Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I Should Be Packing

We still don’t have travel orders. But if things go according to plan (go ahead and laugh when I say that, all you FS employees), we’ll be hopping on the freedom bird and winging our way out of here exactly ten weeks from today.

Ten weeks. Ten weekends. Ten weekends means 20 days to see everything we haven’t seen, buy everything we want to buy, eat everything we want to eat and toss everything we want to toss.

This last is important, because the State Department allots us a little over 7000 pounds of HHE. HHE stands for household effects, and it basically means the contents of your household, shipped by truck or slow boat. We’ll get a separate shipment of UAB, which is air freight. This will be somewhere between 500-1000 pounds, and this is everything you can’t live without to set up your household: pots and pans, sheets and towels, cookbooks, toys, spices, ipod, the entire contents of the utensil drawer… This smaller shipment usually arrives within a few weeks of arrival at post, and you’re expected to live without the rest of your stuff indefinitely. In the past, we’ve been pretty lucky and we’ve gotten our HHE relatively quickly, but you have to be prepared to live without it for months. I’ve even heard of cases where it’s been lost or stolen – gone forever off the back of a truck transiting Eastern Europe or something crazy. That’s why we pay a lot for transit insurance. Well, that and the fact that it’s pretty much guaranteed that something valuable will break along the way. We’ve lost Russian serving platters, grandfather clocks and even a crèche set that was passed down to us from Bart’s grandparents.

Anyway, back to tossing. We were scarily close to our 7000-pound limit when we moved here, and we’ve added a few choice items (like lamps, and, oh yeah, a BABY). So we need to pare down in order to ensure we’re within our limit. (Jill is apparently making the same calculations as she prepares to pack out of Chennai.)

This is the part of our wandering life that I hate. I am not an organized person, so the thought of tossing, and culling, and packing away, and reorganizing, gives me the shivers. I wander through the house throwing random things in a trash bag until it is full; then I toss it and move along with my life, feeling virtuous, but actually not any more organized. Fortunately, my husband is better at this than me. He went through the whole garage this weekend, figuring out what stays and what goes. At one point he said “We haven’t used this in six years – isn’t it time to toss it?” And I thought to myself “But if I’d known it was there, maybe I would’ve used it?”

No, this is not easy. But I remind myself: do I really want to be faced with an endless sea of boxes in Jordan, all of which I have to unpack and arrange in a new house? No. Definitely: no. And so we toss ruthlessly: Ainsley’s winter sweaters, my old work clothes, kids’ books, old CDs.

Today I dropped a gigantic pile o’ stuff at Roundabout, a charity that collects things like clothing and redistributes to the needy. So I’m feeling virtuous. But then I remember: only ten weeks until we move. Which means about eight until we pack out. Which means my work is far from done here.


Anonymous said... [Reply]

Oh, wow, Donna. Great, great post.

I can't even imagine - I would totally not even know where to start.

And the part about the items you've lost... or that have been broken... wow. Just - WOW. Those sound like heartbreaking losses indeed. I'm so sorry.

It really can start a great conversation: what to leave behind in storage? If something is very valuable to you (not just valuable money-wise, but valuable *to you*), then does is stay in US storage? Or do you take it and enjoy using it and just know that something dire may take place? Such difficult decisions to make...

Z. Marie said... [Reply]

Good luck getting travel orders in a timely manner. And if you do, please share the secret code that allowed it to happen.

Kristen said... [Reply]

As a wife and mom preparing for this new nomadic life with the F.S. these kind of posts are invaluable to me. I love hearing the thought process behind these decisions and it is soooo helpful to us rookies. I know it will be a process of many many learning experiences, but I really appreciate reading about your (and Jill's) experiences with the dreaded pack outs! Good luck "organizing"... Gulp! :)

LeesOnTheGo said... [Reply]

I'd like to sign up on the same "secret code" list Z. Marie is requesting access to!

During one pack out I estimated how many organizational decisions I had to make about each items. Keep/Toss/Donate/HHE/UAB/suitcase. Amazing how skilled we become over the years of downsizing as we go along.

Is your embassy one which hosts a spring tag sale? We've funded a few nice vacations from the tag sales we've had!

Hope you enjoy your last 10 weeks and do all that you want before shipping out.


KarenG said... [Reply]

Sounds crazy! what an adventure of a lifetime!

globalgal said... [Reply]

As I mentioned on the The Johnsons in China blog, I'm not a shipment expat, although I'd love to be. Every time I think about it however, I am reminded of the time we moved to Kuwait. There were about 30 families in our company and everyone's belongings arrived safely except for one. Their sea shipment had gone down with the ship in the Red Sea. Ever since then I've developed an irrational fear of that happening to me. Belongings are just things, but it does hurt to lose things sometimes.

Connie said... [Reply]

fyi - Amman is the only place that we've actually needed our UAB. Welcome kit is verrrrry limited (smallest I've ever tried to live off of) and while our UAB arrived almost instantly, it can take awhile for HHE (for some people, others get lucky). Our POV arrived fast. I didn't pack a good UAB selection, the lack of decent kitchen stuff was the toughest thing to deal with. Our UAB was mostly toys and such for the kids. Always be prepared :p

Jill said... [Reply]

Ten weeks... doesn't it feel GREAT to say "just" ten weeks?

Holy mother of ****.... why is it that they're always reinventing the wheel there when it comes to travel orders?

Sadly... the magic codeword for getting your orders in a timely manner is "Baghdad".

Our travel orders came rather quickly (once we figured out how to do the new eItinerary thingy which really needed step by step instructions). BUT of course they're wrong and already needed to be amended once. We've never had any less than 3 amendments to ours - and getting here we had 5.

Best of luck as you get ready for your transition. We DS spouses seriously need medals for our bravery during pack-outs. If I had a dollar for every time I clenched my teeth and furrowed my brows I'd be a rich woman!

Please. Write your own stuff.