Sunday, May 5, 2013

Three More Months!

May, June, July. That’s it. Safe to say that I am a mess of emotions right now. Excitement about seeing friends and family back home, apprehension about reverse culture shock (a.k.a. I have picked up some weird habits here), guilt and sadness about leaving my students, friends and community behind, uneasiness about future grad school/career options, etc. etc. are all running through my head right now. I am in a weird sort of limbo where I know that every day is one of my last and I am trying to keep living life like how I have been over the last two years, but at the same time I am feeling this pressure to do all of the things that I never got around to doing. It’s mostly turning out to be a productive thing, I have gotten a lot of work done these last few weeks and with school starting up, I hope I can continue that trend.

It’s hard to believe that this will be my last term teaching. Again, a bittersweet goodbye. On days like today where I had to proctor an exam and I caught half of the kids unabashedly cheating, I am over teaching. But on the first day back this week I had a bunch of kids come up and ask where I had been the last two weeks of last term and if everything was okay. (Unfortunately I had some security issues at my house and had to go to Freetown for those two weeks. The issue is resolved now, and everything is fine.) Every day is a mood swing, but the good parts definitely outweigh the bad.

In other news, I got a dog! His name is Pepe and I got him to be an extra form of security. He is small, but his bark is ferocious. We’re still working on the house training, but as they say here, small small. Who would have thought that I would have two pets? Definitely not me. Yathiki (my cat) is not too thrilled about the new addition to our family, but she is managing the intrusion as best as can be expected J

This week we actually start teaching (this last week was just exams left over from last term). I am nervous because the BECE is approaching. The BECE is an external exam given all over West Africa in order to determine if students are qualified to pass from middle school to high school. I have been teaching the students who are going to take the BECE for the last two years and I hope that they will be able to do well in Integrated Science. We will see. Unfortunately a lot of them have lost their motivation and are relying on teachers to help them with the answers so that they can pass. They know not to ask me though, since I have made a recurrent spectacle of myself in regards to my opinion on cheating and my intolerance of it on my exams. This just makes me worry that the students will do great in all of their other subjects and fail Integrated Science horribly. Oh well, it's the principle of the thing, right? 

Alright, my time with the internet is coming to a close. I should try to post this blog before the connection goes out. Thanks so much to everyone who has been praying for me! It has definitely shown itself this last month. Love and miss you and see you soon!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

LIfe Update

I feel that all of my blogs start with apologies about how long its been since the last one, and this entry will be no different. Despite my efforts to use the internet in Kamabai, every time I went it seemed that the internet was not available, but now I am in Freetown and the internet here is cooperating for now. Let's keep our fingers crossed it stays on until I am finished writing this blog!

Currently I am Freetown because I had a peer support training yesterday. After training we went out to an irish pub for an open mike night, where some of the PCVs performed, it was really fun. It's been nice just to chill in Freetown with other volunteers. Tonight we're going to a pizza dinner at Mamba Point to celebrate the end of girls conference and all of our hard work, which should be a good time. I'm not sure if I'm heading back to Kamabai tomorrow of Monday, it depends on if my principal can meet me here to buy the supplies for the science lab. Which by the way, I want to send a deep thank you to everyone who donated to the project, I was overwhelmed by the support. It has been completely funded now so we are just waiting for the community to get their contribution together, and then we can go buy the supplies and start experimentin!!

Term two is off to a good start, I've been teaching a lot in anticipation of school stopping soon for sports. Although we still don't have a date for the sports because we're having some administrative issues (one of my principals has started working at a different school and it has been affecting the functionality of KSS). Hopefully once he actually leaves we can get a new principal and get back on track, but I hear it takes a long time to hire a new principal, so I'm not overly optimistic.

Classes have been going well, we're learning about body systems at the sss level and then physical science at the jss level. I'm learning all sorts of new things about batteries, kinetic energy and the like. And of course the body systems are a good time. I was teaching about antagonistic muscle pairs and I made this model of the arm with cardboard, string and a paper clip to explain about flexor and extensor muscles. Thanks Dad for sending those science demonstration books awhile back! In SS3 we learned about the heart beat and the students did their first science experiment ever about heart rates in different activities. It was really entertaining to watch them all jog in place for a minute. Oh and then when I told them to lay down they just looked at me like I was crazy, because how could I possibly suggest them to lay on the floor where there was dirt (Sierra Leoneons really like to keep their clothes clean). So their compromise was to push desks together and lay on those. Innovation.

The library now has a new librarian, which means it can be open throughout the school day as opposed to just being open during my free periods. I gave my SSS 1 students a reading comprehension assignment using these awesome biology books in order to force them to use the library, and I think it paid off, now more of them are coming in on their own. The downside is now I have 80 reading assignments to grade, but I think it was worth it.

Life around Kamabai has been going good. I put up a bunch of pictures recently which show how everyone is growing up ridicously fast (especially babies Christina and Randy). Everyone keeps talking about how I am going to leave soon, and saying that they want me to extend my contract. It's really hard to think about leaving, any time I do I get a knot in my stomach. It's a lot to process, thinking about leaving Salone, the awesome COS trip Dad is planning to India and Vietnam, life back in America, grad school plans, relationships formed in Sierra Leone and relationships that need to be rekindled with people back home, ahhhhhhhhh!  Too much. I just have to revert back to the Salone addage "small small" and leave it to God, because at least he has a plan for my life even if I can't sort through the craziness right now. 

Gonna wrap up now, so I can go get ready for our "fancy dinner", so excited for pizza!!! Love and miss you all!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Over Halfway There

Mornin-O! I had to come to use the internet to email something for my school, so I thought I would write a little blog update. Term One is in full swing now and despite the bumpy start, classes are going well. I have been put in charge of making the master schedule for my school, and that has been pretty time consuming and stressful. Hopefully it will be finished soon, as long as the teachers make up their minds about what they want to teach everything should work out. Even though it has been really annoying to spend so much time on it, I was able to give the teachers their own individual schedules which makes the chances of them actually showing up for class a little better. In addition to that I have been working on this science lab grant. We are in the last stages of it, but I’m not sure if it will get approved because of the fact that I only have 10 months left in country. I have been trying to communicate the urgency of the project, but BMT transfers to all aspects of life here, and the going has been a little slow. Hopefully it will be up and running soon. Things in the library are going well. Kids are coming in, reading, asking to take out books. We started a library committee so another teacher and I are going to really focus on the library this year, making it operational, so that next year when I go, the next volunteer can focus on something else. It’s really great to see the kids coming in and researching for assignments, taking books home, looking at the awesome posters Mom brought, and just taking pride in the fact that their school has a functioning library. I’m really excited to start working with my colleague teachers so that we can make it fit best to the students’ and staff’s needs.

Community life is going well. Last night kicked off a weekend spent entirely in Kamabai. I got out of school at noon (I don’t have any classes Friday afternoons, one of the perks of making the master schedule J ), cleaned my house, cooked and hung out on my porch the rest of the day. One of my best students in JSS 3 moved to Kamabai so he could be around for the extra classes they hold after school hours (he lives in a village 8 miles away and was commuting to school every day) and we had a great conversation. He is so incredibly smart and wants to be a doctor. Hearing his story about growing up with his grandma in the village while his parents are in Freetown, being the only one of his siblings to go to school, walking 15 miles round trip every day to go to school the last two years, and now moving away from his family to stay with strangers just so he can study more, reaffirmed why I am here. Now that I am past the half way mark of my service I have been thinking a lot about the future, being back home, seeing my loved ones, and I haven’t really been present in my work. Dennis made me realize that I still have 10 months to really work hard and try my best to be a great teacher, even if it’s not the easiest thing to do . He is a perfect example of someone who despite all of the hardships he has had to endure, believes that God will provide as long as he continues to work hard. He is an inspiration to me and I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to meet amazing people like him every day. It makes up for all of the not so great things that I have witnessed since being here. Thank you Dennis for showing me what it means to be a true believing Christian, one who trusts completely in God’s plan, even if it is not easy. This week you brought me back to the reason I am here, and for that I am grateful.    

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Back to School!

Apologies for not writing in a few months. This summer has been a lot of bouncing around from one place to another, and while I have been pretty good about putting up pictures, I admit to slacking on the blog end of things, so let’s get back on the blog wagon!

The summer was great. I stayed in Bo for a week, getting to know the new group of volunteers and so far they are turning out to be pretty awesome J Then there was Cody and Ivy’s wedding, which was incredibly fun. And of course my family came to visit and that was a fantastic two weeks. Then I was off to Freetown for a week for a mini vacation and then our mid service conference. After that it was back to Kamabai to get ready for the start of school, which technically was on Monday. Now I am in Freetown helping to train the new PC response volunteers that are going to be working in the universities here training teachers. So, hopefully by next week I will be back in the classroom teaching!
I’m excited for school to start back up this year. I will be teaching Chemistry in addition to Biology and Integrated Science. My middle school kids will be taking the big test this year to see if they can move on to high school, so I’m a little nervous about preparing them the best I can. I think though that if they commit to coming to school, they will be able to do fine, but, we’ll see.

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who donated materials that came over with my family. It has been the absolute best distributing them all and seeing everyone get so excited. Everyone is so grateful and says they are praying for everyone in America who helped them. I am really looking forward to distributing all of the school supplies this year as incentives to hard working students; I think it will be a great motivator. Also all of the amazing supplies Mom brought over for the library and teaching in general are starting to make me feel like a real teacher. I mean now I have an actual eraser to erase the chalk board, I don’t have to use a piece of sponge. How cool is that?! Before she left, Mom spent some time hanging up posters in the library and the place looks great. I’ve been doing some last minute organizing and it’s crazy how different it looks from last year. So many thanks to everyone who donated money for textbooks! Thanks to you Kamabai Secondary School now has 85 new books that both students and teachers will be able to use. I am really overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity. People I have never met gave so much to my community and it was really beautiful. It has been such an awesome experience to see how just one little thing can make someone so happy. All of the women are showing off with their new earrings, the little kids love their toy cars and I can’t even talk about how cute the little girls with their new dolls are. I’ve given out stuff to ten different families and there are still left over things to give out at Christmas. Thanks again to everyone that donated; it really means a lot to everyone in Kamabai.

 Since Mom and the girls came everyone in town is asking me how they are doing. It’s awesome that everyone knows my family now. The kids really loved the summer school that Mom and the girls put on and when they ask how they are doing, they always ask about Miss Kayla, Miss Kelsey and Miss Sallay (mom’s African name). And of course, Simon Says is in Kamabai to stay. Some things from summer school with the American ladies are gonna be hanging around Kamabai for awhile.

Alrighty, I’m feeling a little tired, so I will call it good for now. Thanks again to everyone that donated, it really meant a lot to everyone :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

School’s Out for the Summer!

I am finished with the first year of school! Exams are graded, grades are compiled and I am on summer vacation!! So pumped. This summer my plans consist of going to Bo to help train the new group of volunteers, hanging out in Kamabai, traveling to visit friends and having my mom and three sisters come and see Salone. Don’t worry Peace Corps, it won’t be all fun and games. I have plans to really make my library awesome before the opening of school. I want to decorate it with academic posters, fix up some broken furniture and come up with some fun activities that will help kids get to know the library. In addition to that I want to prepare lesson notes since I will most likely be teaching Chemistry in addition to Biology and Integrated Science next year. Also there is a grant that I am writing to help fix up our science lab, but that has been a bit of a struggle to get going, so if the community doesn’t start showing more interest I might just drop the project. 

The great part about summer break so far is the rainy days where I can put on a t-shirt and sweats (cold weather attire) and read a good book. Also now I have more time to cook and my family hooked me up with some bomb seasonings so my food can actually taste a little bit like home which is nice. I now can make a killer bean, cabbage and sweet potato soup which is perfect for cold rainy days. I even have my neighbor kids liking this strange “American chop” as they call any food that I make. To get people to eat anything other than rice here and have them think it is good is a struggle, so I’m so happy that my kids like my food now and aren’t afraid to try it.

As far as the end of the school year is concerned, it went alright. We had to cut teaching short because of the BECE (the exam kids have to take to get from middle school to high school) which is currently going on right now. Because my school is a testing site we had to finish exams before the BECE started, even though school is not supposed to close until the middle of July. Scheduling is a major struggle in this country. But my kids for the most part did better on this term’s exams, which is encouraging. Unfortunately a lot of them failed. For the high school students it doesn’t really matter as long as they can get a passing average in all of their classes, since Biology isn’t a core subject for them. But for the middle school kids in order to go to the next grade they have to pass my subject, which only about 25% of them did. We will see if my school holds to their promotion criteria and my class next year is small, but I have a feeling that some kids will slip through, that’s just how it works here. 

My principal and I did have a really great meeting a few weeks ago where we reviewed this academic year and discussed our strengths and weaknesses. We then made up an action plan about how to fix those weaknesses and we were able to come up with some really great ideas that I hope are able to try and create solutions to these problems. I am so grateful that I have a principal that is willing to sit down and have these conversations and actively try to make a change in the school. Development is never going to come to Sierra Leone unless Sierra Leoneons want to make a change and I am thankful that I get to work with a staff that for the most part falls into that category. 

With the ending of the school year comes the anniversary of my arrival in Sierra Leone. It’s crazy to believe that I have been here for one entire year. I think that life back home has been put on pause, but anytime I get on the internet or talk to my family I know that’s not true. My baby sister just graduated high school for goodness sakes, how did that happen? I am so thankful that God brought me to this country and I am happy to be doing this work, but at the same time I am ready to go home at the end of my contract. Being here has really made me realize what priority family and friends take in my life and how I really don’t like being disconnected from them. At the same time I have come to realize how location and culture can impact and change a person and I am grateful for the opportunity to constantly challenge and shape my attitude, my worldview and my identity. This experience so far has been one of the most fulfilling and difficult things I have ever done and some days I’m so happy I did it and other days I think I am crazy for moving 7,000 miles away from everything I know. But, I value learning about the world outside my limited Midwestern American experience and if there is anything I have done here, learning is it. As much as I want to go home next year, I can’t imagine leaving this place, especially my new family and friends here. With the first group of volunteers getting ready to head home in a few weeks at the conclusion of their two years in Sierra Leone, and the new group just arrived, a change in my family is coming. Also PC Sierra Leone is getting a staff alteration with our Country Director, Medical Officer and Programming Manager all being changed. This upcoming year will be a different experience than my first year and I hope a better one. So much of creating effective change comes with knowing the community you live in, how to make things happen, who you need to work with etc. Now that I have that down I hope that I will be able to be more successful in my projects this year. I’m sure this next year will be full of new challenges but I think that now I am better equipped to handle them. At least I hope I am :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tenki! Tenki! (Thank you, Thank you!)

I just received a package that contained some beautiful Easter cards from a class at St. Joseph’s school (the elementary school that I attended and that my mom currently teaches at). I so appreciate the cards and all of the prayers, it means so much. I enjoy reading about what is happening in St. Johns and when I share the drawings with my neighbor kids they absolutely love it. I wanted to mention it in my blog because if I send a letter now it won’t get to St. Joe’s until after school is out and I really want to make sure that the kids know how thankful I am for their thoughts and support. There were a few questions so I’ll take a minute to answer those . . .

Q) Is it always hot there?
A) Simple answer: Yes. During the day it always ranges between 70 and 100 degrees. Sometimes at night during the rainy season it will cool off a little and I will have to cover myself with a blanket, and there was even one morning that I wore my Hope college sweatshirt (that was a glorious morning) but most of the time I am sweating. Good thing I packed a lot of deodorant.

Q) Are you close to the equator?
A) Ya, Sierra Leone is very close to the equator. That is the reason why we only have two seasons (rainy and dry) and why it is so hot. We are in a tropical ecosystem. When I was teaching about climates to my middle school class they thought it was crazy that there could be a place that was colder than here (and that people were able to live there). I showed them a picture of snow and they were amazed. Fun times :)

Q) Are you having fun there?
A) YES!!!! Everyday I get to learn something new, and to a nerd like me that is the definition of fun. It’s not always the easiest thing to be away from my family and friends or the many amenities that come with living in the states, but the good days definitely outnumber the bad. (But the candy the class sent me will help with the bad days :)

Q) How’s the food there?
A) The main local food here is rice with a spicy, oily, sauce. Normally it has fish, but it can also be made with beef or chicken. The main sauces consist of cooked leaves like cassava leaf, potato leaf, or a plant called kren kren. In addition to the leaf sauces they make a really good sauce from ground up peanuts and then another yummy one with tomato paste and onions. When I first came I didn’t really like the food and it was way too spicy for me. But now sometimes I find myself craving rice and sauce and the pepper doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Another perk about the food here is the delicious fruits that grow. Right now its mango season and I am in heaven. We also get fresh bananas, pineapple, oranges, watermelon and guava. Most of the time I cook for myself on my coal pot and I mainly make pasta, eggs, pizza, beans, soup or fries. Not the healthiest diet due to a lack of vegetables.

Q) How is your cat?
A) Yathiki is doing well. She is so big now! She has gotten very good at catching mice which I love because now I don’t have to hear them scratching around at night. Everyone in my village knows her name and when they pass my house they call her. They think it’s so funny how I hold her and pet her because her it’s not part of their culture to show affection to animals. But they just attribute this behavior to the fact that I’m a weird foreigner :)

Q) What kind of animals have you seen there?
A) Everyday I mostly just see cats, dogs, birds, lizards, sometimes a pet monkey. I haven’t ventured off into the bush because of the warning about snakes, but I’m sure if I went there I would see more wildlife. 

Q) What is a discorama?
A) An incredibly fun program. It was like a talent show that my school put on. The four houses competed against each other for the top score. There were five judges that decided who won. The events were single dancing for boys and girls, group dancing for boys and girls, single lipsynching, duet lipsynching, drama and cultural play. It was a great time and the kids got really competitive and excited. 

Alrighty, thank you again for the thoughts and prayers. I am sure that is the reason why things are going so well for me here. I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am to you all.

For a quick update on life in Kamabai:
School is slowly starting up again for the last term of the year. The official start date was a month ago but because of some issues, we’re just now getting into the swing of things. The bright side to us not having school was that I got to spend a lot of time in the library and it looks so good now! It is so gratifying to have it look like a real library and not just stacks of dusty books. The kids are excited too, if a little bit apprehensive. The truth is, they don’t know how to use a library because they’ve never had the chance before. Books here are so scarce and expensive that most times they are kept off limits to the kids because adults are afraid they will ruin them or steal them. Which to be honest is probably going to happen a few times as I’m getting the library officially started up, but I want to believe that after the kids see the uses of having the books in the library they will learn to respect the books. My action plan now is to do one more thorough cleaning (I am in a constant battle with the dust that blows in) and then start making the library more inviting. I’ve already got some ideas about painting, making a corner for the primary school kids, and an area for the computer we’re going to get.  That’s another thing to be thankful for, a church from London that started working with our school this year said they found three computers for our school and at least one of them will go in the library! So hopefully next year I can start tutoring kids in computer which is something that they are so curious about. The church also asked for a list of books that we could use in the library, so hopefully we will be able to get some more books which would be awesome.

Everything with the social life is going well. Two weeks ago I went up to Fadugu to visit Sara and go to a jam that was being put on for Bob Marley Day. I didn’t even know such a holiday existed until this year. It was really fun, I always enjoy hanging out in people’s towns, seeing their schools and the people they see everyday. This last weekend I went down to Makeni to celebrate Marc’s birthday, which was a lot of fun as well.

Oh, I realized a few things that should have been on the packing list I included for the incoming trainees:
-Power adaptor: Helpful for when you want to charge things. I got mine at Best Buy for $30. It’s a Targus and has worked well and isn’t bulky like some that you will see, so I recommend it.
-Batteries: You can get these here so don’t bring a two year supply, but its nice to have a few to start you off.
- Knife: A pocket knife works. Or you can get a legit small hunting knife, whatever your style. But its nice to have something to peel cucumbers and mangoes during training.
-Headlamp: I have had the worst luck with headlamps and now just use a local light that I bought. But I know some people really like them and they are convenient.
-Snack Food: The transition to local food was rough for some of us. Having some cliff bars or trail mix stuffed away somewhere would have been a nice comfort those first few weeks.

Okay, I think that’s everything. As I said before, don’t stress, just focus on spending the last few weeks with your loved ones and get ready for an adventure! See you at PST!

Friday, May 4, 2012

It’s almost time for a new batch of trainees!

To anyone who got that blue packet that was so long awaited, congratulations! You got into the Peace Corps! And you got assigned to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, get ready for two crazy years. But first, that ever important question about what to pack . . . I remember stressing out about how I was going to fit all of my belongings for the next two years into two bags and a carry on. Fact: I use about half of the stuff that I brought. It’s inevitable that you are going to bring some things that are ridiculous, but here is a list of things that you might consider.
 -    1. D-light solar light/charger: This thing is awesome. It can charge your phone and ipod and is a great light. However it’s not a necessity to get a solar charger. Most sites have charging stations where someone hooks up a generator and many of us charge there, or your school could have solar power. But if you get placed in a small village, this will be very useful.
      2.Clothes: Yes, bring the ‘professional clothes’ that PC tells you to bring. But don’t stress about it. I really don’t wear any of those clothes that I brought with me, you can buy cute, cheap clothes here in the market (its like thrift store shopping). The clothes that I wish I would have brought more of are the ones I wear after school (tank tops, capri yoga pants, Bermuda shorts, light dresses) those are the ones that are not the easiest to find here. If you’re a girl, bring a cute dress, we like to go out here and you will want to not look like a teacher  
      3.Computer: If you can swing it, try to bring a computer. PC is moving away from paper handouts and is in the habit of giving us flashdrives with a lot of great resources on it. But if you don’t have a computer it’s a little difficult to access those. You will be absolutely fine if you don’t bring one (we have computers at the PC hostel in Freetown) but I’m happy that I have mine.

       4.Music player/speakers: Dance parties are a must. Even if you don’t listen to pop music, pack it full of ridiculous top 40 stuff so you can jam out with your neighbor kids, that will be the only American music they have a chance of knowing (Akon and Rihanna preferably).

      5.  Locks: Tsa approved locks for your luggage. PC gives you a padlock for your lockbox so don’t bring one. I think I have like three padlocks floating around my house that I don’t use.

      6. Shoes: For girls: One or two pairs of cute, leather sandals to wear to training and to teach in.  before I came and I never wear them. I also brought those silly croc ballet flats. DON’T BUY THOSE!! They suck in the rainy season, I was constantly slipping out of my shoes and as someone already disposed to clumsiness, that was not good. You can get pretty durable flip flops here. But it’s hard to find dressy sandals that won’t break in a week, so if you can find those, bring them.

      7. Luxury Items: Bring some jewelry if you want. In the culture here it is strange if a woman doesn’t wear earrings so bring a few pairs. 

       8.Towel: Those tech dry ones are cool 

       9.Toiletries: The basics; shampoo, deodorant, makeup, body spray, face wash, razors etc. You can get the stuff here but it’s nice to have American quality for awhile. I’m still using my shampoo from the states and I just brought a regular sized bottle. Bring two big tubes of toothpaste, it’s nice to feel Crest minty clean. And you’re gonna use a lot of deodorant because its frickin hot here, always. 

       10 Kindle: I had one sent to me. One of the volunteers here has a file of over a 1,000 books, enough to keep you busy for two years, so once you get that you are set. The battery lasts awhile which is nice. It gets dark around 7 pm here and when you don’t have electricity the only thing o do really is read, so this will come in handy. Again, not a must (we have a huge library of regular books that are constantly being shuffled around) but it’s nice to have. 

       11.Camera: Some people have really nice, big ones, others have small point and shoot varieties. Whatever works for you. 

       12.Gifts for your host family: They give you a place to stay for ten weeks, hook them up with some American goodies. Gift ideas include: American flags, novelty items from your state or university, candy (not chocolate, that shit will melt as soon as you get off the plane) bubbles, silly bands, bouncy balls, anything from the dollar store, just go crazy. They will love whatever you give them. 
       13.   Spices for cooking: You can always get these sent to you, so don’t stress if there’s no room. Basil, curry, cumin, beef/chicken bullion etc. Whatever you use at home. You can buy onions, garlic, black pepper and thyme in the market so you’ll survive even if you don’t bring these. 

       14.   School supplies: Most things here are made pretty shoddily so you will appreciate a good Bic pen and woe the day when you realize that they have slowly but surely all gone missing, so bring a few with you. You can get most school supplies here, they just are a little expensive for the good ones, so if you have room throw some in, if not don’t stress about it. For teaching I recommend a good textbook for your subject. For science though you might want to wait until you get your assignment because you could be teaching biology, chemistry, physics or integrated and you don't want to waste space on the wrong book. But one good high school bio book, or middle school science book would help. For math maybe a workbook with middle school problems and for English I've heard grammar books are helpful.

       15.   Water bottles: Two nalgenes are pretty standard fare amoung PCVs. I prefer the narrow mouthed ones for traveling because that way you don’t soak yourself with water when attempting to drink on bumpy roads. 

       16.   Things not to bring: Sunscreen or any meds(you get that in your med kit), ugly clothes (you won’t wear them), anything really heavy
       17.   Water proof backpack: Rainy season is no joke. To prevent all of your stuff getting soaked repeatedly get one of these bad boys. Or a dry bag for your electronics that you can stuff inside a normal back pack will be fine too. 
       18.   I probably forgot a bunch of important things but honestly whatever you bring, you will make work. If you absolutely need something you can get it sent to you. Try not to stress about this, I brought way too many unnecessary things that just wasted space and contributed to back pain after lugging all of that baggage around the country. Try not to spend a lot of money. You are not going on a two year vacation or expedition, this is still ordinary life, you will still want and value the same things even if you are 7,000 miles away from home. Flexibility, my friends, the true characteristic of a Peace Corps Volunteer