Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Packouts

Heather at The Wandering Drays is hosting this week's State Department Blog Round Up on the very important topic of packing out.  For any State Department family, the packout is a reality of life every few years.  I've been in for just under two years and have already survived two packouts.  My favorite part is that the movers do everything once they arrive.  My least favorite part is that there's a phenomenal (unending??) amount of work to do to prepare for that eventuality.

I am by no means an expert preparer for packout; my strategy is to do as much as I can up until the day before, survey what is left hours before the packers come, cry a little, and then just say "screw it" and watch a movie.  This is probably why I have both times ended up with boxes of random stuff that really should just have been given/thrown away and not packed and moved thousands of miles.  I have to say that neither packout has had an in-person packout survey - the first time because they determined I lived too far away from anything for anyone to drive out there twice.  The second time was because my grandmother passed away unexpectedly, and I went to NJ for her funeral.  So I don't quite know what a packout survey accomplishes and/or whether it improves the moving experience.

My first packout, before A-100, was nervewracking to prepare for.  I was living at home at the time and needed three areas packed out - my bedroom, my storage/staging area in our barn, and my storage unit in a nearby town.  It was of course hot and humid in July.  It took most of the day just to get the bedroom/barn done.  Then I got in my car to lead the truck to the storage unit.  We got about a mile down the road, and the truck could go no farther.  Turns out, the truck had been parked on an angle in my driveway all day, which drained all the gasoline from one tank, and then when the truck needed to pull from that tank while going uphill, it stalled out.  So we had to sit and wait on another angle until the tanks stabilized.  Or at least that's what I think happened.  I really didn't quite understand the whole thing.  Anyway, an hour later, and we were underway!  Packout at the storage unit went quickly, and they were on their way.

About a week after A-100 ended and I still didn't have my UAB, I started getting worried.  So I called the moving people at State who told me I didn't have UAB.  Umm, yes I did.  I faxed them the inventory sheets to prove it.  Turns out they conveniently skipped the directions for those 250lbs saying "SHIP BY AIR - UNACCOMPANIED AIR BAGGAGE" in giant letters.  A week or two later and I had my UAB.  Only eight weeks after packing out.

Before my second packout, for post, I went to the storage area in Woodbridge and "accessed and segregated" my storage belongings.  The guys were really nice and let me open a few boxes which were unclearly marked (a hazard of packout!), which is not always the norm.  I put entirely too much into the HHE pile under the misguided idea that "I'll have plenty of room at my housing at post to be able to do a REAL access and segregation and purge of all this stuff."  We all know how that turned out.

My second packout was also incredibly stressful, but because of a combination of personal and professional stressors in the background, the death of my grandmother the week before high among them.  The packers arrived only a couple hours after I was expecting them and got right to work.  The packing crew was two very efficient and nice women.  From now on, I always want female packers.  Because these women, when packing up my kitchen, truly appreciated my things.  They lovingly unpacked my beloved Le Creuset French oven from its original box just to make sure I'd packed it correctly.  And then they oohed and ahhed over it and we talked about where to buy them cheaply.

They were done packing by about noon.  And then they disappeared.  And then they came back 2+ hours later.  And then the moving crew came in and started taking stuff out.  And then it started raining.  And then I realized that the moving crew had at least two other moves going on in the same Oakwood complex that day.  And they couldn't pack the trucks in the rain.  So they disappeared again.  And finally came back about 5pm.  I think they finished close to 7pm.  UGH.  Thankfully my friend and neighbor had promised we'd go for pho that night, so I had something to look forward to after the day of waiting.  And boy did that pho taste good!  Thanks L!

All my stuff made it to post safe and sound, so the packers did a great job.  No horror stories yet, knock on wood.  No trash or passports or checked baggage ending up in a shipping container.  No children or pets maimed in the process.  Though the kittens really did not like the movers being in the apartment.  They hid under the couch for hours afterward.

(Stop reading here if you want to end on a happy note.)

This post is going to end on a sad note because my packout almost a year ago today was the last day I spent with Hattie.  The next morning I brought her to the kennel to board for a week while I went home to NH, the plan being to reunite in Saudi.  That was the last time I saw her alive.  This week I've been super emotional over Hattie, for many reasons, including the upcoming anniversary of my arrival at post and her tragic death.  (And partly because I'm bidding and considering how to get my cats to post, not to mention trying to eliminate posts where the cats can't go.  Because I cannot go through this again.)

A year later and it's still as painful and horrifying and heartbreaking as it was then.  All the guilt and anger and sorrow and grief and frustration is simmering just below the surface.  I can look at pictures of her without losing it most of the time.  I can talk about her in passing, particularly if it's funny stories or memories.  I can even have some of her toys and things around (inherited by the cats).  But many times when I go to the airport (particularly driving past the cargo terminal) or talk/think about her final days and hours, I just lose it.  Thank goodness for my cats who are highly attuned to my emotions and, like now, always manage to find me for a cuddle.  But then there are the moments that take you by surprise, often inopportune - yesterday in the shuttle on the way home I found myself with tears streaming down my face upon realizing that almost one year has passed.  It doesn't seem possible.

And now that I've totally brought down the mood of this post, my apologies.  I meant originally to separate these into two posts, but they're so inextricably linked in my mind that it's hard to do.  So apologies for my emotional purge.  And thank you for reading.