What goes in a care package to Kyrgyzstan?
July 27, 2008 8:18 PM   Subscribe

Ideas for a care package for a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan? I'd like to keep it open for many different types of suggestions, but perhaps the fact that he is 24 year old male from Northern California is relevant. Anyone know what kinds of things he'll be missing while he's stuck there for two years?
posted by emyd to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Jokefilter: Vowels!

Perhaps an MP3 player loaded with discographies of his favorite artists?
posted by mediocre at 8:39 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Peanut butter?
posted by matteo at 8:52 PM on July 27, 2008

Is he teaching or doing business or environmental education?

I hear from a lot of PCV teachers that they'd like good English language books that aren't too childish but still at a lower reading level.
posted by k8t at 8:55 PM on July 27, 2008

I was in the Peace Corps, but not in Kyrgyzstan. Some things are more universal, although there are a lot of local differences in what is available and what is not.

Things that were really welcome in gift packages when I was in were things like new books that are getting a lot of attention (because you can see the reviews in the Newsweek or on cable news, but all the books in the PC library are a decade old), DVDs and CDs of TV shows and new music (though if he has high-speed internet access this is not such an issue), and little luxuries like nice socks. (You can buy socks anywhere in the world, but most places only have crummy synthetic socks in unisizes; spiffy cotton, silk, or wool socks feel really nice after being there a year or so. Ditto underwear, hats, and some other sundries.)

Food is great (assuming that the package is being shipped by air and the customs people don't eat all the goodies); hot commodities were condiments, Mexican food (tortillas, refried beans, salsa), some spices (but don't do a tea to China thing -- check what is easily found there), and genuinely American packaged food like rice crispy treats or those packaged breakfast things that go in the microwave.

In some places real coffee beans (not instant) are really hard to get, but other places have them in every store. Even so, if he has a favorite local brand, a pound of freshly roasted coffee is a nice treat.

Finally, if he is doing anything with children or in a school, sometimes a bunch of small and cheap things (pencils, coloring books, toys) can be really nice. Again, though, make sure there is a use for it before sending it over.
posted by Forktine at 9:22 PM on July 27, 2008

My sister isn't in the Peace Corps, but is in the Navy and when she's deployed, she appreciates things like popcorn (microwave for her, but your friend might appreciate the kind you pop on the stove old-school, or Jiffy Pop, if there's no microwave access), peanut butter, American toiletries (my sister can get basics, but nothing boutiquey--a person in a remote location might be happy just getting some familiar US shave cream or moisturizer).

We grew up in AZ and my mom sends my sister regular deliveries of chips and salsa, which has made her very popular. Navy ships have several varieties of hot sauce as part of their standard condiment stock, but your friend might dig a bottle of Frank's Red Hot or Tabasco, or even some plain old ketchup to doctor up unfamiliar foods.

Magazines are also a big favorite--everyone in my family and a lot of my friends pass on our magazines when we're done with them regardless of subject matter--if my sister isn't interested, someone else will be. I know how fascinating I find foreign language magazines, so perhaps that's a commodity that your friend can pass around to people he meets.

My sister's needs have changed over the years as the ship becomes more connected to the outside world and she's able to find more of what she wants in foreign ports, so I always look forward to her special requests and I make sure she notifies me ASAP when she realizes something is missing that she can't easily get.
posted by padraigin at 9:34 PM on July 27, 2008

People Magazine, US Weekly, In Touch, etc. all the trashy glossies with all the latest on what Brittany and Paris are up to this week. No really, these have always been the best little gifts to all my Peace Corps friends over the years. They get read through by others when they get together and it helps everybody remember that somewhere back home is a place where they don't really care about the price of goats or have to sweep sand out of their house three or four times a day. Seriously, even my hoity-toity, smarmy, ivory tower academic type friends loved thumbing through a good "Worst-Dressed" issue for a mental release.

Also, those seasoning packets for fajitas, tacos, chili and so forth would be great. Lotion and soap that doesn't have whiteners and/or smell like harsh laundry detergent fragrances. Lip balm! All-American name-brand tooth paste. Kool-aid. Brownie mix. Put everything into zip-lock bags to keep them from getting all over everything else if they bust, plus he can use the zip-locks again. Decent cheese would never survive the trip, but if it could...

Ooh, good socks. You'd think that since the Chinese are making the world's sock they'd sell them locally, but socks in Asia suck!

Do you know what kind of razor he uses? You could send him some new ones.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:40 PM on July 27, 2008

Oh, god yes, magazines! How could I have forgotten? Those were the best care packages ever -- first they would get passed around the volunteers, and then they would be used by the people working with children as treats, educational tools, art supplies, etc. Anything is good -- specialty stuff like surfing or knitting magazines, fashion, celebrity glossies, the New Yorker -- because even if he doesn't like it, he can trade it to someone else who is desperate for it.
posted by Forktine at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2008

Maybe some of the former PC Volunteers can speak to this, but I've heard from one returnee that there were sometimes issues with people poking around in packages and taking the luxuries along the way to their destination.

If that is a problem, (? please let me know if this was a unique issue) she also said putting the extra-special things in tampon boxes (and marking the goods as "feminine hygine products" or such for shipping) was a good solution, even if shipped to a guy.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:54 PM on July 27, 2008

Mail tampering definitely happens. Less so with air shippers like DHL and FedEx, almost nil with diplomatic pouch stuff if you can get in on that. One key is to send stuff that the thieves won't want. They won't want Mexican seasonings or most magazines. They might take a glossie if there are lots of shots of scantily clad western women. I wouldn't send anything of any significant value. No jewelry or such, but that should be fairly obvious.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:08 PM on July 27, 2008

I see magazines have gotten covered but yeah, I was about to suggest recent issues of The New Yorker. Really, any magazine you have on hand, but since The New Yorker comes out weekly, if you know anyone who subscribes, they'd probably be happy to get some off their hands. My friend who did a summer of rural field work said her New Yorker subscription kept her connected to everything that was going on, and when I was in Ecuador, my vocabulary was too weak to read their newspapers, so I appreciated the occasional US paper to keep me feeling like an adult.
posted by salvia at 10:13 PM on July 27, 2008

Speaking as a N California boy who went to Japan, experiencing my first Siberian Airmass winter was a new and unplanned-for experience.

Depending on the lead times and the climate of Kyrgyzstan a nice pair of gloves might be appreciated; check to see if brought some and if the climate he's at requires them.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Jelly Bellies, quality beef jerky would be some good snack items. Maybe get one of those small tubs of Gatorade mix powder.
posted by yort at 10:29 PM on July 27, 2008

also, certainly a pop into REI might give you some ideas, too.
posted by yort at 10:30 PM on July 27, 2008

25-year-old Californian expat (home for the summer) here. *represents*

The best way we've found to get that much stuff that far is to use the free large-sized flat-rate Priority Mail boxes at the post office; you can even have them delivered to your house for free! To Kyrgyzstan (actually anywhere other than Canada and Mexico), a box with up to 20 pounds of stuff is $49.95, and will get there in 6-10 days; perhaps you can get tracking, too, to see when it gets there?

Awesome gifts I would have loved to receive while teaching abroad these past years in Latvia and Indonesia:

- New York Times spiralbound crossword puzzle books: I've seen these in Barnes and Noble/Borders for less than $10
- CDs with This American Life episodes
- A little California flag, some In-N-Out stickers, a Golden Gate Bridge magnet...something to show off your local pride!
- Some photos/postcards of my hometown to show people: maybe get some made up with satellite images or your own photos of what it looks like? Oooh, or maybe a photo calendar!
- RAZORS. Gillette Mach 3/5/whatevers cost the EARTH abroad (though maybe it's cheaper/more common to go to a local barber and have this done...). Shaving cream, luckily, is replaced with local (cheap) conditioner/soap/whatever, but perhaps a fabulous bar of shaving soap and a boar-hair brush?
- Window screen netting. Not sure how bad bugs are where he's living, but it's nice to not wake up covered in bites and it lets you leave the windows open for a breeze without lizards jumping from the trees outside into your omelet.
- Fabulously soft bedsheets. You'll have to have him measure the dimensions of his bed since I imagine sizes there are different from the States, but I imagine that you'll be able to find something.
- Socks. Patterns, argyle, stripes, reindeer, orange, whatever. A fun surprise.

With 20 pounds of stuff, you could also include a couple dozen magazines, but beware that Kyrgyzstan may screen incoming books and media for "objectionable content" - check online to see what their censorship/import regulations are; the USPS International Mailing Manual page for Kyrgyzstan I've pasted below details what items are prohibited from being shipped there.

I'd recommend packing as much as you can into indivdual clear bags with each bag of things labeled in Russian (the lingua franca in the part of the world) and English ("magazines", "music", etc) to facilitate identification by whoever opens the box; I'd also advise marking anything you can convincingly label as "used" on the customs form as such, to avoid him paying full import taxes on things with prices when he receives the package. REMOVE ALL PRICETAGS.

Country Conditions for Mailing - Kyrgyzstan


Explosive, flammable, or dangerous substances.

Military-type firearms, and ammunitions therefor, other than hunting weapons, knives and blades, sheaths therefor, specially intended for attack (truncheons, stilettos).

Narcotics, psychotropic and other substances that encourage drug addiction, and hashish.

Perishable goods.

Perishable infectious biological substances.

Perishable noninfectious biological substances.

Printed matter, plates, negatives, films for exposure, phonographs, tapes, video cassettes and video discs, information for electronic calculators, manuscripts, disks and other sound recordings, drawings and other printing and plastic arts products containing information that may prejudice the constitutional order of the State, public, political, or economic interests, or State sovereignty; in defense of war, terrorism, incitement to racial hatred such as Zionism, anti-Semitism, fascism, national exclusion, and religious provocation; and pornographic publications.

Radioactive materials.


High-frequency radio-electronic devices and apparatus; ultrasonic apparatus; industrial, scientific, and medical generators; detection devices used to measure transport speed (radar) are admitted only on the authorization of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Seeds and parts of plants intended for planting require authorization of the Ministry of Agriculture.



posted by mdonley at 10:52 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

30 y.o. Nor Cal native also repping - I've been here in Africa for most of the last year.

I would gladly cut off a finger for a good mexican meal and a couple Sierra Nevada Pale Ales. Other niceties I've received from home have been a program from an Oakland A's game (thanks to little brother) as well as select articles from the Sac Bee that mom has clipped for me. Pictures of folks from holidays / get-togethers / etc. are also nice.

A smattering of basic drugs / toiletries would also be a blessing: a bottle of Nyquil, some Immodium AD (what I wouldn't give for that right now too), some Advil, maybe some fiber tablets, daily vitamins, his favorite deodorant / shampoo / etc.. Also one thing that I haven't been able to find here that I will have with me next time I leave the US is a stand-alone mosquito net, for those places you have to stay that don't have their own hanging ones.

Lots of good advice above for shipping so that he'll actually receive it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:18 AM on July 28, 2008

Current PCV, though in Romania, not Kyrgyzstan.

He should be able to get all his meds through PC Medical--if there's a specific brand of something-or-other in the States he really prefers it may be a good addition, though (I personally brought a few packs of Fisherman's Friend cough drops, and was glad for it).

What most people rave about here is food and gear. As was mentioned, anything ethnic can be pretty hard to find--I'd recommend avoiding jars of salsa, though, and just sending seasonings (he'll be able to find onions and tomatoes easily enough). Taco seasoning, tortillas, wasabi paste, that kind of thing. I cook, so I love getting things like vanilla extract and dried cilantro and other cooking staples that aren't common to this part of the world. Also try CLIF bars, a favourite candy bar that can't be found in E. Europe/Central Asia (a fellow volunteer got me hooked on Butterfingers when his family sent a bunch), any other treats you know he's fond of.

Then there's practicalities.
Depending on what he left with, a couple of good pairs of socks from REI, or one of their travel towels that dries in 30 seconds, a Nalgene bottle if he doesn't have one (you can get some without the questionable chemicals now), camping-type gear if he enjoys that sort of thing (Leathermen and headlamps can be lifesavers). A decent pair of earbuds can be useful as well, if he uses mp3 players or listens to music/watches movies on his computer, as these are the sorts of things that are easily lost/damaged and hard to find in good quality without being outrageously expensive. If he didn't take a flash drive, I'd definitely suggest that.

If he doesn't have an internet connection, some DVD's of favourite television shows, mix cd's, or magazines can be useful--these have the added advantages of often making the rounds with other volunteers and cheering them up as well (many travel with computers, and this sort of thing can be copied). Some inexpensive books are a good choice as well, and will also probably cheer up future volunteers by being donated to the PCV office, which is something of an informal library.
If he does have a connection, some money in a Skype account for making necessary/non-computer phone calls can be a lifesaver. An online subscription to a good news magazine such as The Economist, if he follows that sort of thing. Metafilter gift account?

Depending on his role there, some basic teaching supplies may be useful (even if he's not TEFL, he may have a secondary project working on adult education or something of the like). Mad Libs are universally popular for this sort of thing, as are some simpler games or basic resources for teaching English to foreigners.

I should also mention that Chaco offers a 50% discount to active PCV's on any one pair of footwear. It wouldn't be a surprise, as one needs to give proof of active volunteer status, but as Chaco won't ship overseas, the gift of the shipping may be appreciated. (Email help at chacousa.com to find out exactly what's needed.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 12:47 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, as far as mailing:
PC has an agreement with all host countries that volunteers don't pay duties on items they receive, so that shouldn't be a problem (he should have a volunteer handbook that has a page on this--in both languages--that he can take to the customs office if they're unfamiliar with the practice). I would definitely second the suggestion that tags, wrappings, anything that makes something look 'new' be removed, though--after all, it's not like he'll be returning it.
In an E. European country I haven't had a problem with things being pilfered, and everything I've gotten was sent USPS. The customs agent might open the box and poke through everything (I perplexed one for about fifteen minutes while he stared at my bottle of tea tree oil), but no appropriation of stuff, and they've gotten to know me now and don't even open my boxes anymore. I can't speak to how that sort of thing is handled in Kyrgyzstan--perhaps try contacting the PC offices in Washington, or a local recruitment office? A majority of the staff is RPCV's, and you may find someone there who served in his country, and could answer some questions for you (they generally tend to be a pretty friendly bunch), or direct you to somewhere on the website or one of the PC-writing sites that could get you in contact with someone who served there.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 1:18 AM on July 28, 2008

Porn mags. Wrap them in standard fare mags so that they pass casual inspection.
posted by zpousman at 7:21 AM on July 28, 2008

When my friend was doing her Peace Corp stint in Kyrgyzstan, what she asked for was good quality toilet paper. It's so bulky that one wouldn't want to use up room in the luggage for it, but it's cheap enough for friends to send if shipping/paying by weight. In the vein, if your friend has a favorite brand of anti-antiperspirant, that would be good too. I don't know if your friend is going to be in as remote of a place as mine was, but she didn't have reliable electricity so anything that would require electricity would be a waste of money/time.
posted by jujube at 7:25 AM on July 28, 2008

Oh, thought of one more thing. You would be a hero if you sent a wind-up flashlight.
posted by jujube at 7:30 AM on July 28, 2008

I second the toilet paper. I have never seen worse toilet paper than in Kyrgyzstan (we're talking cardboard-like often with recycled bits of electrical tape and other stuff in there). There are fancy store where you could buy that stuff but he probably doesn't want to spend his stipend on that. So at least one roll of really soft toilet paper.

He's probably not in the city (Bishkek or Osh) and might be living in a yurt/get in the middle of nowhere with no electricity or running water. If not it's probably an old cement soviet-style building. I've been keeping up with the region (kind of) by reading this woman's blog who, I believe, is teaching English in Bishkek. I'm sure she'd give you good ideas for things to send. She's been talking recently about possible rolling blackouts, months without hot water, etc. It gets very cold in the winter there, so maybe something to keep warm. I agree with other posters that nice socks (really soft like cashmere or rugged like Smartwool socks) are a blessing in places like this. There's no shortage of imported Chinese junk in the market, but not too much of the high quality stuff (although, oddly enough, there is a Benetton in Bishkek which is totally out of place).

Also, there is not high-speed internet as far as I know. He would probably be subject to coming into to town to use an internet cafe.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:50 AM on July 28, 2008

I have a friend in Kyrg in the Peace Corps!!! She's staying extra time to do more volunteer work!

In reviewing the few emails she has sent me I can honestly say the most meaningful things she has received are...mail. Really, anything. Her experience has included a lot of loneliness and isolation and cultural...stuff.

Getting packages through has been made easier by including Muslim symbols on the box. Less likely they'll be stolen, somehow.

A lot of my friend's experience seems to be based around her own personal 'living with less' but I haven't discussed this with her. What I mean is, she values knowing that we think of her, and our communications with her.

Also, fortify your friend with the knowledge that bride napping is alive and well in the Kyrg.
posted by bilabial at 11:30 AM on July 28, 2008

From a diplomat who served 2 years in KGZ (with some repeats...):

Magazines (Nthing - nigh impossible to find in KGZ)
Peanut butter
Cake mix/frosting
Bug repellant (Skin So Soft is a great call)
pepto/tums/stomach-soother of choice
Band-aids (The peace corps probably does provide first-aid stuff, but my friend was simply pointing out that band-aids were really hard to find.)

This is just a list of things that she wasn't able to get easily while she was there.
posted by Citrus at 6:50 PM on July 28, 2008

Thanks, everyone! These are all great suggestions; I couldn't possibly mark only one as best answer.
posted by emyd at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2008

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