Recently, I fell ill. For a development practitioner in the field this can be a nightmare. Take if you are in a very remote area and you do not have access to an antihistamine after suffering an allergic reaction. Aside from emergencies, many expat development practitioners often take very poor care of their own personal heath. In a past field experience, area expats knew who to come to get items of comfort during times of illness. My close family and friends know that I do not travel without certain items no matter where I go. I am not saying this too boost my knack for what I call FIRR- field illness risk reduction (Yes, I have made up a new acronym, as if we needed another one) FIRR calls for an elaborate packing list but I prefer to be prepared. Obviously the amount of supplies depends on the duration of the field posting. I tend to carry 6 months of supplies. Whenever possible I do try to buy products in the field or host country but this is not always possible and when it is many products are almost double the cost as they are imported.
Many celebrities take Oprah Winfrey for example, publicize their favorite things. These celebrities annoy me because it’s all about commercialism and not about practicality for normal people, let alone your average expat development practitioner. A colleague of my brought this to my attention recently while using and looking at the items I refuse to be without in the field and suggested I share my field favorites. Here they are!
1) Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps All-One
This soap have hundreds of uses: Laundry, shampoo, body, face wash, dish soap, and even toothpaste. I always have a least a bar (easier to carry) and the travel liquid size on me and have used them for everything. They come in plenty of aromas as well. I like the original peppermint because it cools the skin in an extremely hot area after bathing.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that may confer a health benefit on the host. This was a recommendation my doctor suggested to me. I always stomach issues in the field and they are not pleasant. As soon as I feel one of those awful cramps or sprint holding my tummy to a place to go, I grab this stuff. Although they kill all bacteria good and bad, they can help you become regular and help in the creation healthy bacteria of the digestion tract which is very important after an upset stomach (usually caused by unhealthy bacteria). When it comes to selecting a brand make sure the product does not require refrigeration. They are also found in fermented foods added with active live cultures, such as in yogurt so if you can get them this way it is better. And for those of up allergic to lactose they help you digest lactose easier. Also, the more strains the better-think millions and billions. Ask your doctor which strains are right for you. Your tummy will thank you later. I use Jarrod and Culturelle mostly due to the cost.
Sometimes I feel really low on energy or I am not eating a well balanced diet. These products come in single serve packets. Amazing Grass in its basic form is powdered wheatgrass you can mix with water or juice (orange, pineapple or mango). While I am partial to the wheatgrass I recently transitioned to Green Vibrance because my diet has almost 0 veggies and I wanted something to help supplement this loss to my nutrition and it is working so far. They really give you energy and contain probiotics. Green Vibrance has: organic grass juices and freeze dried greens. The packets aids: nutrition, digestion, circulation and immunity and additionally benefits all body systems. Green Vibrance addressing some very basic and essential biological requirements and provides trace nutrients that should help each cell to function at peak efficiency.
4) Pack towels
These are possibly the thinnest most absorbent towels I have ever used. I always carry an extra large for bathing, medium for hair and small for face/hands. These are available at your local sporting goods stores (REI or EMS). I even found a few on clearance for $11. In the field I must travel under 15 kilos for the flights and I save space wherever possible and a large beach towel is NOT in my bag. Pack towels also can withstand harsh hand washing, dry fast and feel good on the skin unlike normal towels dried in the sun without fabric softener.
5) Body Oil
When I cannot find lotion without chemicals and fragrance I opt for body oils. This oil can be used for after bathing for dry skin and for hair. I also like to add a slight fragrance of my choice for a special touch. Neutrogena body oil, Bio Oil and Body Shop oils are all excellent choices but you can also use the oil of your choice, olive oil for example.
These products deserve their own post. Ever wanted to green your period? Before I served in the Peace Corps in 2007 I purchased my first Glad Rags and have been using them ever since. They are reusable cloth menstrual pads. They have inserts you can insert based on your cycle. You soak and wash them after use. I personally soak them in hot water with Dr. Bronner’s and tea tree oil and let them dry in the sun. Sea Sponge tampons are harvested sustainably, are easy to use, very absorbent, painless to insert and are SO cheap (2 for $10). After use, you clean them and I like to soak them in a hot water tea tree oil solution and air dry them. I have learned that traditional pads/tampons do not allow air to get to you as they are layered with plastic(think about it), also they are bleached with a number of chemicals (do you want this down there?!) and not to mention the environmental waste. Given all the cons of traditional pads I wanted a change. Yes, this took a little while to get used to but the process for me has been empowering. I am doing my part to help the environment while living healthily. Some people use gloves when cleaning their products and this is okay but not a requirement. Remember to wash your hands during the entire length of your cycle and when handling the products, as you should anyway. Once you get in a rhythm using them it doesn’t take a lot of time out of your schedule. I used to think my body was disgusting and that was because that was what I was taught. In truth the mystic of the female body is alluring and I took control of my period!
7) Tea Tree Oil
I use this as a disinfectant mostly when cleaning other products mentioned in this post. But mix a few drops in a water solution and it can also be a facial toner or disinfectant for when you have wounds. I also add a few drops to my conditioner to help fight dandruff. Always comes in handy!
8) The Buff
What originated as a fad of the reality show Survivor, the buff has now made it big with adventurers everywhere! I use this when it is really hot out. I dip it in water and put it on my head. Also use it as a head band and for covering in a conservative area and winter running. Literally there are 100 uses for the Buff. Some come treated with bug repellant helpful when sleeping and bugs are flying around your face. Look at REI or EMS or any other sporting goods/travel store.
I tend to stay in a lot of hostels and hotels when I travel. That means sometimes there are dirty sheets. Sometimes I find myself without a sheet at all. The dream sack is perfect fort these times. The only drawback is the cost (from $25). In the past I have used a nice sheet and sewed it along the side to make a dream sack. I also carry a travel pillow always with a removable case for washing.
10) Baking Soda
This can be used as deodorant (rub on underarms), toothpaste and whitener, baking, or for upset tummies (mix with 2 ounces of warm water and drink). Carry a travel size container. This stuff is so cost effective (<90 cents).
11) Tums, Alka-Seltzer and cough drops
Tums is hard to find in many places (pepto as well). I use this for antacid and when I need to take pills that are harsh on the tummy (anti-malarial and parasite meds). Also it helps me with nausea. Alka-Seltzer can be found locally (Panadol) but is a great alternative to baking soda for tummy issues but with the bonus of Aspirin. Cough drops (Ricola and Halls) are handy for areas where you develop coughs aside from colds or respiratory illnesses. I get coughs in areas with lots of dust. Ricola is harder to find but is my preference.
Have any field or travel favorites? Send your picks to: firstname.lastname@example.org Coming soon Part 2.