there are other vendors (such as Safaricom) also joining the local market. The speed is increasing to a 4G connectivity in most regions.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description/list of the common activities Volunteers engage in and what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note that these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Miscellaneous

Stuff that reminds you of home:

  • Notes from loved ones, photos, posters, seashells
  • New hobby or pastime to learn
  • Small gifts for host family
  • Your pillow from home
  • Velcro to make pockets secure from pickpockets, etc.

Cookware and stuff

Given your housing and living conditions, you will need your own utensils for cooking and washing. Generally, you may want to bring spices that you are used to or some that you want to share with local people. Additionally, consider these for packing:

  • Nonstick pan: Can be small, like 10 cm in

diameter

  • Rubber spatula and vegetable peeler
  • Can-opener: Unless you have a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman with one
  • French press or Aeropress
  • Good chopping knife, paring knife
  • Pancake spatula

For pastimes

  • You may consider bringing musical instruments (such as guitar, ukuleles, etc.) that are portable for your own use

Practical

  • Hand-sanitizer
  • Small bag suited for weekend travel
  • Swiss Army knife or Leatherman with can opener

Stationery

  • Journal notebooks
  • Highlighters and pens of your favorite types
  • Flashcards for your own language study
  • Language learning books
  • Notebooks with calendars

Books

Education Volunteers pack a few grammar reference books as well as activity books that they would use for teaching. This may include grammar books written by Betty Azar, Keith Folse, Swan and Walters, Doug Lemov, Penny Ur, Jeremy Harmer, and related teaching methodology you might need for supporting your counterparts with their teaching skills, Simple readers for primary school level readers might also useful. For your own leisure reading, you might also want to bring a few collections of your preference, and you might as well share these with other volunteers and drop them over at Volunteer Resource center for others to use.