1 February 2013

Packing Problems

My recent post about moving got me thinking about one of the key questions all expats wonder about.  Why do things always get lost in moves?

I should mention that I hate packing, it is one of the most horrible jobs I know, worse than ironing or going to the dentist.  The other day I worked out that I had lived in over 30 different homes and, in my life, gone through about 8 international moves and many regional re-locations.  

Coming to Astana has been a completely new experience.  When I was a child my parents moved around the world with the support of a large international corporation behind them.  We could take what we wanted (within reason).  When we came to Kazakhstan we were given a sum of money (£2000) to spend but no idea of how much volume this would buy us for this particular destination -we were only advised of this the day before the packers arrived and, predictably, the answer was – not a lot. I mentioned in my earlier post that  I remember being very unsettled by moves when I was young so I wanted the children to have as much of their home with them as possible to make it easier to settle in; cramming it all in with 24 hours’ notice was a challenge.  Well, we made it, although I must admit to some envy when I visit the houses of friends in the diplomatic service or those who are working for the international companies who have all the comforts of home.

One thing I have noticed in every move and that our friends also mention is the amazing attrition experienced.   Something always seems to go missing whether it is thrown away with the packaging or from more sinister reasons.  My mother could pack and unpack a house in record time and the tips she gave me to help minimise this were:
  •       Do your own inventory – it is a pain in the neck but very worth it;
  •       Supervise the packing very closely and pack precious items yourself;
  •       Check each box and the packing paper thoroughly before it is disposed of.
Because I was so stretched for time in the last move I was not able to supervise as closely as I would like.  We had what was possibly the worst moving team I have ever encountered and when I came to unpack our clothes most had been balled into ordinary packing boxes instead of wardrobe boxes.  I spent a fortune on dry-cleaning and about a week washing and ironing. At least this time we did not have any truly nasty surprises.  When we moved from the Netherlands to Turkey we unpacked the boxes to find the mummified remnants of a packer's lunch and an empty cola can amongst the kitchen ware.

Our old inventory was a lengthy beast – we traveled with over 1,000 books, about 800 VHS cassettes not to mention crockery and cutlery to feed 80 (yes really, 80) people and various other necessities.  Everything was listed together with the replacement value.  Originally the inventory was typed up on the old Amstrad computer and printed out on our snazzy and rather noisy dot matrix printer.  You may remember the ones - they used the spools of paper with the perforations at the edge and green and white striped lines running across the page, rather annoyingly the lines of typing never matched with the lines on the page.  Over time, the list migrated to a more modern platform but in my mind's eye it is still on that old paper.

Mistakes can still happen of course - I recall one move we made back to the Netherlands for a short posting of a few months.  We waited for a long time for our boxes to come only to find out that we had received a shipment belonging to another family with the same name.  Our stuff had gone to Oman and by the time it arrived we were practically ready to leave for our next country.

This time our list was so short I wrote it out by hand.  We are now the proud possessors of iPhones and an iPad so we will probably dictate our inventory on the next move, in fact there is probably an app for it.

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat

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