The money is meant for pot-scrubs,a frying pan and perhaps a liter or two of bleach.Canny volunteers might invest in an electric fan to see them through summer, or a stout pair of boots for winter, plus a potato-peeler, a towel or two, and a bedside light. I refer of course to the $200 that Peace Corps provides to each freshly minted volunteer as they move to their permanent two-year site. It is called settling-in money and I seem to have spent mine on a dress, a porcelain tea-set, and some window paints. I did buy a kettle –oh and let’s not forget the box of fridge magnets depicting six Armenian women in various states of national dress. On reflection these were a mistake as I don’t yet have a fridge, or anywhere it makes sense to plug in a kettle. Armenian power outlets are few and far between, and in my house, oddly, very high up on the wall. I also invested in some pastry forks and about 25 meters of upholstery fabric. (I neither bake nor sew). The worst of it is that I am already wondering how I can do without dish soap, a bath mat and light bulbs in order to squirrel away cash that will one day amount to a hand-made carpet from Nagorno-Karabakh?
Peace Corps volunteers are, by their nature, minimalist. Many have already traveled the world with little more than a box of matches and a Swiss Army knife and most will tell you about their plans to divest the little they do have at the end of their service, because they plan to return to the States via Myanmar, or Gabon or Paraguay. They never travel with more than they can comfortably carry, and are strangers to bubble wrap. The Peace Corps has distributed a survey, asking us to catalogue how we spent our stipend. The results will let them know if they need to adjust the amount next year, should it turn out that volunteers are suffering undue hardship. I think I may be an outlier. Probably best not to submit my shopping list in case I spoil things for everyone.