Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our 'cool gear' Top 20 list

Preparing for life in the 'bush' back in 2007, we amassed a lot of gear like a good set of tools, hiking sandals, tent and sleeping bags, water filters, rain-gear, sun-gear, rechargeable batteries and charger, first-aid kit, maps, mini-mag flashlights, etc. But over the last four years, we've grown to love another set of handy 'gear', and we wanted to share that with you, just for fun:

1) Ratchet-straps: we're always carrying something on the roof-rack of our truck. With these ratchet-straps, I never have to tie or untie a knot. Just attach the two hooks and ratchet it down tight. That load ain't goin' nowheres!

2) Bungee-cords: a new addition to our vehicle kit. These cords of different lengths (and colors!) stretch and twist into all contortions to latch things down tightly.

3) Heavy-duty tow-strap: if you follow this blog, you will know why I need to specify 'heavy-duty'; otherwise, the tow-strap is rendered useless. Picture this: trying to pull a lawn-mower with floss. It just doesn't work. Basic physics. Thanks to my father-in-law, I am now the proud owner of a massive tow-strap. So proud, I may not even take it out of the packaging.

4) Plastic 'totes': these boxes made by Sterilite and sold in Wal-marts and other department stores make the best luggage containers. They are mostly water and air-proof, lockable, and have handles and wheels. And they stack nicely. Moreover, they are about the perfect size for check-in baggage on airlines. They are so handy that sometimes we just throw our stuff into one instead of using a suitcase or bag!

5) Pressure cooker: who would have known that dry beans can be cooked in just 15 minutes in a pressure cooker as opposed to four hours on a standard stove? Not to mention how a pressure cooker can allow you to can (in glass jars) all kinds of foods for your pantry: green beans, carrots, tomatoes, ground beef and pork, bacon and ham, salsa, broccoli, etc.

6) The garlic twist: this handy little circular object from Lehman's Hardware (check online) crushes garlic or ginger into smithereens with a few quick turns of the wrist. Yummy!

7) French press: this one is not a surprise. As much as we love African tea, sometimes a little extra caffeine is needed to cut through the funk. And Uganda produces some great coffees.

8) Collapsible fruit-basket: living in a small hut like we do, we've got more room above us than around us. So this nice collapsible fruit-basket hangs from the bamboo roof as a series of metal baskets, smallest at the top, increasing in size as it descends. And since we always have some sort of produce, it's always full.

9) Wide-mouth Nalgenes: thank you to Kate Shugart for introducing this to us! We've used the standard small-mouth Nalgenes for years, but the wide-mouth ones are easier to clean inside and come with a splash guard (which really helps on our bumpy roads. Ask Amber!).

10) Head-lamps: friends from the NGO world turned us on to head-lamp flashlights. Why should spelunkers be the only people to work in the dark hands-free? Nowadays we don't go anywhere without our head-lamps. Get you some! After using them, 'normal' flashlights will seem like 'cave man' technology.

11) Air-horns: when we first came to Uganda, security was a real issue. In a society where getting a legal gun is extremely difficult and where having a gun at all could endanger your life, you can protect yourself by splitting the night's silence with a blast from a hand-held fog-horn. It's highly effective; trust me. We usually keep one by our bed, and our guards have used them countless times to deter nighttime robbers.

12) Travel pillows: anyone who has stayed at a Ugandan hotel should recognize the need for a pillow that isn't the size and texture of a gunny sack filled with sand. Our small travel pillows have often saved us from that terrible neck crick that comes from sleeping with your head at a right angle to your body.

13) Kindle: this electronic book might be old news in the States, but we got our first one just this year. Thank you, Doug & Lisa! For folks who are avid readers and travelers, this device is the perfect antidote to carting heavy books wherever you go.

14) External hard-drive: we've always had one, but we recently bumped up to 1 terabyte (which is probably wimpy by now). This little baby lets us carry around movies, TV shows, music, language recordings, podcasts, tons of photos, etc., in addition to backing up our computer drives.

15) Portable, battery-capable printer: this HP Deskjet 460 that we got from Amber's parents for Christmas 2007 has been a truly awesome part of our lives and work. It's small, portable (with a nice case smaller than a briefcase), and can run on battery power. The only other person I've ever seen with one was a Taco-Bell manager somewhere in the mid-west. You all are really missing out!

16) Ear-plugs: it sometimes seems that the universe is conspiring to keep us from sleeping. Dormice in the attic, dogs attacking each other, the wind playing with that one loose piece of tin roofing, the guards' radio too early in the morning, the emotionally needy pet dog howling at some ungodly hour, and always, the birds who kick in about 6 am. Sometimes you just need to shut it all out with two tiny foam inserts.

17) Self-setting mouse traps: these amazing inventions (from Lehman's) set with a simple squeezing of a lever. No more cringing as you wait for the trap to slam shut on your tender fingers and send the peanut-butter flying all over the place. Works well for dormice too, which is always a plus.

18) Flossers: goat meat (not to mention mango) in Africa is legendary for filling all the gaps in your teeth with gristle, but that's no reason to avoid it, right? Especially if you've got a handy-danday flosser in your pocket...and in your car...and behind your ear...and anywhere else you might need it.

19) Refrigerated cooler: Amber's aunt and uncle from Ohio introduced us to this amazing cooler that plugs into the cigarette lighter of your vehicle. Before, we used to buy meat in Kampala and try to make it home in one day or stay somewhere where they had refrigeration. But with this cooler, we can keep our meat and drinks frosty even as we drive!

20) Spyderco knife: besides just looking totally cool, this wicked folding knife with a partly serrated blade is always there in my right pocket for all my slicing and dicing needs, whether it's sawing through a rope, peeling a piece of cassava root, or cutting off the top of a plastic bottle of honey, my Spyderco is always there, like a loyal guard-dog.

So, that's it! Our 'cool gear' Top 20 list. I hope you enjoyed it and got some gift ideas for your loved ones who are living on the 'backside of beyond'.


The Reeds said...

I vote this the handiest post of the entire year!!

Jacob Reed said...

GREAT list! True in every regard. This list is applicable to all sorts of situations! Thanks for posting!

Mary said...

You are by far the coolest friends I have! No wonder you have such cool gear.

Notinthewild said...

Who's paying you for all these shout-outs?? Very persuasive--except for the Kindle--'won't be talked into a Kindle . . .

Martha Schmidt said...

We loved looking at Lehman's Hardware magazine. We bought many things from favorite...non electric waffle iron that you manually turn on the stove. When we bought our meats in Kampala our butcher would freeze the meat for us...we used the butcher on 'tank hill.' We carried the meat to Kaabong and placed in the freezer already frozen. Makes me exhausted thinking about how we used to live!