September 9, 2009

preparing for the journey

PART I: AUGUST 25, 2009
It's already been over a month since I got the invitation, and it feels like I've done nothing to get ready. Partially because it's actually true. I still don't know what kind of luggage I'm going to use, I haven't drafted a packing list yet, and I've been spending a lot of time at the beach. What you're looking at right now is the first fruit of my labor to prepare for this trip. A blog. I don't exactly have my priorities in order at the moment. Regardless of my situation right now, I know things will work out. Procrastination runs deep in my immediate family, but we also have a knack for pulling things together quickly when the pressure's on. Mostly out of necessity because of the procrastination.

I've started looking into luggage and rainwear first and foremost, as I sense these will be decisions that have a major impact on my comfort overseas. Although given the recommendation for luggage with some kind of shoulder straps because of the awful roads in Tanzania, I don't anticipate carrying 80 lbs on my back to be comfortable in any situation. I'm also researching solar chargers, hoping to find something under $100 that's powerful enough to trickle charge the little netbook I'm typing this post on.

If you don't understand the next paragraph at all, don't feel bad.

\begin{geek mode}
On that note, I've been finding ways to reduce the power consumption of my laptop to squeeze every bit of battery life out of it that I can. The model I have, the EeePC 1005HA, is advertised to get 10.5 hours of battery life (ridiculous), which means they turn off all functionality (wifi, bluetooth, webcam, etc.) and leave it idle until the battery dies. So far, I think the most I've gotten on a single charge of normal use is a little over 6 hours, and that was with the screen backlight almost all the way on, playing videos, browsing the web and such. The other day I found a nice little utility that lets me monitor the wattage of the machine on battery power, and it gives suggestions to help save battery life. It's called powertop, and it runs in a command line. Yesterday I managed to get the average power consumption down to about 8 to 10 watts, which should serve me pretty well. When I'm using it outdoors, I can turn the backlight completely off, which is pretty cool, and that should save me some power. I can also turn the wifi off when I'm not in a hot spot (which will be often in Tanzania), which will save even more. I think if I can get it down to about 6 or 7 watts, the battery life should get pretty close to 9 hours. Not too shabby for running KDE4 Arch Linux on a netbook!
\end{geek mode}

In terms of getting to staging, which is in Philadelphia (20 minutes from my hometown), I've pretty much decided to drive instead of fly. I think it will be easier than scheduling a flight with SATO Travel. If I flew, I'd have to go through security and all that jazz one more time, and then figure out a way to get to the hotel, whereas driving eliminates all of that. Driving also allows opportunities to see friends before I leave, in Maryland and in Delaware. We're planning to catch a MD football game on the way up at the moment.

A little something about the blog before I finish this first entry. If you're wondering about the stripe pattern in the background, those are the colors of the Tanzanian flag. I've seen two or three variations of the green and blue colors of the flag, and I'm interested to see how they really look when I finally get there. As for the "Photostream" at the top right, it's a link to my Flickr account. Right now, I don't have many pictures uploaded to it (I just cleaned out a bunch of old stuff I didn't need anymore), but I plan to upload pictures there while I'm overseas, and they should show up automatically in the Photostream for your viewing pleasure. Finally, the Followers list. I'm not quite sure how this works, but I think this is the Blogger way to subscribe to a blog. I don't know if you need to have an account with Google in order to subscribe, so let me know how it works out for you guys. If it turns out you do need a Google account, I'll try to find another way for everyone to get updates, whether I set up an RSS feed or just send emails informing you of updates (I'll be sure to post updates on my Facebook profile).

That's pretty much it. I've got 27 days until staging! Once I make a decision on luggage, a packing list is soon to follow. Thanks for reading, hopefully these blog updates will get more interesting over time.

I just about bought a new wardrobe today.

Most of the important clothes have been purchased now, possibly including a hand-me-down rain jacket from my dad. The next big thing is getting the pack. For the past few days, I was looking for something large enough to fit everything, but after rereading the luggage guidelines this morning, I realized I overlooked the 50lb weight limit per one checked bag. After this very quaint shift in perspective, I'm quite confident in my choice of an internal frame pack. If I can't fit everything into this, the plan is to add a shoulder-slingable duffel into the mix.

Packing isn't the only thing I have to worry about. I also need to finish up some paperwork for staging, get my immunization history, consider a 3-month supply of allergy medication, and continue to weave these bracelets I'm making for all my friends (picture coming later). And how many weeks are left now? Just three?

Huh boy. Maybe this would've seemed less crazy if I had had a job these past 11 months.

Major success this Saturday. I now have a good chunk of the critical items for my trip! We drove up to the REI stores in Cary and Raleigh and did a bit of a shopping spree. Things that got checked off the list:
  • internal frame backpack
  • underwear
  • socks
  • sandals
  • compass
  • whistle
  • aLOKSAK bags
  • Steripen (water purifier)
  • nalgene
  • headlamp
  • undershirts
Not a complete list of what I got, but these were some of the things I was looking to get.

So first off, we got the backpack I had been researching: the Gregory Baltoro 70L. It's gotten rave reviews and won at least one award last year. I'm hoping it will be able to hold everything that isn't going in my carry-on, which would make things at the airport a little less stressful. As for the underwear, I've decided to do something a little crazy. The Peace Corps recommends bringing a two-year supply of underwear, which upon first hearing it, is quite vague and daunting to figure out. Instead of packing tons of cotton underwear, I have decided to put Ex Officio's specialized nylon underwear to the test. I'm only taking three pairs. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. How could three pairs of underwear last me two years in Africa? I read reviews, and read recommendations from seasoned travellers. They say synthetic fabrics are the way to go. It wicks moisture, it dries quickly, and it's durable. Three essentials for your essentials in a foreign (and hot) land. This is also why I opted for two polyester undershirts and just three pairs of Coolmax polyester socks (two pair quarter length gray and one crew length dark blue). Granted, I'm not sure how I'll feel about laundering undergarments every other day or so, but I think I will appreciate the saved space, not to mention it greatly simplifies things.

I also went out to Wal-Mart today to get some of the other, not so specialized, items on the list. On top of that, I put in an order with an online retailer for some travel accessories (inflatable hangers, clothesline, packets of laundry detergent). At this point, there aren't many things left on the list. It's getting close to sorting time, where I'll figure out what's going in which bag. Ironically, my current plan is to try and pack as many of the essentials into my carry-on as I can. Sounds counter-intuitive, but I'd like to keep the important things as close to my person as possible. In the event that the checked luggage gets lost, having the essential things (undergarments, Steripen, first aid kit...) will ensure the least amount of discomfort in such a situation.

The countdown continues: departure is just two short weeks away!

I've spent the last few days driving up to Philly from North Carolina, visiting family and friends along the way. We left Friday morning for Virginia, where I got to hang out with both sides of my family. On Saturday, we drove up to College Park for the Maryland - Middle Tennessee State game, which I watched with my parents and my brother. Finally, I spent today at church in Delaware serving communion with my favorite pastor and with old friends from my high school years.

I'm a little too exhausted to elaborate on the details, but I will say one thing. Either I've become very tuned in to God's plans, or His providence has been abundantly evident throughout this trip. Whether it's the little things, like the timing of our arrival to church this morning, or the bigger things, like running into good friends at the Maryland game immediately upon entering the stadium, God has been so good!

The nerves about departure and thoughts of a new way of life have been coming and going, but the overall vibe I'm feeling is excitement. It is much more a beginning of something new for me than the end of an era.

My prayer right now is for humility. It's been a little weird receiving so much encouragment and love all at once, to the point where I've had to keep my ego in check. God deserves all the credit for this, everything from the friends I have to the purposes He's planned for me.

Registration is tomorrow at 1:30pm and Orientation is from 3-7pm. Hopefully I'll find some time to write a little entry after the meeting to update you all, but I might need that time to socialize and make sure everything's in order for Tuesday (read "watch How I Met Your Mother and the Big Bang Theory one more time before I leave"). Thanks again for all of your prayers and support!

Mungu ni nzuri!