A Quiet-ish January

The day before yesterday marked eight months since I arrived in Tashkent, which technically means that my tour here is one-third complete. (The obvious question that comes to mind is When are you leaving and where do you go next? I am slated to be in Tashkent until May 2017, and should find out my next posting in a few months.)

The time here has passed quickly, while at the same time somehow being so full that it feels long and weighted in retrospect, but not in a bad way. I mark days by how I experience them: busy and productive, or low-energy and quiet. Accomplishments occur in both scenarios.

This month I’ve worked hard at the embassy, and I’ve gone out several times with my husband – to brunch, to dinner, to a diplomatic reception in which I was one of the guests of honor, to the Tashkent Zoo. It’s been a mild winter with little snow. I also found a lady (through a recommendation from one of my local colleagues) who can do my nails basically the way I had them done in the States. Jubilation! Two weeks later they still look great.

The truth is that I am busy, but I spend a lot of quiet time too. A lot of days if I don’t have to be anywhere at a specific time, I just stay horizontal. Perhaps it is the introvert’s attempt at re-balancing after spending five hours a day conducting visa interviews in Russian.

I don’t feel guilty for the days at home in which I do nothing, watching movies in bed, or awaking with a start in a dark room to realize I’ve slept all afternoon. I don’t think anyone who knows me could possibly consider me anything less than a very highly-functioning person. But some days, especially when my hip joints and feet are aching, I can’t even be arsed to walk two flights down to the basement and put a load of laundry in. Netflix calls my name instead!

Other times, like Sunday of last holiday weekend, I spent literally ten hours in a row cleaning and re-organizing areas of the house with my husband, and then I collapsed and watched films until Tuesday morning when we had to go to work. My arthritis has been acting up lately, making my flannel sheets and my memory foam mattress that I bought in 2006 my dear friends.

Energy conservation: it’s for more than just your home’s heating costs in winter.

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Last night I left work in a timely manner, not just because it was Friday, but also because I was expecting a consumables delivery at home.

I’ve mentioned in the past that a Tashkent posting comes with a 2,500 lb. consumables allowance. Consumables are things that can be “used up”, as opposed to “worn out”. (Think motor oil vs. car tires.)

Common items diplomats and military families put in their consumables shipments are toilet paper, laundry and dish detergent, non-perishable groceries and staples, toiletries, household cleaners, soda and alcohol. I suppose diapers and baby food would also be biggies for some folks.

I didn’t fully realize how great a consumables entitlement was (not all postings garner one) until I came here and saw how little is actually available on the local market. Sitting in the U.S. it seemed dumb to me to ship a year’s worth of toilet paper and laundry detergent across the world. But after seeing the outrageous prices and dubious availability and quality of those items here, I will never say that again. (And for the record, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer I spent two years wiping with pink toilet paper the consistency of a paper lunch bag, and had most everything stolen from the pitifully small amount of packages I ever expected, so I’ve paid some dues. Not to mention that I went into my volunteer experience expecting and wanting to live at the local standard, where here in many ways I’m replicating and even bettering my standard of living from what I had in the States.)

A consumables allowance in Tashkent is also awesome because we don’t have APO/DPO access. All of our mail comes through the diplomatic pouch. It comes in on Tuesdays, and goes out on Fridays, and the turnaround can be as long as 3-4 weeks. I order things – from Macys, from drugstores, etc. but it takes forever to get here. I’m still waiting for an account credit from The Limited for a purple jacket I ordered last November and had to return. Luckily I’m like a titanium card holder, LOL.

The major catch with the pouch is that you can’t send more than 16 fluid oz. through at a time. So ordering liters of shampoo, laundry detergent, a case of beer (ha ha)… you can’t. You also can’t mail anything flammable, like nail polish or aerosols. So you really want to send these things, if needed, as part of your consumables, household effects (HHE) or unaccompanied air baggage (UAB) shipments.

You can also count on being able to get various items in the commissary, right on the embassy grounds, but the mark-up can get expensive. At our post, the commissary also places a twice-yearly order on frozen goods from Ramstein Air Force Base (AFB) in Germany, which is how last fall we got Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, frozen margarita mix, cheese, sliced lunch meat, burrito wraps, bacon, a Christmas ham and more.

When I packed out of VA to come here last May, my husband and I put a few months’ worth of consumables in our UAB and HHE, where we had a lot of available poundage, and elected to save our whole consumables allowance for when we were here. The catch with that is that we have to place all consumables orders within a year of my arrival at post, or we lose the entitlement.

So a couple of months ago, we sat down and filled out our consumables spreadsheet. A few weeks later I paid a giant invoice from Antwerp. And yesterday, the first half of our items was delivered. I watched the shippers pry the nails from the sealed crate in my driveway with my own eyes – no Customs inspection!

Because my husband was out attending an evening function, and I was feeling motivated, I unpacked several hundred pounds of items against an inventory list myself and put them away, almost skipping around the house with glee. Nothing was missing, or broken. I made myself a pitcher of margaritas with the newly arrived tequila and listed to music on headphones as I worked. It felt even better that my husband had reorganized our giant basement pantry room last weekend in order to absorb his own recently-arrived HHE. We probably have around 1,700 lbs of consumables allowance left, which frankly, for two people, is probably more than we need. We don’t have to use it all, but if we want stuff, and can pay for it, magic happens. We’ll put in our last order in April just to be within the one year window, and anything we don’t consume before heading out we’ll sell or store for our next post.

Last night I posted a picture of cases of beer, wine and liquor on Facebook and my older stepbrother teased me that if he wanted to go to Costco right then, he could. It made me laugh because that’s kind of the point. It’s not that I’m so obsessed with “stuff”. If I have two dozen cases of beer and wine in my basement, awesome. If not, I’ll live. I like the challenge of getting hard-to-get things. When I open an Amazon package with six sheaths of cotton rounds, or a drugstore.com box of my favorite deodorant, or a lipstick I’m down to my last two of, I feel like I won. I tuck them onto our basement shelves, making mental notes of other inventory needs we might expect a couple months out. I never before was a person who felt satisfied by the acquisition of material things, so I think this is more of a “problem-solving” win, a pat on the back for avoiding the inconvenience of the dreaded failure to plan, a chief irritant for me.

There’s a satisfaction in the careful anticipation and storage of items that I can use when I need them, carefully, one at a time just like I would at home. When I can just get in my car and rock over to Aveda or the MAC store, well, where’s the fun in that?! Everyone can do that, pending availability of funds, no planning required.

For this confluence of funds and access I feel grateful, especially knowing how little I really need to be happy and how well I care for the things I do have. Nothing cheap, junky or unneeded makes it through the door. Each item is carefully selected, wanted, and has its own place until it’s time to use and enjoy it. Last weekend my brand-new car turned six years old, and she’s still new to me.

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Finally, I also want to give a big shout-out to the members of the 185th A-100 Generalist class back at FSI. They just completed the second of six weeks of orientation as large swathes of the U.S. face historic winter weather conditions this weekend.

I heard that there are several of these new diplomats who read and follow my blog. The awareness that someone actually reads and enjoys my blog is honoring and humbling. A good reminder that I’m not just talking to myself here. There is at least one of you that I’m aware of whose blog I have also enjoyed following for the past year! Congratulations to all of you as you embark upon this life-changing journey, and I will look forward to hearing about your Flag Day in less than three weeks.

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