Glad I Brought:
One dozen really nice penlight flashlights with clips. I am lost without one clipped to my pants pocket for looking down throats, looking at a rash in an unlighted exam room, lighting the path to my house on cloudy/moonless nights, reading the tiny labels or looking for something in the barn-like storeroom which has only the light from the open door. Mine take AA batteries, which is great because those are available here. (AAA batteries, not so much.) The clip is necessary or it would fall out of my pocket more easily on the motorbike/matatu/ambulance rides on these incredibly bumpy roads. I brought a headlamp which is handy for some examinations, but is usually lost deep in my back-pack, and is too uncomfortable and awkward to carry all the time.
My own stethoscope, opthalmoscope/otoscope, and reflex hammer. Duh, I’m a doctor and the ones available here are crap. Sorry, there is really no nice way to say it. Should have brought (SHB): my own BP machine with batteries and good quality thermometers. (these are available, but are usually in a locked room or all the way at the other end of the building, or broken, when you really need them.)
Nail scissors. Toenail clippers. SHB: Better quality clippers. Mine broke after about 9 months, and I have not seen any here, though I confess I have not looked. Doing what I can with the scissors.
Dental Floss, extra contact lenses, cases, glasses. SHB: one year supply of floss and both cleaning and wetting solutions. Just bring one floss per month and 4 bottles each of solution–it may be the only year of your life that you actually throw each bottle away after 90 days, as instructed!
Hair-cutting scissors and comb. SHB : one year’s supply of “product”–my Hard Up gel, and two bottles of nice shampoo. You really can tell the difference between that and the two liter jugs of what is called shampoo here.
International voltage adapter/surge protector with two USB ports, and socket for American grounded plug. SHB: At least two of them. The one I brought is wearing out and is temperamental about when it decides to charge. Though I found a new Samsung rapid charger with two ports in Nairobi, and it works great. Pulling the adapters out of the socket seems to do the most damage, so if you can leave them in place and just plug the USB end of the cord into them they will last longer.
Lumino Reading light. I’ve mentioned it before but I can’t emphasize it enough.
Radio. I was advised to bring a short-wave radio, and I did. Mine is very nice, but the instructions have not helped me pre-set the stations, and it has about a million stations so it is really hard to scan or seek to find something. I finally, after about 6 months, learned the setting for the station that carries the BBC at about dinnertime, so I can just type in the setting and see if anything is on, in English. And Joyce can listen to the local am or fm Dholuo station. I likely would not bring this again, but it might be fine for a more tech-savvy ex-pat or someone who really needs background noise.
Wash-cloth. Towels are here in abundance, but for some reason not wash-cloths. And when you are taking cold-water showers, it somehow feels a little better to at least start with a wet washcloth than just stepping straight into the cold water. For Christmas, I was given a wonderful, soft, incredibly absorbent and quick-drying wash-cloth. (I know, all those descriptors mean it is likely made entirely from petroleum products, micro-particles and/or tubules, and will have a 1000-year half-life.) It is one of the greatest gifts of all time! If you can find one, definitely bring it to Africa.
Reading glasses, especially if you use anything more than 1.5 magnification. You can find 1.0 and 1.5 fairly easily, but nothing else. For those I suppose you have to go to an optometrist. In a city. Far away.
Several items of “technical” clothing: I’m really glad I brought two long-sleeved shirts with insect repellent that lasts through 70 washes. I don’t need and usually can’t wear them during the day, but can put them on after dusk to minimize the DEET I have to apply. I brought about 5 pairs of light-weight multi-pocketed pants which have been great. Next time I will likely break loose the wallet for the ones that have the 70 washes of insect repellent, because spraying these with permethrin every 6 washes is not something I am too good at. I did not bring many “regular” clothes, having been assured there are lots of used clothes here, and that turned out to be true. Still, I did bring one pair of jeans which are good for Nairobi where it is less hot, and for traveling. My sleeveless cotton tops are good for lounging around on the weekends, or layering with a light cotton shirt for the clinic. I brought two long-sleeved tee shirts. I really only needed one.
My supportive Keen walking sandals. Three pair were almost enough. The flip-flops available here hurt my feet. SHB: A couple of pairs of comfortable thong sandals to wear around the house. I got one pair in a care package and they were completely trashed in 6 months. They might have lasted longer had I refrained from gardening in them and wearing them outside.
iPad and Netflix. Luxury, not necessity.
Pure Should Have Brought:
A couple of bars of nice soap.
Hot sauce. McCormick Bacon Flavored Bits*. Dark chocolate, if you have a fridge/freezer in Africa. A box of packets of your preferred artificial sweetener. Spice teabags. (I include these items mainly to stress the importance of bringing that one flavor or spice that you will really crave if you cannot get.) Forget about things like saltines or French bread or those delicious little nut-crackers. They will get stale faster than you can eat them in this climate, even if wrapped, sealed, and irradiated.
Retractable ball-point pens with clips on the actual pen, not on the detachable top. (See penlight discussion above.) One can buy pens like this in the cities, but out here in the country you can only find very cheap pens with a cap. The good things is they are cheap–10 shillings, about 10 cents–but they don’t last long, or they stain my clothing, and I lose them too fast. One cannot possibly bring too many of these–if you don’t use them all you can leave them as gifts.
Pencils with erasers. I am sure these are available somewhere… A couple of dozen is not unreasonable. Again, good gifts.
*Avocado sandwiches just are NOT the same without them.