I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Chopped. It’s a cooking competition where the chefs are given a basket of unrelated items and asked to create a completed dish with them, under a time limit. At the end of each course, one of the competitors is “chopped” until after dessert, only the winner is left. Part of the fun is seeing how they’re going to turn squid, cotton candy, pine nuts and dried figs into a dessert (not a real basket of ingredients, but not an unreasonable one).
As I reach the point I have less than 10 days left in Cotonou, with my kitchen all packed out and the house empty except for State Department furniture, a welcome kit, and my luggage for the trip home, my meals have begun to resemble an episode of the show, and the close I get to leaving, the more they will.
One episode this week — cooked rice, frozen broccoli, canned chicken. I had made the rice earlier in the week and turned some of it into rice pudding, but the rest was congealing in the fridge. The broccoli had been purchased to make beef and broccoli, but got buried in the freezer. The chicken was the last can from a batch I had picked up on a consumable run at Sam’s Club. So, I steamed the broccoli until not quite cooked, added the rice, the chicken, a can of cream of mushroom soup, salt, pepper and curry powder to end up with a curried chicken broccoli casserole which will be the basis for several meals this week.
Tonight’s challenge will include some pork ribs, frozen corn on the cob, and egg noodles (and whatever else I pull out of the pantry or freezer.)
As I mentioned above, I have been “packed out” and most of my belongings are on their way to either Ottawa or Ashburn. Packing out and moving are a regular part of Foreign Service life. Your life disappears on one continent, gets packed in large wooden crates, and reappears some time later (hopefully in one piece) on another continent. It is a useful way to clear out the clutter every two or three years. The downside is you have to live without your stuff for some length of time. In my case, five months (except for 250 lbs of UAB which will meet me in Ashburn), which starts with the last 10 days in Cotonou. You reach for something, only to discover it’s gone. You just hope you made the right choices and set the right priorities.
Packing out for travel to the U.S. (or Canada) and for going to training rather than post also changes your priorities. My UAB coming to Cotonou was heavy on work clothes, comfy pillows and plastic dishes (which were unnecessary since they give you a welcome kit, but I didn’t know that). UAB home is heavy on my electronics: computer gear, TVs, DVD and blu ray, speakers and amp. I won’t need anything more formal to wear for five months than a polo shirt and khakis, and if necessary I can buy new ones. That’s the difference in going home, the phrase “I can always buy new ones.” Some FSOs claim they toss all their clothes when they leave an overseas posting. I didn’t do that, but several large bags of work and worn out clothing made it out to the curb (and moved just as quickly into Cotonou’s active used clothing market).
As I’ve mentioned before, Theresa, who among other things was the RSO OMS here and one of the first folks to whom I gave the FSOT is in A-100 (Intro to the Foreign Service) and just had her flag day. Her blog’s on the link list here so I’ll let her tell you how it turned out.