Packing to live in a country to which you’ve never even traveled is a stressful thing. Especially if you’re a bad packer, like myself. I once packed for a work trip to Vegas in the dead of a DC winter. When I arrived in 90-degree Sin City, I realized I had packed all wool and boots and not a single slotty dress to wear while gambling.
I won’t get deep in to the logistics of packing for a State Department post, because I’ve only done this once and I don’t know if I’ll every quite understand the complicated interplay of allowable weight and what gets sent where when. Alls I know is most of my stuff is sweating in a storage box somewhere patiently waiting to arrive in Madrid in 2014. Packing was a confusing time because I had a lot on my plate then, what with planning a wedding and buying a new “So Yemen” wardrobe.
When the movers came to my apartment in DC, all of my possessions were divided in to four piles. One pile was what I’d pack in my suitcases and take with me to Yemen. A few days before we departed for our post, Mr.YemenEm and I had a wedding to attend (our own) in Michigan, so my wedding dress, shoes, cute wedding weekend outfits, a bathing suit, etc. were in this pile, along with a few weeks of modest, drapey outfits for work in Yemen. This means I have my wedding dress in Yemen. It is filthy and balled up in a bag in our hotelpartment.
The second pile was labeled “Unaccompanied Air Baggage,” and this is stuff that would arrive in Yemen about a month after I did. It’s kind of hard to think about the things you could totally do without seeing for exactly four weeks. Items in this pile included, oddly, my fondue pot, some extra shoes, and totally random shit what when I unpacked, I realized I must have been in a state the day I was packing because there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to any of it.
Then there was “HHE” pile, which would arrive much later, maybe months later. I think I threw more clothes in this pile, more random stuff, and I probably would have thrown Mr.YemenEm’s cats in here if he hadn’t stopped me.
Then there was the “consumables” pile. This included anything that would be used up while in Yemen, including mouthwash, body lotion, Trader Joe’s entire nut and soup aisle, those kinds of things. A happy, happy day it was when my consumables arrived because you don’t know how much Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup plays a role in your life until it’s gone. Also, what does Trader Joe’s DO to it’s raisons? Inject them with moisture and RGH (raison growth hormone?) The dry, grainy, piddly little raisons here in Yemen are like mummies of Trader Joe’s raisons.
Anyways, I know that hearing about someone else’s packing is only slightly less fun than unpacking your own suitcase after a trip to a humid place. But, in case any folks are reading who’d like to know what to bring to a post such as Yemen, so here are the top three categories of things that have served me well here:
Cooking Tools: I sort of wish I’d shipped in my whole kitchen – the Le Cruesets, all the sharp knives, all my electronics and gadgets. I keep picking up things at the grocery stores here that I probably already have at home – such as an immersion blender, which is the coolest thing ever. Made a creamy mushroom sauce to top eggplant omelets last week. It was delicious and sticking an electric wand into a hot pot and turning the contents smooth is super satisfying. And our Breville espresso machine in our room is the best thing we own and make our mornings about 400% better. Also, I’ve made eggs with the steamer wand and I won’t shut up about it.
Things with which to entertain: When you think of a diplomat’s wife entertaining, you might picture a lady in a prim 1950s dress teetering on beige pumps, fussing over the pigs in a blanket and ordering her help to “Make sure no one has an empty martini glass, especially the Ambassador!” We are not so high on the totem pole as all that, and that is perfectly fine. Because the parties we most enjoy are crammed into our hotelpartment, where the drinks are flowing, and we’re all saying things we would never want any high-ups to hear. Anyways, we packed lots of glasses (most of which have disappeared, natch), a little hutch we turned in to a bar, cheese boards, and little cheese knives, and have made good use of them all. And board games. Lots of board games. Not surprisingly, many of the diplomats here revel in geeking out over a game of simulated world domination and some game about building trains, snooooze. I prefer games of a word variety such as Scattegories, Balderdash, and the quick-thinking party classic Catchphrase. I am also really enjoying a totally inappropriate, hilarious game called Cards Against Humanity which is like Apples to Apples for foul-mouthed adults. Or, as it bills itself “The Party Game for Horrible People.”
Food!: As I’ve mentioned, I’ve found the food in Yemen to be just okay. We’re at the mercy of whatever the hotel chef cooks, which included a vegetarian quiche the other night that was clearly lasagna, but the Yemeni waiter told me, “No ma’am, that is definitely quiche” while I had a sauce-covered lasagne noodle on my fork. Meanwhile, food outside of our hotel is not the most vegetarian-friendly (and generally is pretty one note and consists of rice, meat or fish, and vegetables). Nuts and raisons from the grocery store are not great, so I was happy I packed lots of those. In addition, you can’t find good chocolate here, so we shipped in our own supply.
I wish I would have brought more TV series box sets. We have complete box set of The Wire here, but I’m stuck in Season 4. I have watched enough, however, to liken a feline territorial dispute by the pool to be straight up Marlo vs. Stringer/Avon (Spoiler Alert: If Stringer hadn’t died and Avon hadn’t gone to jail). There are two likable, good-looking cats who rule the pool but some evil one-eyed cat with no redeeming qualities has decided to intrude on their turf. He is nothing but a no-good bully but I can see the other cats taking his side merely because they feel they have no choice.
Also, more books would be nice, because the selection of reading material in the “community liaison officer” (or CLO in Statey parlance) is half Tom Clancy and half bodice rippers and 100% stuff I’d only read if I stuffed them into the hollowed-out shell of a respectable book like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.