The biggest mystery surrounds What to Bring With You. The Peace Corps will send you some information on what is available in country and what is good to bring, but it’s a little vague. The best advice I got was to bring a good can opener (which I wish I had!) and a Swiss army knife (which I was glad I did).

As for the can opener, the literature you will read assures you that most everything you might not have brought with you can be obtained (1) in Lomé, (2) in regional cities, or (3) au marché. (These are little local traveling farmers’ markets near each village where you can buy matches, soap and used clothes, among other things. But more about that later.) So if everything can be gotten in Lomé, surely it wouldn’t be too hard to find a decent can opener, I reasoned. Wrong. Practically all you can find are cheap, dull, poorly made metal can openers from China which mostly don’t open anything. A good can opener is an excellent thing to bring. Bring a decent hand can opener with you and give it away when you leave. If you don’t bring a can opener, all is not lost. You’ll soon learn how to open a can the Togolese way: with a knife. It takes a bit of brute strength, but it can be done.

Swiss army knives, on the other hand, aren’t available in Togo at all. The ones you can get at Walmart for around $30 are fine. Beer bottle openers are good to bring, but more as gifts for the Togolese friends you’ll make. They, of course, have some pretty nifty ways of opening bottles if they don’t have one, but anything to make it a little easier is always welcome. You won’t need one yourself, as you’ll be set with your all-purpose Swiss Army knife.

Some people recommend bringing jeans. I brought two pairs and never wore them. Why? Togo has two types of weather: hot and hotter. Even during the harmattan, Togo’s winter, the temperature didn’t drop much below 70. Some volunteers wore jeans occasionally, but I was rarely seen in anything other than shorts.

A decent pen is sought after by Togolese and Volunteers alike. What you’ll find in Togo are mostly the French version of Bics which leak horribly. American pens are treasured. Buy a box of the less expensive ones at Office Depot to give as gifts. You’ll soon have lots of Togolese friends, and even a cheap American pen is prized.

Peace Corps will supply you with first aid items like aspirin, ibuprofen and even tampons. Soap for washing yourself and your clothes will be available even in the remotest village marche, but you may have to go to the nearest large city to find a store that carries deodorant. Only foreign NGO workers will be able to afford stuff like that, so wherever they are is where it will be sold.

The second dilemma is how much to bring. Everyone overpacks. A good rule of thumb is, don’t bring any more stuff than you can carry or drag all by yourself for a really long time. Friends and relatives can ship you anything else.