I’ve been in Kiribati now for almost 6 weeks and I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips, tricks and thoughts for some future sister (or elder) who might be serving here.
What to Bring
I would bring about 10 t-shirts. Yes, t-shirts. They’re easier to stock up on, pack and change during the day. All the pretty tops I brought, I never wear. You sweat so much during the day that you really wouldn’t want to wear a t-shirt two days in a row. I would recommend bringing a combination of plain and patterned t-shirts so you have variety.
Really you’ll only need about 6-8 skirts. I would recommend bringing skirts that are well below the knee (but not past mid-calf), made out of a semi-heavy fabric (it will stay down when the wind blows and is more durable) and skirts that you are able to sit down on the ground cross-legged with (during teaching appointments in people’s homes you may never sit on a chair). I wear each skirt for two days in a row because water is scarce and it cuts down on the amount of washing I have to do each week.
For exercise clothes, I would bring loose fitting clothes such as basketball shorts and t-shirts. Don’t bother bringing anything that clings to your skin no matter how cute you think it is. Kiribati is hot in general but when you’re moving around, playing sport and getting sweaty (sweaty-ER) on P-Days you’ll be grateful you brought loose fitting clothing.
Bring as many garments as you can! You won’t regret you did. I would recommend bringing at least 10 pairs. Some days you may have to change twice in the day and when you run out of garments, the experience is unpleasant. Also, in the MTC a few pairs of garments that I had left in the dryer to dry got stolen so make sure you have extra!
CROCS. CROCS, CROCS, CROCS, CROCS, CROCS. For everyday proselyting you’ll only need Crocs. They’re great! They are comfortable (you’ll get blisters though but that’s just because you walk so much), durable and dry easily when wet. I only brought one pair but bring as many as you can afford (I know they’re quite expensive sometimes). Why? The roads and footpaths here in Kiribati are mainly made out of gravel or dirt/dust. If you wear your pretty shoes they’ll get dirty, dusty and ruined in a day, maybe two. The great thing about Crocs is that you won’t really care if they get ruined. Also, bring some nice shoes for Church and for meetings (District and Zone Conferences). You may also want to get some comfortable jandals to walk around in every now and then.
Sunglasses! It’s so bright here. I wear my sunglasses everywhere we walk. They protect your eyes from the sun and are also great at protecting them from dust or dirt as you walk. Speaking of dust, if you can find them (I’m sure they sell them in outdoor adventure stores) buy some bandana things to cover your mouth and nose as you walk. I was sick for about a week from breathing in the dust. When I say sick, I mean I was coughing like crazy during the day but especially at night and because I was coughing I wasn’t sleeping. If you can’t find them, don’t worry. I just use a thin hand towel to cover my mouth and nose as I walk. Works just the same. Backpack. I am so grateful for the backpack my Mum bought me before I left. I brought a nice orange satchel with me but I never use it, not even for Church. A backpack is so essential. I use it to hold scriptures, shopping, food, anything and everything. First-Aid Supplies. When I say “first-aid supplies” what I’m really referring to are a few specific things – insect repellent, itchy cream, paracetamol/ibruprofen, fabric plasters (for blisters) and a head lice comb. Yes, a head lice comb. They’re everywhere and a head lice comb is an effective way to rid yourself of them. Tampons. Sorry ladies, no tampons here so if you use them, bring them.
The Thing You’ll Miss Most:
I’ve come to the most important thing of all to bring… CHOCOLATE! They don’t sell chocolate here. The HECK! It was a surprise for me when I arrived and found this out. At first I wasn’t bothered and even rejoiced because it would be one less thing to be tempted to eat but after about a week I was about ready to die. Chocolate is so good for the soul and when you’ve had a hard day it’s a nice treat to have as you plan and eat your sorrows away.
A Few Worries:
“Will I still be able to look beautiful?”
When I found out I was coming to Kiribati I didn’t know what to expect especially in terms of personal appearance. I was so used to always looking my best (or trying to) and I worried about what it might be like serving in a place where I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. As women we always want to look and feel beautiful and it’s important as authorised representatives of Jesus Christ that we do look our best. We should reflect the message that we carry. No matter where you serve you can always try your best to look your best. I still straighten my hair every few days, sometimes curling it. I still wear make-up (for everyday wear I only use a bronze eyeshadow and mascara because I sweat everything else off). Some things I no longer choose to do such as paint my fingernails simply because it’s time consuming and it’s easier to have them short and nail polish free. But I still take pride in my personal appearance and ensure that my clothing is clean, stylish and modest. Just because I want to look my best and feel beautiful as a woman doesn’t make me a bad missionary or unfocused at all. We are given an hour each day to prepare and I choose to do those things that will help me feel good about myself. Think about it… when you feel good about yourself you’re more likely to think positively and respond to difficulties with more resilience. When you don’t feel good about yourself your thoughts can sometimes drown out the still, small voice of the Spirit.
“I’m a clean freak. How will I survive?”
Yes. I am a clean freak. I love being clean. I like my home to be clean. I like everything organised and in its proper place. I love cleaning products and I love to clean. If you’re worried about being clean, don’t. You can still be clean. You can still and should always ensure that your home is clean for “cleanliness is next to godliness”. But bear in mind, you may have companions who aren’t as passionate about cleaning as you are. In those moments, you may have to teach them and help them develop good habits. Also remember that we all have different standards of cleanliness and just because yours are high, doesn’t mean that everyone will love it. Be prepared to compromise. In all things use the Enabling Power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to help you.
“Everyone’s telling me I’m going to come back different.”
I struggled with this a lot before I left. People would make comments about how I would come home different and more this or more that because of where I would be serving. In some senses they’re right. Serving in Kiribati you learn to appreciate those things that are of most importance and learn to let go of things that aren’t. Serving a mission anywhere comes with the consequence of change. You change each and every day but the change you make should always be positive. I have learnt that I can still change but I should also still keep those good habits that I had before serving a mission.