Sunday, November 8, 2009


Off on a mission! It can be a beguiling call for friars. Last week one of my brothers was off on a mission, and I could hear him packing, rummaging through his closets in the room next to mine. It made me think about my attitudes towards packing. I clicked on the Lonely Planet website and found there a long correspondence about packing. I've certainly had to struggle with the all-or-nothing syndrome. Fortunately I have had plenty of opportunity to work out what I might need for a typical 6 month trip.

Today, ruthless is my byword for packing. How many clothes can I wear in a day? How many climate zones will I be traveling through?

The first things into my suitcase are my Franciscan habit, sandals, Bible, Prayer Book, Big Book, running shoes, shorts and athletic socks. Then I try to determine how many climate zones I'll be traveling through. Tropics only is easy: swim trunks, flip-flops, a pair of shorts, three t-shirts, three boxer shorts. If the trip includes time in cold weather climates (including Papua New Guinea Highlands or African mountainous regions) I throw in a pair of long pants, a light wool sweater and a windbreaker (or set them aside to wear on the plane). If I'm crossing too many climate zones, I simply rely on the kindness of brothers, who are usually only too happy to loan me a sweater, scarf, gloves and boots. Admittedly I probably look like a refugee, but perhaps that's a virtue in a friar.

Next I take a tiny gray nylon pouch and put into it my stash of anti-malaria meds, a small tube of antibiotic ointment and a dozen band-aids, anti-fungal cream, Pepto-bismal tablets, a small bottle of Aleve, a matchbox size sewing kit with a needle and several snarls of cotton thread (I'm always making spastic attempts to fix buttons, buckles, tears in my clothing and luggage), a pair of finger and toe nail clippers, tweezers and a nail file. Some water purifying tablets (Which make the water TASTE like poison). In another small bag I put a cake of soap in a plastic box, toothbrush, hairbrush, tooth paste, three disposable razors, two small bottles of shampoo, deodorant stick, and a small stick of shaving soap--no aerosol or gels, which have made sticky messes in my suitcase before. Perhaps my most idiosyncratic thing is a long back brush, which I take with me everywhere. It always causes comments, too. I'm sure they'd really like to say something about the naked whiteman in the river, but instead make a joke about my back brush. Go figure.

In my backpack I put my cell phone and charger, camera, Mini laptop computer, a set of adapters, a plastic check file which I use for all essential information I might need if my computer crashed or got stolen--address lists, bank account information, ticket stubs and receipts which I collect for accounting purposes. I have a flashlight, travel clock, sunscreen, sunglasses and hat, a pair of cotton work gloves (weeding, pruning, working with machete, grating coconuts---I wear them often!). I hate things that stick in my ears, and I never really got reliant on music, so no i-pod or anything like that.

I carry a novel at all times, to prevent madness. I leave them wherever I go, taking up a new one as soon as possible.

The goal is to be able to hump my own luggage long distances over rough trails if necessary. Most of the time I can wheel it around easily (hence my reluctance to use a backpack exclusively), but there is always the time when everything must be carried. The temptation then of course is to pitch everything overboard like the early settlers of the American West, heaving things from the back of their rickety Conestoga wagons. If it is a side trip, and I know I'll be coming back through "town," I do leave almost everything behind--who needs a computer when there is no electricity?

I suppose I could go with the Biblical guidelines: "do not carry any gold or silver or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar's bag for the journey or a spare shirt or shoes or a walking stick. (Matt. 10:9-10)" But that would be uncharacteristically literalistic of me. Or perhaps I haven't fully "let go and let God;" but I fear to travel with less would be, for me, spiritual pride. I won't get into heaven on the size of my suitcase.

1 comment:

MikeF said...

"I carry a novel at all times, to prevent madness."

Marvellous! That ought to go in some collection somewhere - deserves to become a famous quote...