Joburg Expat: What Expats SHOULDN'T Let the Packers Put in the Container

October 20, 2014

What Expats SHOULDN'T Let the Packers Put in the Container

The other day I posted my Ultimate Expat Moving Checklist on Facebook. A blog post, I must say, that I've worked very hard for, if only to be able to use it myself one day should we ever move again, at which point I'd normally be tearing my hair out that I was so foolish to have thrown away all my other moving checklists of years past. Having it on my own blog, I figured, would ensure that I'd be able to find it again when needed. Even if it's just accidental, by Googling "expat moving checklist" and then being totally surprised to find a link to my very own blog.

Yes, I'm getting that old.

Anyway, the funny thing was that the comment I got in response was not about what else to make sure to remember to pack. It was the opposite. It was all about what not to pack.

What had happened, this reader told me, was this: She and her family were all set to move from the USA to South Africa, and she wanted to bring a San Francisco sourdough starter in her hand luggage. She had carefully cultivated and fed it over years, and anyone who's ever baked sourdough bread with their own starter knows how precious it becomes. Like your own baby. She made sure she kept it next to her personal belongings like passports and flight tickets and all that in her kitchen, until the fatal day when she briefly left the packers alone to pick up her kids from school. When she got back, the sourdough had been packed and none of the packers remembered into which box.

I can almost feel her despair. But there was nothing to be done, and that was the end of that particular batch of sourdough, which as expected did not survive the three-month journey to Pretoria intact.

Moving day: Once it's in a box, it's gone. Just hope it's not your sourdough starter.

Sourdough should not go into your shipping container. Here are a few more things:

The rental furniture
The passports
Rotten potatoes - duh!
Fresh potatoes - they will become rotten!

Why do I  mention rotten potatoes? Well. We all know that moving day can be crazy. The packers are spread out throughout your house, you're running around like crazy taking care of last-minute business, and everything takes on a life of its own. Including the potatoes in your pantry. Or, well, not a life of their own quite yet. That will only come later, as your container is peacefully moving somewhere along a shipping route on the Atlantic in 40+ degrees heat. Back in Johannesburg, all that is happening is that a packer mindlessly grabs the potatoes and packs them up, together with the kids' lunchboxes and whatever else is in the vicinity.

Boy do I never want to open that particular box again! What wafted out of that box was the foulest breath I've ever taken in, not to mention having to touch slimey and almost-liquified potatoes. I held my nose and fished out the lunchboxes and immediately threw them in the washing machine, but even four cycles of rigorous washing did not remove the rotten potato smell, so we had to get rid of them.

Here is my advice to all those in the midst of an international move: Take all perishable food out of your house before the packers arrive, or employ a guard stationed in your kitchen who will watch it like a hawk.