Since joining the Foreign Service, the most frequently asked question has been, “So what exactly does a diplomat do?” And while I’ve heard rumor of negotiating international treaties and preventing WWIII, all I can say for sure is that diplomats pack. They pack a lot.
Since September, I have been in a constant state of moving. The end goal was to gather my belongings in a single location so that the government movers need only make one stop. However, due to expiring apartment leases, an existing job, and a two-week trip to India, my belongings were instead scattered across the Eastern seaboard. I’ve moved out of two NYC apartments in just three months. I’ve bribed friends into driving carloads of boxes to my parents’ house. And I’ve attempted to sedate my mother as she watched her guest bedroom, my sister’s bedroom, and her garage become overrun by suitcases, plastic bins, and extra shoes.
Then there’s the buying. As there is no promise that Djibouti (or wherever I may end up) has a ready supply of home comforts, diplomats are instructed to bring these things with them. Consequently, I watched in horror as the BJs/Marshalls/WalMart cashiers rang up my industrial quantities of sugar, toilet paper, and shampoo. And toothbrushes, pasta, and Tupperware. And baking soda, new towels, and wrapping paper. How many cans of tomato paste should I bring? HOW MANY CANS?
And lastly, there’s the sorting. Diplomats are required to sort their belongings into three piles. Pile #1: the two suitcases you bring to D.C. for training. Pile #2: Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB), the 200 lbs of belongings that will be sent to you in D.C. and then packed up again and sent to your first post. Pile #3: Household Effects (HHE), the 18,000 lbs of belongings that you won’t see again until several months after you get to your first post. The trickiest thing about sorting is that you don’t know where your first post will be be or for how long you’ll be in D.C. So yes, pack both your parka and your bathing suit.
Yesterday was the biggest move of all. A large truck pulled up in front of my parents’ house and two gentlemen began assembling cardboard boxes the size of NYC apartments. But after giving me the grief I deserve for having multiple cheese knife sets, the movers took one look at my carefully sorted piles and said that their moving company forbids packing canned goods or liquids. MY TOMATO PASTE. So having read one too many blogs about packing in the Foreign Service and knowing the rules all too well, I called the State Department’s Transportation Office. With assurances that they’d resolve the issue, I went back to pacing the house, removing cats from cardboard boxes, and wondering what I was going to do with hundreds of pounds of unpacked canned goods. But wonder of wonders, no more than 20 minutes later, the movers got a call from their company’s owner saying to pack it all. I assume President Obama called and insisted I have tomato paste with me in Djibouti.
So six hours later, with the canned goods packed and all five cats accounted for, my belongings were driven off into the distance. And with the happy thought that I have several whole months before I need to pack up and move again, I promptly fell asleep at 8pm.