Be Prepared


When I was a kid, I thought the scouting motto Be Prepared was excellent. My single mother had a lot of fears, and so I grew up being prepared for all sorts of eventualities: tornadoes, boredom, how to put out a kitchen fire with a box of Arm and Hammer baking soda, strangers with candy.

The downside of being prepared is that when you pack for three weeks in Zimbabwe to visit your husband’s family, this is what the suitcase situation looks like:


When I met him, there were a lot of shortages in Zimbabwe. Now, you can basically get what you need for a price, but on this, my second trip there, I’m still inclined to think I ought to pack entire boxes of Band-Aids, peanut butter crackers in bulk, and a lot of hats, even though I’m not a hat-wearing person. But you know, there’s all that sun. Also, my tiny stuffed turtle named ShellE, goes on all trips with me for photo ops and makes me feel guilty if she gets forgotten.  A set of cobalt blue prayer beads that I never really use have to go because I’m too superstitious now to leave them home. My carry-on alone is stuffed to the gills because I’ve imagined all sorts of eventualities for the 24 hour flying time and I want to be prepared for that too, even though I’ll basically be eating, sleeping, and watching B movies the whole time. (But what if we get stranded in Amsterdam for a night and need extra pairs of underwear, more reading material, and bonus peanut butter crackers?) Z, on the other hand, carries a green man-purse with a magazine, his passport, and three cough drops on most trips.

I remember how disappointed I felt when my Girl Scout troop leader explained that the motto “Be Prepared” was selected because the first letter of each word corresponded with the initials of scouting founder Baden Powell. First of all, I was annoyed because the Girl Scouts hadn’t bothered getting their own motto, and they were willing to take boy castoffs instead of using JGL for Juliette Gordon Low, the woman who got scouting for girls started in the US. More importantly, even when I was ten it seemed an arbitrary way to pick a motto. What if his name had been Xavier F. Allen? Would the motto be Xylophones for All? (Of course if they had gone with JGL, what would the motto have been? Just Get Lumber?)

It doesn’t matter. I’m as prepared as I can be, and we’re off. On my first trip to Zimbabwe not long after we got married I was hoping I’d fall in love with it for Z’s sake, but I didn’t. I loved seeing where he grew up, meeting his extended people, and my first zebra and giraffe sightings, but the land itself didn’t speak to me the way I imagined it would when I was in college and Bono was forever talking about it. But I’m open to new discoveries and allowing myself to love more than one spot on the globe.

3 responses »

  1. I’d never heard that about the “Be Prepared” motto! Too funny about the possibilities for a JGL version. Yeah, that might have been tricky. Ha.

    I was never in the Scouts but I am always overly prepared for trips, too. It killed me when Jake refused all but the absolute essentials for his college dorm. It did make moving him into it a lot easier than if I’d had my way, though! 🙂

    • Z’s mother famously put a tiny sewing kit into his carry-on bag when he left Zimbabwe for America as a first year college student. Z said, “That’s it. No more.” And then when he arrived at the airport, he discovered the seat of his pants had split, so he had to sit in the restroom and use the last thing his mother had insisted he have with him.

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