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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.

The Last Roll

The Last Roll

So, you know – hooray for consumables and the quality paper products made by the fine people at Cottonelle.

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