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Packing Guidance for The Gambia

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.

The Gambia has a tropical Savannah climate, with two distinct seasons: a dry season (November to May) and a rainy season (June to October). The hottest months in the interior are March, April and May. The wettest months are July, August and September. The rainy season period is characterized by seasonal flooding of low-lying areas and is longer with lower temperatures in coastal areas than the interior. Humidity is generally high across the country during the rainy period. Between November and May of each year, the Harmattan winds dominate the weather. These winds are cold, dry and occasionally bring in dust from the Sahara Desert and can cause dry skin and crack lips, skin and feet.

Light clothing for dry seasons and even medium-heavy clothing for the cold period (light jackets and jeans would be great!). Volunteers must secure good cover and protective shoes for use during the rainy season when in most areas (notably rural areas) grasses and bushes are tall and inhabited by reptiles and other crawling animals. Body creams for the sun and dry Harmattan winds are also essential.

Peace Corps The Gambia provides the following items:

  • Welcome kit which includes a bowl, broom, scrub, two buckets, bleach, plate, toilet roll, and a battery powered lantern
  • Water filter, mosquito net, and a medical kit
  • Bicycle with helmet, with limited spare parts and tools
  • Manuals (language, cross culture, technical and medical manuals)
  • Flash drive loaded with information
  • Bed, mattress, mosquito net, table, and chair in the training village houses. These items stay at the training village houses
  • Gas stove with burner at the permanent house

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.

Work clothing

The type of clothing you wear to work will differ by sector; most of the clothing you wear can be appropriate for work and for social interactions.

If you are an Education Volunteer and working in schools, your dress code may differ depending on the school. Generally, you need to dress in clothing that covers your shoulders and goes down to your ankle with shoes that covers your feet. Some types of dress are prohibited in schools such as transparent dressing, jeans, shorts, tight dress, short skirts, and any form of dirty clothing. The dress does not have to be expensive but clean. Clothes with images that attract attention are not allowed in schools as they will distract the attention of the students. Clothes that have images and writings carrying offensive or sexual messages are also prohibited.

If you are a Health Volunteer and will be working in clinics, your dress needs to be covering your shoulders and below your knees. These are professional settings, and one needs to professionally dress.

Agriculture Volunteers should dress in clothing that covers shoulders, below their knees, and, if working in gardens, should be selective about the kind of dress that may be appropriate for a particular type of work.

Leisure and recreation clothing

Most Volunteers say they brought too many clothes and shoes, especially too much nice clothing. Nevertheless, you will need to dress appropriately for meetings with government officials and for an occasional ceremony. But day to day, you will probably be living and working in a rural village, in hot and dusty environment.

Notes for everyone on clothing:

  • Light-colored clothes are hard to keep clean. Dark clothes make you hot, so you must find a good balance. Printed fabrics are great because it will hide the stains.
  • Breathable fabrics such as cotton, rayon, and linen are more comfortable that synthetic fabrics like polyester.
  • Secondhand clothes are available in country, and there are tailors to sew outfits from local fabrics.
  • Underwear - bring enough to last the two years of service, because you may not be able to get your preferred style in country.
  • Lightweight waterproof raincoat - although nothing will keep you completely dry during the torrential rainstorms. Umbrellas are available everywhere in country, and what the locals use for protection from both the sun and rain.
  • Hats - although a hat may make you look like a toubab (foreigner) they are a nice sunshade
  • The clothes you wear for staging should be clothes you will wear in-country during your service. In other words, don't bring specific clothes just for staging.

Women

General:

  • The Gambia is a conservative Muslim country. Many women cover most of their body, most women wrap their hair or wear headscarves (hijab), and some ethnic groups still cover their face and necks. It is not expected that Volunteers should cover their hair if it is not their tradition.
  • Dressing in what Americans would consider warm weather clothing, may not be culturally appropriate and can be considered provocative by many Gambians.
  • The basic rule is to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Once you are living at your permanent site, you will be able to decide how conservatively you need to dress.
  • Flowy dresses provide great ventilation and can be worn over leggings or pants. Three quarter length pants (capris) are better than long pants that drag in the dirt and get caught in the spokes of your bike.
  • Pants with belt loops, wrap tops, or anything with forgiving styles to accommodate possible fluctuations in weight are a good choice.
  • There are tailors everywhere to custom make your clothes, and fun fabrics can be found in the larger towns and Kombo. A dress may cost about $20 USD for tailoring and fabric.
  • Sweatshirt or a light fleece jacket for cold season mornings and evenings, but even during "cold season" it will be hot during the day.
  • It's advisable to pack minimal and versatile items, and then supplement your wardrobe in country, after receiving your assignment.

Kombo (city) clothing:

  • Bring a couple of outfits for dressing up, because there are opportunities to go places where it's fun to wear Western clothes.
  • Jeans and nice tops can be kept in your suitcase in your house at your site, with other items not needed at your work site.

Village attire:

  • The degree of conservative clothing standards may vary between regions or villages. The basic rule is that pants/skirts should cover your knees (both while standing and sitting), and shirts should have sleeves.
  • The village women almost always wear skirts (usually a wrap skirt) or dresses.
  • Sports bras made with quick-drying, breathable material, in dark colors are best, and bring enough to last your two years of service.
  • Workout clothes and sleeveless shirts may be appropriate in some areas, so bring your tank tops.
  • While clothes that covers your knees are a must at all times in public, shorts can be worn as pajamas or in your own home.
  • It can get very hot, so comfortable breathable clothes are best, and loose-fitting pants are generally cooler than jeans.

Men

General:

  • Bring a couple of button-up dress shirts, but you will also be able to have professional shirts tailored. If you have a preferred brand, bring it with you because it may not be available in country.
  • Colored t-shirts and prints are better because white shirts will not stay white for long.
  • Long lightweight pants because jeans can be hot in this climate. Jogging or cargo pants that have elastic cuffs can be practical for working in the garden or riding your bike.
  • Several pairs of short pants that cover the knees.
  • Sweatshirt or a light fleece jacket for cold season mornings and evenings, although even during "cold season" it will be hot during midday.

Kombo (city) clothing:

  • Nice shirts and slacks will come in handy for going out or attending official functions. It is always cooler in Kombo than upcountry, so Western attire can be appropriate.
  • Swimsuits or shorts to wear at the beach.

Village attire:

  • The basic rule is that pants should cover your knees, and shirts should have sleeves.
  • If you teach in a school, work at a health clinic, or other professional organization, you may need to dress more formally. Formal attire for men in The Gambia includes short sleeved shirts with a collar, such as a polo or a short-sleeved button down.
  • T-shirts and casual pants are usually appropriate for day-to-day village work.
  • Flip-flops and cheap sandals are available everywhere. Sandals are the most common everyday footwear for Volunteers and Host Country Nationals.
  • Sturdy high-quality shoes and sandals may be more comfortable, but no shoe is very durable in this climate.
  • Athletic shoes for your exercise program, but new athletic shoes are available in Kombo.
  • Most Volunteers bring too many shoes and you will rarely wear closed toed shoes or boots because they are too hot.
  • Socks are valuable when you need to protect your feet or apply medication. Your feet will get very dirty, and will experience a fair amount of abuse, so be prepared to give them the necessary attention to keep them healthy.

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 The Gambia:

  • Supply of any medications to have enough to last through pre-service training. Bring a copy of your prescriptions.
  • If you wear glasses (lenses), bring 2 or 3 pairs. Contact lenses are not recommended due the hot dusty air and may cause eye infections. Regular sunglasses are available in country, but prescription sunglasses can be nice in the constant sunshine.
  • Scissors are available in country, but high-quality scissors can be hard to find.
  • Tweezers, nail clippers, emery boards, are available in country but not great quality.
  • Scrub brush for your fingernails and feet and nail polish and cutter. Your hands and feet will need constant care to stay healthy.
  • Good razor - disposable razors are readily available everywhere.
  • Mirror - bring a mirror because you will be surprised how few mirrors are hanging on walls here.
  • Band aids, small band aids are available from Peace Corps medical office, but large band aids are hard to find in country and are very handy for keeping cuts clean.
  • Favorite brands of shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant - although these items are available in Kombo.
  • Favorite lip balm or lipstick, although the Peace Corps medical kit includes lip balm.
  • Bring your favorite skin care products such as face wash or astringents because your preferred brand may not be available in country.
  • Body powder or products for heat rash.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray are available from the Peace Corps medical office but may not be the brand you like.
  • Hand-sanitizer is provided by the Peace Corps medical office.
  • Sewing kit and safety pins for repairing your clothes.
  • Good quality clothes pins, poor quality clothe pins available in country.
  • Multivitamins don’t come in the med kit but are available on request.
  • The medical unit does not supply feminine products to Volunteers, instead you buy them on your own.
  • Battery operated personal fan, or a fan that has a USB plug to use with a solar charger. Large fans that use electricity are available in country, but the small battery or USB fans are not. Don't leave home without one - a fan is a real lifesaver as you are adjusting to the hot weather.
  • Small portable battery packs for charging your cell phone, fan, or e-reader. Many battery packs that have solar chargers are not as efficient as advertise, so bring several.
  • UNLOCKED smartphone that can have a local Sim card installed. Smart phones are available here, but they may not be the latest model or the brand you like. Peace Corps will provide a sim card that allows you to talk for free to other Volunteers and staff. If you would like to purchase a basic phone, Peace Corps staff can assist with this process.
  • Extra good quality charging cables for your electronic devices, because the charging cables in country cables are poor quality.
  • Computers are available for use at the Peace Corps office but bring your laptop with extra hard drives. Volunteers who didn’t bring a personal laptop or tablet usually wish they had.
  • E-reader or tablet for reading or watching movies. Peace Corps has digital books available for download.
  • If you have an e-tablet, bring the convertible flash (USB) drives for sharing documents.
  • Earphones and jogging earphones
  • Protective cases for everything, the dust and heat will kill your electronics if it's not protected.
  • Converter for plugs that comes with all the options. The Gambia uses the British-type three-pronged plug.
  • Surge protectors, extension cords - until you are placed at your permanent site, you won't know if you have electricity available. Surge protectors bought in country have multiple plug-in options.
  • Solar powered lights and consider bringing several, they are more practical than flashlights.
  • Music: portable music player, speakers, or your preferred internet radio already downloaded on your smartphone because there are some apps you can't download The Gambia.
  • Camera: most Volunteers use their smartphones but bring your digital cameras and extra memory cards if photography is your hobby.
  • Binoculars if bird watching is of interest to you because there are 500 +/- birds living or migrating throughout The Gambia.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description 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: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Food

  • Coffee - ground coffee is only available in Kombo and coffee beans are not available in country. If making coffee is important for, then bring what you need for at least the first six months until you are settled at your permanent site. The most available drink here is instant Nescafe.
  • Coffee making equipment - French press or one cup funnels and filters; a hand grinder if you will have your own beans.
  • Multivitamins and fiber supplements are available from the Peace Corps medical office but may not be the brand or quality you prefer.
  • Packaged mixes: electrolyte powders, flavor drink mixes, powder soup mixes, salad dressing mixes, instant coffee drinks, and specialty teas
  • Specialty foods: example: Parmesan cheese (grated and packaged) because it's very expensive or unavailable here.
  • Dried fruit, raisins, dried cranberries or pineapples - specialty fruits or nuts are not available in country.
  • Granola bars, protein bars and energy bars are not easily found in country and are great to have when you can't get enough nutrients in village.
  • Favorite spices: ground pepper, curry, chili, or Mexican spice mixes. A limited variety of spices will be available in village, with a large selection Kombo.

Kitchen utensils

  • Favorite utensils: if you plan to cook, then some of kitchen tools can make it more enjoyable. Cooking and eating utensils are available in country, but only in the larger towns and cities.
  • Spork - Gambians mostly eat with their hands, having a spork can give you eating options.
  • Plastic food containers: variety of sizes to keep food mouse free or personal items clean.
  • Zip-close storage bags in many different sizes are handy for food and to organize personal items.
  • Vegetable peeler, can openers, cheese graters, cutting boards are available in Kombo.
  • Knives - good quality knives and a sharpener are hard to find in country.
  • BPA-free water bottles - bring several different sizes and consider insulated varieties.
  • Fly swatter.

Household materials

  • Pillows and light weight fleece blanket for winter nights.
  • Fitted sheets in dark colors or prints made of 100% cotton will be the coolest, and most Volunteers get double size beds.
  • Bungee cords, zip ties in various sizes, rope, clothesline Thank you, cards, instant photo printer, blanket, solar shower, carabiners are great to have because even if they are available in country, it might be of low quality.
  • Hammock with mosquito net cover, small tent, or mosquito net tents, sleeping pad.
  • Rubber gloves: You will be washing your clothes by hand for the next two years. Oftentimes the available washing soap will damage your skin. Rubber gloves will protect your hands.
  • Wooden spoons, most Volunteers find this helpful.

Games and hobbies

  • Things to pass the time: knitting supplies (yarn is available in country), books, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles
  • Yoga mat and yoga clothes and download your sequences on your tablet or smartphone.
  • Volleyball or football with pump, baseball gloves, soccer balls are available in country, but the quality is low.

Banking, shopping, and travel

  • Peace Corps provides all Trainees with a bank account where your allowance is deposited monthly, but when a bank is not available, U.S. dollars in ones and fives, can be easily exchanged for dalasi in most villages - the exchange rate is best in Kombo.
  • Medium size day packs without frames are essential for shopping or traveling. Drawstring bags or book bags in various sizes are great for storing things in to keep out the dust.
  • If you plan to travel to other countries for vacation, you may want to bring extra money to suit your travel plans; debit or credit cards are preferable to cash. There are ATMs in the cities where you can access your U.S. bank account. You can also have your U.S. family send you money with Western Union.

You do not have to buy anything in the U.S. - before going to your permanent site, Peace Corps will take you shopping to get gifts for your new host family. Or if you decide to do so, small gifts ($10 or less) will be adequate: small plastic toys, playing cards, UNO, stickers, postcards, extra pictures of your American family, coloring books, crayons, markers, or pencils. Some power outlets round two-pronged ones and not rectangular three prong.

Stationeries and equipment

  • Atlas or maps - You will likely be asked by your families and co-workers where you are from in America and maps can be a useful tool for this conversation.
  • Planner or wall calendar - Volunteers are required to submit reports to their program manager, so you may want a planner to help yourself stay organized and record your work activities.
  • Folders with pockets - large folders with zippers are a great place to keep important papers.
  • Duct tape: You won’t use it every day, but when something breaks or tears unexpectedly, you will be glad you have it.
  • Flash (USB) drives - bring several because flash drives in country do not have much storage. Consider bringing flash drives that have TV shows and movies already downloaded. There will not be many opportunities to download large amounts of content once you move to your permanent site.
  • Good quality pens journals, if desired
  • U.S. forever stamps
  • Art supplies: paints, brushes, markers, papers, envelopes, colored pencils and sharpener.
  • 3 x 5 note cards and sticky note pads.
  • Teacher kit: rubber bands, stapler, markers, Sharpies, push pins, paper clips, pens, pencils, glue, single hole punch, and folders. Inflatable globes, maps, electronic copies of lesson plans on a flash drive, favorite teaching books, calculator, children's books.
  • There are stationery stores in Kombo and near larger schools, but the quality and selection can be limited. Remember as a Volunteer you should be promoting sustainability, using local resources whenever possible.