The holiday season is right around the corner (as well as my birthday at the end of January) and I know you have all been thinking about me. In addition, knowing that it takes sometimes a couple months for care packages to arrive to my little village I thought this might be a good time to post this. Some of you may even be worried because you have seen pictures of me recently and think I have gotten excessively thin. Rest assured, I am doing fine and eating plenty but I will never refuse goodies from my homeland or other parts of the world for that matter. Give it your best shot if you want to try fattening me up. With that being said, I have written this blog post just in case. See below for an important message from yours truly:
From the Desk of Mr. Anthony, U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer
Mizan Teferi (Aman) SNNPR, Ethiopia
“I live in the jungle, on a mountain – in Ethiopia.”
To whom it may concern:
I have recently checked my food pantry ‘basket in the corner/pile around said basket’ for supplies from homeland America and goods are running low. The following are urgently needed to keep me from going crazy (too late?!):
•Canned Chicken (if you fill half of your box with canned chicken you will be forever loved; 5-6 oz. cans work better than the bulk cans do since I usually only cook for myself)
•Cheese (The cheese that does exist here is ‘past its prime.’ (Grated parmesan and blocks of Velveeta hold up well enough to ship; feel free to send others that you know will last a while without refrigeration. Muggles (in this context, non-Peace Corps folk; (sorry I am currently re-reading the Harry Potter series audio addition) simply cannot understand the happiness that cheese brings to my life here.
•Peanut M&Ms, Reese’s, Kit Kats and Hershey’s with Almonds (a bad day can be turned instantly great by being able to come home and get a frozen piece of chocolate out of my mini-fridge)
• Anything that tastes like pumpkin and the holidays (first things that came to mind was Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte singles or mini holiday snack pack with summer sausage, cheese and crackers)
•Scented candles (my house sometimes smells too much like ‘man’. When I notice I know it is time for my weekly shower; and the candles here just seem to melt away in the blink of an eye and with all the power outages lately extras could come in handy)
Read on for instructions and other items with which you can fill in any extra space!
Many folks asked me while I was home in the states on vacation and others more recently about sending care packages my way. Quoting a fellow PCV, “There is absolutely no excuse for me to further delay mass shipments of vacuum sealed burritos, Doritos (Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch, etc.), Peanut M&Ms, Kit Kats and cheese (grated parmesan, blocks of Velveeta, Kraft singles, anything processed, etc.).” With that mouthwatering sentence typed, I will not make you wait any longer: here’s my mailing address, along with some suggested care package items and very important packing/shipping tips compiled with the help of some fellow PCVs. Please read everything before putting a package together, and absolutely do not hesitate to contact me (or my mother who has sent various packages; others too of course) if you have any questions or issues along the way.
OK. Where do I send all the vacuum-sealed Chipotle burritos and pizza?
Father Anthony E. Navarrete
P.O. Box 516
Mizan Teferi, Ethiopia
What is the best shipping method?
United States Postal Service Flat Rate is generally the best way to go. The only exception to this would be if you wanted to send me anything that would not fit into a flat rate box, such as a year’s supply of Oreos. The absolute best bang-for-your buck is the largest available size. The costs just jumped from $60 to $78, but the happiness you will add to my life has no price tag, right? The medium flat rate box is now $60. The weight allowance for each is 20 pounds. If you just want to send a few things, you could go with anything from a large envelope (for, say, a few books) to one of the smaller flat rate boxes (five or six bags of peanut M&Ms, perhaps), but at $24 with a 4 pound limit, the value is much less than the medium flat rate box. Whatever the rate, USPS is far better than, say, UPS, where you would cough up a slim $640 to send a 20 lb. box. If you want to check on updated shipping rates of various sizes and varieties offered by USPS, go here and enter Ethiopia.
So what should I send you?
So glad you asked! I am going to break this down into two parts. Part I will be items that can/should be included in any and all care packages, with absolutely no concern about quantity. I can never have enough of these items. Part II will be “optional” items that are always welcome, usually a good idea, etc. Sending any or all of these items will earn you lots of extra brownie points.
Part I (a.k.a. “the staples”)
Peanut M&Ms, Reese’s, Kit Kats, Hershey’s bars (Yo queiro CHOCOLATE!!!)
Cheese (It doesn’t exist here. Grated parmesan and Velveeta block hold up well enough to ship; feel free to send others that you know will last a while through the long shipping process. You will make my body tingle with joy when I see cheese from America the Beautiful.
Canned chicken (This is amazing because otherwise I would have to go barter for a chicken and come home and slaughter it myself which even after a year and a half in Ethiopia is just not my thing)
Mac & Cheese (LOVE Velveeta, but there is nothing like the good ole powdered variety)
Cereal bars (I usually don’t eat breakfast but would if I had these; haven’t had them in a while but a variety would be nice; anything you personally find delicious)
Cookies (Chewy Chips Ahoy or Oreos; anything home-made would rock)
Trail Mix, Dried Fruits (especially apples or oranges or maybe even a mixed tropical selection)
Tasty spices (black pepper grinders, etc. I’m open to whatever, but quality garlic-based spices go good in everything I cook and are hard to find/really expensive here.)
Sausage and/or bacon (if you can find the varieties of these that do not require refrigeration/will not go bad on a trip to Africa.)
Drink Singles (the kind you can put in a 16 oz bottle and just add water, any and all are welcome; also great space fillers; if you can find an iced tea version that would be fantastic)
Hand sanitizer (Large bottles are good. I have a small one I refill regularly. Like cheese, it doesn’t exist here, and I shake lots and lots of dirty kids’ dirty hands)
Any kind of yummy snack food that you can think of that will probably make the trip (mostly) intact. I am open to more than what is listed here, and certainly don’t want to limit your imagination.
Wet Cleansing Towelettes (Come in handy between my sporadic showers)
Buttermilk Pancake Mix (only add water)
Hamburger/Chicken/Tuna Helpers (opening the boxes & putting the contents in a zip locked bag is a handy way to save room; I can buy meat from the local butcher, canned chicken if I have them and tuna can be found at local souks; again the ones you find most delicious will probably appeal to me)
Sloppy Joe/Chili/Fajita/Taco Seasonings
Flour Tortillas (can make from scratch but it is nice every once in a while to have some good ones)
Just add water muffin/cookie mixes (I can get my hand on eggs and can make milk out of powder if necessary; I have recently made a Dutch oven and would love to make something more extravagant)
Incent sticks (I have the holder; can be bought locally but quality stinks)
Something candle like or that I can sit around my home for mosquitos, flies and other random bugs
Scented candles (specifically the short, fat ones)
SPAM (Great for Fried Rice)
Dry black beans (they’re hard to find here, and they are yummy)
Crossword puzzle and/or word find books
Toothpaste (I fancy the kind that has baking powder and peroxide in it for teeth whitening purposes)
Quality AA batteries (Duracell/Energizer; I have a couple items that run on AA that I would hate to have to go without)
Bic lighters (lighters don’t exist over here, and the matches suck. A good lighter every now and then would be helpful; do not declare on any customs forms, mention to the post office peeps and hide in something)
Bouillon cubes (Veggie or Beef flavored)
Flavored Mashed Potato Packets
School Items: Crayola Washable Markers, Stickers/Stamps for Kids
Can I send things you did not mention?
Absolutely! I am open to your love in any form you choose fit (Doritos and burritos, pretty please with sugar on top!)
Any other advice?
YES! Please read each of these points and mind them closely when preparing/sending your packages.
- Don’t Waste Space – One of the greatest frustrations I have heard expressed by seasoned PCVs is when there is unused space or unnecessary packing fluff, such as packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Pack the box wall-to-wall and nothing will move around. Remove excess/unnecessary packaging from materials entering the care package and open packaging to release air; when possible on both accounts, of course. If you find yourself with “extra” space (really, there is no such thing…), please refer to Part I or Part II of what should I send you?, above.
- Airmail! – Be sure to write “Air Mail / Par Avion” on anything you send, and see to it that the post office adds the official stamp indicating such elevated status.
- Cover the Box in Religious (Christian) Symbols, References, Quotes, etc. – I know this sounds silly, but it really works, hence the “Father Anthony Navarrete” in the shipping address (not kidding).
- Write “Educational Materials,” “Used Goods,” “Household Items,” etc. on Outside of Box – Writing things like this should help the package clear customs.
- Minimize Value of Customs Declarations – Try to be as vague as possible and avoid declaring anything of real value on the customs slip. You may have to put up a bit of a fight at the post office, but it’s worth minimizing the chance of a package being pillaged en route.
- Avoid Sending Items of High Value, Cash, etc. – Electronics, cash, airplane tickets, etc. are generally discouraged for mailings. PCVs regularly visit the States, so it’s much easier to try and make arrangements to exchange materials at such a time.
- Ziploc Liquids (or other items with easy open seals that may come open en route) – Liquids are technically not allowed/frowned upon, but usually tend to make it through. In either case, it’s a good idea to contain any and all liquids in a good, sturdy Ziploc bag. That way it won’t ruin everything else in the box, and all the other cute little care packages it will be traveling with, if it breaks.
- Let Me Know it’s on the Way – Surprises are nice and all, but it’s actually much more fun to know something is coming. It’s also good to let me know something is on the way so I know when to stop by the post office, since it’s not something I do every day.
What about letters? Postcards? Pictures?
All of these are most welcome, and go a long way in boosting my morale. Letters should follow the same course of religious symbols and red ink. It’s a good idea to number the letters (i.e. Letter #1), in case something gets lost en route. Postcards should travel in an envelope; otherwise, they are likely to end up on the wall of some random post office. Pictures are best sent in a well-sealed small manila envelope.
What do I get in return?
My unconditional love and gratitude. In addition, hand-written thank you notes which may also include random trinkets from my daily adventures and lots of really cool stamps on the envelope.
This blog post is a compilation of personal needs/wants as well as ideas from my colleagues that are also serving here in Peace Corps Ethiopia. Always keep us in your thoughts and prayers and definitely over the coming holiday season. It is always a rough period for PCVs that are far from home. God Bless!