Tag Archives: pack-out

…Hindsight: Produce

If I were to do it all again, what would I make sure to bring to Dhaka? Many of these would be great at any hardship post, but they definitely would have made life here nicer in some ways. I’ll do these posts in a series, so check back for more. I’m starting with this one, because I am still hungry after last week’s post on cookbooks!

A Farm/Garden

You don’t have to create a Living Roof like this one at San Francisco’s National Academy of Sciences… container gardening is best.

Many people here have lovely roof decks perfect for making a rooftop garden. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great seeds available here. You’ll have to train your gardener, if you have one, on how to grow these plants, and some might not be able to handle the seasons, but many of them would do well. If I were coming here again, I’d get:

Food For Health Emergency Garden Seeds There’s enough in there to help you recover from an apocalypse, so there should be ample for a roof garden. Includes: Corn, Peas, Radish, Sweet OnionBeet, Tomato, Eggplant, Kohlrabi, SpinachCabbage, Swiss Chard, Romaine Lettuce, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Carrot, BroccoliJalapeno, PepperCucumberPole Bean*, ZucchiniCrookneck Summer Squash, Green Hubbard Squash, Spaghetti Squash. (Italics designate things available only seasonally for 1-2 months in Dhaka, and bold is not available at all. Many of these plants could be grown year round, if you’re willing to water them and improve their soil). *There is a long bean here, but it’s nothing like a green bean. It’s a lot tougher, for instance.

Assortment of Culinary Herbs Fresh Herbs are rare here, except for in early spring when Cilantro takes over the market. This assortment of seeds includes: Italian Parsley, Thyme, Cilantro, Sweet Basil, Dill Bouquet, Oregano, Sweet Marjoram, Chives, Summer Savory, Garlic Chives, Mustard and Culinary Sage

Lettuce is particularly hard to get here, especially if you want something other than the anemic green leaf lettuce that never gets bigger than 3″ or so. So, if you like salad, bring a lettuce assortment. A blogger friend has become the hero of the community for the lettuces she grew from a mesclun seed mix.

I personally have a tomato addiction, so I’d bring an assortment of heirloom tomato seeds too. The local tomato is a mealy Roma/plum tomato. It’s good for cooking in a sauce, but is usually rather repulsive raw. Those who are less of a tomato fiend may find it ok. I am terribly tomato picky though.

There are bugs (links to a study of the insects that affect farming in Bangladesh) and birds here, so you’ might want some kind of organic pesticide and netting. Netting and construction workers are available here, and one of our neighbors has a kind of greenhouse made of net to keep the birds out of their garden. There’s sun in abundance, however, so a glass or plastic greenhouse isn’t necessary, unless you really want stunning year round tomatoes.

This looks like the roof gardens I worked on in Berkeley, bucket planters and all.

The soil here is all delta silt clay, so you should bring some soil amendments to help those tender roots grow. The carrots available in the market are all stubby and wide because of the dense soil. The poor things can’t dig very deep in the silt-clay. Plants like runner beans or herbs would never make it without lightening up the soil. When the soil drys, it clumps and cracks, so you’ll want to bring a humus agent and/or some vermiculite to retain water and nutrients.

Some kind of low-chemical fertilizer would also be good, as the soil is not always very rich. The local produce is heavy with pesticide, fertilizer, and post-harvest chemicals, so it is a good idea to keep your own produce chemical free.

Both humus and fertilizer can be made by composting, and the Berkeleyite in me feels more than a bit guilty for not doing that here. I like a rolling composter for roof gardens. This one looks like the Death Star, for twice the fun! This one looks like a barrel of fun (groan!). The key to a rooftop composter is that it shouldn’t have to be completely composted and emptied before you add new material. Most of them have some kind of catchment system to allow access to the finished compost without having to pick out chunks of uncomposted stuff. Compost heaps aren’t very practical because of space and smell issues. A good composter should be odor free, even in Dhaka heat. Also, since your time here isn’t all that long, comparatively, you might want some compost kickstarter to get things going.

On many roofs, you can install a drip irrigation system. Our roof has a spigot in a convenient spot to help you with that. Alternatively, you can have your gardener water the plants every day with a hose. However, this would require training the gardener thoroughly, as these plants are not grown here, at all, and most gardeners aren’t really green thumbs, regardless of their job title. Ours killed a bromeliad, for example, a plant that’s pretty hard to kill.

Raising chickens is not unusual here, at least among the local population. I’m not sure if your landlord or GSO would approve of a chicken coop, but if you want to give it a try, get some chicken supplies before you come too. This coop is pricey, but stylish… a veritable chicken chalet!

Last, if you’re a novice to gardening, you might want some instruction before you begin. I haven’t read any of these, but they’re all about gardening after a disaster. They all seem to be helpful for a novice working in strange conditions and without access to a helpful local gardening center.

Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon (4.1 stars and 104 reviews on Amazon)

The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe (4.6 stars and 41 reviews)

Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 acre, by Brett L Markham (4.3 stars and 83 reviews)

Raising Chickens for Dummies, by Willis and Ludlow (4.9 stars and 120 reviews)

…HHE and a Xmas Tree!

It’s a quiet Saturday morning her in the Adventure house. Perhaps we have so much paper and cardboard lying around it’s like another layer of insulation has been added to our flat. And what does having a metric ton of cardboard and paper mean? It means our boat shipment (HHE) finally arrived, and along with it, everything we’ve been missing for the last three months is finally ours once again. Surprisingly, there was much less damage in the HHE than we expected, but I am missing somethings still. Hopefully they’ll turn up, there are some boxes that have yet to be opened.

Last week we went to a big dinner and party at the Ambassador’s house, which was topped off by a singalong around his giant Christmas tree. It was a week of embassy festivities. There was also a concert in the embassy itself, many of the performers were staffers, it was classic Christmas music, and accompanied by the occasional jig or two from an excited child. I also attended Mr. A’s section’s “Open House” in which staffers in other sections (or spouses) got a chance to tour his office area, and see what they do in there. There were some fun interactive activities, some presentations and a bunch of cookie displays to keep us well fed as we followed the tour.

I also picked up my first paycheck from subbing at the American School. It’s in the local currency, so I’ll have to take it to a local bank to cash it. However, it’s recommended that all bank visits take place via a car, rather than walking, so I’ll have to wait until next week. Why? Because our payment finally cleared on the car we bought (third time’s the charm), and we can pick it up early next week.

However, all of these events were overshadowed by the knowledge that our possessions were in the city and had cleared customs. For various reasons, they couldn’t be delivered until the end of the week, but what a day of fun that was!

The truck arrives

We had 4 crates of stuff. That wouldn’t be much if we’d shipped furniture, but that’s mostly “boxes.” A whole lotta boxes. The pile below is most of the kitchen stuff, but we found random kitchen things in lots of other boxes. For example, the box of utensils also had the Bocce set, but nothing else, and was labeled “Small boxes with photos.” Uh? What?

Just after the movers left, our smallest pile of boxes. There are about 3 times as many boxes in 2 other rooms, and a big pile mysteriously labeled "books" in the office.

That was true of many of our boxes. There were about 10 boxes labeled “books” which contained at most one book, and usually none. The books were labeled clothes, or games…. Shoes were labeled clothes, etc. However, it’s understandable, given that almost all of our stuff was holed up in a single little room in a giant pile of doom when the packers arrived.

Got Milk? Need glasses?

However, the priority for me was the Christmas tree. So, even though we hadn’t found the silverware, or even cleared a path to the door, we cleared a space in the perfect corner and set up our tree. It was harder to arrange than we thought a fake tree would be. It’s our first fake tree, though I’ve had some mini trees and decorated a few fake trees for work and such. However, we think the results are worth the effort, and thank our upstairs neighbors for coming down to help us put all the hundred or so ornaments on.

Your classic reflecting tree shot

So, in sum, we’ve had a week of festivities, opening boxes and big happiness, and it isn’t even Christmas yet. I hear that a lot of the folks back home are knee deep in snow, but we’re still enjoying the “chilly” high 70 and low 80 degree days. Brr, where’s my jacket?


We received our UAB (air shipment) late last week, just in time for the weekend, and just in time for this week’s Round Up theme “I wish I’d put… in my UAB,” hosted this week by Jill at Run 2 New Places .

On Monday, they (that mysterious bureaucratic “they”) hinted that our shipment was in the country, and we might get it later in the week, but we didn’t hold out much hope. We’d been told the week before that a part of our HHE (boat shipment) had arrived as well, but that was later corrected to say it had arrived _near_ the port, more or less, and may be on the ground, or the boat, or neither.

So, when they called Thursday morning it was with some surprise that they offered to deliver before noon that day, and 45 minutes later they arrived at our door, bearing 4 large boxes labeled “Unknown Sender.” My housekeeper and I immediately tore in to the pile (after signing all the delivery documents, of course, trying to remember to write “subject to inspection” on each copy). We didn’t have any scissors (they were in one of the boxes), so we used a handy knife from the Welcome Kit. Actually, we used a few, since some are so dull they can’t even cut through package tape. 🙂

The boxes

When the boxes were packed, we piled up what we thought would weigh 450 pounds, once packed. But, I guess they use less packing material than we’d estimated, because we only had about 200 pounds in the pile, even including our “back up” pile, but most of the rest of the house was already pretty thoroughly packed. So I dashed around adding things in, crazy things, some of them.

Now that I am here, I regret not including the paper copy of my dissertation (it would be a lot easier to finish the revisions with a paper copy in front of me). But, that’s my only regret, and I did include the printer, but no paper or ink….

I wish I had included…
1. more hangars
2. something colorful for the bedroom and living room (I included a beige comforter, it matches, but EVERYTHING is beige, blegh). A cheerful pillowcase like this blogger‘s would do a lot for making this place feel homier.
3. A drying rack for my clothes (the humidity prevents the dryer from fully drying everything)
4. Trashcan liners, apparently the grocery store bags I used to use are illegal here, and bin liners are terribly expensive. It’s probably futile anyway, since the trash is immediately opened for “recycling” once it makes it downstairs, but the bin is gross without it.
5. Something VERY fancy to wear, Mr. A packed his tux. The fanciest thing I have is a cotton skirt. And, yes, we’re going to a ball in November. Figures.
6. And, last I wish I’d packed something inside the three food storage containers I sent. They arrived completely cracked, and therefore useless at keeping the bugs out of the rice. 😦 So disappointing. I kept the lids, hoping the ones in my HHE are ok). The movers did not do a good job of packing the UAB, it seemed good at the time, but most things were merely wrapped in one layer of paper and loosely laid in the box. When they arrived here, they were 30-50% full of air, rather than our stuff or paper. Everything that might crack or break, did. Thankfully we didn’t pack too much breakable stuff, and the nice stuff was in its original packages or packed especially by us.

What we’re happy we included:
1. Some extra (and very lightweight) dishes, now we can have people over, or eat more than once a day without doing dishes!
2. Hostess gifts (some little thank you items we’ll be needing as early as this week)
3. A sharp knife.
4. the Wii and a variety of party and solo games
5. Laundry “sheets” (those things from Purex that are all-in-one, we brought some in our baggage too, I’d probably never use them at home, but they were very portable.)
6. A simple picture cookbook for our housekeeper to get ideas from, tonight we’re having orange-teriyaki chicken with spinach and rice, thanks to the “3 and 4 Ingredient Cookbook.”

What I probably didn’t need:
Every stitch of clothing I own (other than my snow clothes), as my housekeeper does laundry _every_ day, whether it needs it or not.

What was exciting though, was the boxes themselves. If only I were 5 years old, or had a 5 year old nearby. These boxes are 5 layers thick, and very sturdy. They’d have been ideal play houses, pretend kitchens, sand sleds, phantom tollbooths, or something…. instead they are being turned into paper.

p.s. due to popular demand, I’ll be posting about our housekeeper and local clothing customs in coming weeks, if you have questions about our life in Dhaka, let me know by leaving a comment and I’ll blog about it.

…broken glass

You knew it had to happen.

The moving coordinator asked me to unpack all our wedding glasses, dishes and breakables so that the movers could repack it all for the move. I laid them all carefully on the dining room table, which is currently pushed up against the wall. Every was just peachy, until I decided I needed just a little bit more room to fit something else, and promptly broke one of our new glasses. Figures. Unpack them to keep them safe. Right.


Luckily I didn’t injure myself like I did in college. That time, I was just moving into a new dorm room and pushed one of the big heavy pieces of furniture towards another wall. Underneath was a sneaky surprise–a whole bunch of broken glass. I was in bare feet and stepped right onto it. Yelping, I had to hop on one leg down to the bathroom, so that I could run some water over it to see well enough to remove all the shards. What a mess that was.

No injuries today, the glass broke into infinitesimal pieces, though, so who knows what may lurk down on the carpet still.

In other news, we had dinner last night with one of the officers at Mr. A’s future post. She gave us the run down on current weather, the situation in the local markets, how to get stuff tailored, and the kinds of places people tend to congregate at. It was at a Thai restaurant in the Courthouse area of Arlington, and I had a Thai dish I’d never had before, a crispy shrimp in a very light chili-fish sauce. I loved it.

Our plans for the rest of the week? Eating the strange combinations of foods left in the kitchen (sweet potato fries, green beans, taco seasoning, bread, shrimp, jerk sauce, oatmeal, beans….) is first on the list, but we’re also planning to hit up a few of our favorite restaurants and sights before we leave too. On Saturday we’ll definitely be going to the National Museum of American History because I really want to see Julia Child’s kitchen. It wasn’t here when I lived here last, and I really enjoyed reading her autobiography of her life before the show, so I am really looking forward to going. Besides that, the day is open, perhaps we’ll go to some other museums?


It’s countdown time:

36 hours until the movers come
6 days until we head to the airport
9 or 10 days until we’re in Cairo depending on how you look at the time zone difference (seems like a long flight, but we’re really making a stop on the way!)
and 2.5 weeks until we’re in Dhaka.

I wonder how long it will take our air baggage to get there, and our boat shipment.

We weighed out everything we’d planed for the air shipment yesterday, and found we’d used less than half our allowance. So we added a bunch of stuff that we weren’t desperate to have, but we thought we might like. Any suggestions for additional stuff we might like?


In our whirlwind last few weeks of packing, shipping, selling and buying, we took some time last week to vacation with the family, parts of both our families actually. We had my relatives and Mr. A’s relatives, but no one brought any pets, not even any Corgis. (a recent theme in our lives)
Governor's Palace
Williamsburg was lovely, the weather was nice, the amusement parks, boats, walks and pools were all wonderful and fun. I had two of the best “tours” of my touristic life (I highly recommend the Williamsburg Winery tour, my best winery tour ever), and I got to spend a lot of quality time with the in-laws.

Of course, I spent the whole week forgetting about the real life pile o’stuff awaiting me back in our apartment, and arrived back slightly unenthused to finish it all. Yet, the sorting must go on. This week, I’ve taken 4 bags of clothes, books and random stuff to the thrift store, and have started a new pile of stuff to go. I’ve sold my car (a MINI, to a wonderful couple who I am sure will get as much fun from it as I did). I’ve seen some friends and bought a ton of toilet paper (and then heard I don’t really need it), and arranged and weighed my honeymoon bags. Until next week when we take all the stuff from the cupboards and set it out for the movers to pack, I feel mostly done with the household chores. Now for the fiddly little things that I always leave until the last minute.

…Pre-pack Audits

The packing company representative visited our house yesterday to eyeball all our stuff and give us a time estimate for how long it will take to box up. After a few minutes of Q & A and some scribbling on a form, he announced: 3500 pounds and 2 days of moving. yikes. We are pretty sure he is overestimating our stuff, as a significant portion of our “pile” is empty boxes that we’ve been saving for the move (i.e. the TV box, the globe’s box, etc.).

His advice? Take everything that is breakable out of the boxes you might have it currently stored in so that it can be repacked, even if they are the original boxes. Thus, our myriad wedding glasses and dishes need to be repacked.

He also, as many have mentioned, reminded us to put our packed (for the trip) luggage into a closed closet, or even in the car, to keep it from going into the crate.  He also suggested putting the UAB (air shipment) into a different room, so that it could be packed by weight there, and not accidentally get mixed up with the HHE (boat shipment).

We have about 450 pounds for our air freight, and he said that the sturdy boxes they use to pack it in weigh about 12 pounds each.

This morning I saw another FS family getting packed out of our building, and saw the guys loading up the wooden crates. The crates were inside a large moving truck, and were about the size of a standard bathroom. They were lined with polyethylene and tightly packed. They were puzzling out the best way to arrange the remaining non-square bits (a bike, some skinny long things, and a weird spherical object, all of which were wrapped in 3″ of bubble and brown kraft paper) when I walked by.

For us, he estimated two crates for the boat shipment, which is not a full container. This company prefers to pack the crates on site here, and then wait until a container is available before bringing the crates to the dock to load into the container. Apparently, the usual method before was to bring a truck full of boxes to the dock to await a boat, but a lot of people were loosing their possessions to water damage and loss. At the docks, they just throw a tarp over stuff if it looks like rain.

I’ve read a couple of other blogs recently which describe moving losses, so I hope we’re not disappointed when our stuff arrives in Dhaka.

…Welcome Kits

The “Welcome Kit” is a set of basic kitchen and household items loaned to incoming residents at post that is supposed to tide us over until our HHE (i.e. major containerized shipment) arrives. At some posts, you only get to keep your welcome kit until your UAB (i.e. smaller airplane-routed shipment) arrives. Luckily, in Dhaka, we don’t have to worry about packing some lightweight plates, sheets and pans in our UAB. We did get a picnic set that weighs less than 5 pounds for just such a purpose, but we’re not going to need it this time around.
On several of the other FS (foreign service) blogs recently, there has been chatter about the contents of the Welcome Kit. Because it is the summer transition-time (most people move in the summer so as to coordinate school schedules and the like), many people are encountering the diversity of welcome kits at different posts. One FS spouse in Mexico was sorely tried when he discovered that they don’t include coffeemakers in the post welcome kit. Our Dhaka post has a coffeemaker, but of course, neither Mr. A nor I drink coffee.

What else is included that we won’t need? It seems like the Dhaka welcome kit would be great to provision a housewife in the 1960s. There are “chicken fryer” pans, meat roasters, several pie tins, loaf pans, flour sifters, egg beaters, sugar bowls and creamer pots. Thankfully, the kit appears to come in “(6) large plastic box(es), with lid,” so we’ll be able to store those items away until we need to return them.

What does it have that we use? Frying pans! The list suggests that we’ll have 4 frying pans, but only 2 saucepans. There is no indication of a pot big enough to boil pasta or make up a passel of soup, however. We’ll definitely use the sheets and towels, and the potholder. I anticipate the can opener and mosquito net will also get a lot of use. Not so sure about the serving fork, though.

If I were going to make up a welcome kit, what would I include? I’d probably want to have a wok, a citrus reamer (I have an obsession with them!), a rice cooker, MICROWAVE, fan, chopsticks, wineglasses, more hangars, pillows and a hot water kettle. So… guess what’s going in the air shipment, well, except for the microwave and glass. So, now to think about what should go in the other 400 pounds.

What would you want in a welcome kit?

…inventories and stuff

Just some scattered “feelings” about the mountain of stuff that we’ve got piled up for pack-out. I know it’s the second time I’ve talked about it, but it’s a lot of stuff!

We were lucky enough to get married just before shipping out to our first post, so we planned our wedding registry around the move. The strange thing has been living here in Oakwood, with all these new gadgets and tools, but unable to use them because there’s either no room in the tiny kitchen, or we don’t want to take the thing out of its original packaging before we send it in the HHE. And, really the Oakwood has most of what we need, it’s just… of less than desirable quality.

Now, however, we’re on our last few weeks, and the stuff is starting to get more insistent. After all, we now own a two years supply of all sorts of toiletries, and some essential food items…. plus, a stock of all sorts of things that people at post have requested we bring for them (exercise equipment, laundry detergent, food, etc.).

We’re also planning our honeymoon trip, on which we’re limited to 40 lbs each, and will be on the way to post, so our initial days in post we’ll have only limited stuff. It’s kinda hard to decide what to bring. Do Mr. A’s suits really need to come on the honeymoon (in Egypt!), because he might need them in those first days at post? Should I bring some sheets and pillows? etc.