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Ten years ago this month, I embarked on a crazy adventure.
I’d officially been in the Foreign Service for about a year, going through orientation, then consular training and political tradecraft, and finally Albanian language classes. Albania: my first overseas assignment. The adventure was about to begin.
It was a strange time. My emotions were all over the place. I was really excited, really looking forward to starting the “real” work of diplomacy. I was thrilled for my friends and colleagues, who were going to exotic locales and setting out on their own wild adventures. I was a little sad, too. Living in DC had been fun. I made some fantastic friends. When my sister moved back from Santiago, Chile, she moved here and we shared an apartment. And I was so scared. I mean, Albania?!? What the hell was I thinking? I distinctly remember saying exactly that to my sister: what the hell was I thinking? Let’s think about it: here I was, a young, single, African American woman heading off to an isolated, former communist country whose leader had closed the borders for decades. What would I think of them? What would they think of me? And why in the hell was I leaving the comforts and conveniences of the United States?
All valid questions. But my sister reminded me that I knew the answer: because this was my dream. I was going to go places and do things that most people never even think about, and of those that do – many find all kinds of reasons for why they can’t. “You’ll be fine,” she said. “You’ll have fun.”
She was right. I was fine. Still am. I did have fun. Still do. I met some wonderful people – Americans and Albanians – in Albania; I travelled all over that country and around eastern Europe. I also made a few trips to Turkey, Greece, and Italy. My sister even came to visit!
Since then I’ve served in Belize, Italy, and Washington, DC. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot. I picked up more friends along the way, took a few road trips, and snapped a lot of photos. Most importantly, I learned less is more when placing my consumables shipment order.
Funny story. When access to consumer goods is limited in a country, the U.S. government allows you to have a “consumables shipment.” Basically, you order what you need – food, paper products, cat litter, whatever – from the closest U.S. military commissary or grocery store and the USG ships it to your overseas location.
I waited until after I got to Albania to place my order. I wanted to see what was available on the local market. Now, I haven’t placed a consumables order since my first tour so things may have changed by now, but back then, you got a list – an Excel spreadsheet, as I recall – from the commissary, reviewed items available, and placed your order. I remember that spreadsheet. It was pages and pages and pages long when I printed it out. And whoever created it didn’t “wrap” the text in the individual cells, so a lot of the information was cut off. For example, I ordered several bags of what I thought were plain tortilla chips and ended up with the ones that have a hint of lime. (I really hate those).
The really funny thing was toilet paper. You see, toilet paper in Albania was pretty thin. One-ply. Everyone included toilet paper in their consumables shipment. So I ordered several cases of toilet paper – what I thought would be enough to get me through my two-year tour. But because some of the info on that spreadsheet was cut off, I didn’t know how many rolls of toilet paper were in a case. I ordered blindly. A few weeks later, my shipment arrived. Let’s just say that I haven’t bought toilet paper for 10 years. Not in Albania, not in Belize, not in Italy, and not in Washington, DC. This is a photo of the last roll in the last pack from the last case of the last carton of toilet paper from that shipment.
So, you know – hooray for consumables and the quality paper products made by the fine people at Cottonelle.