Friday, June 28, 2013

Unveiling the Truth: The Diplomatic Pouch

So that's a rather dramatic title for something relatively mundane, but the truth is, before we got to post, I had no idea what the so-called "diplomatic pouch" was. I mean, was it actually a pouch? Or some kind of crate? How big was this pouch, and how did it work?

Well, I'm gonna tell you.

The pouch is actually more of a bag, about the size of Santa's sack from a rented Christmas costume. It's made of some kind of heavy canvas-like material (I've never really gotten up close and personal with the pouch, because it's not my job and it's also really, really dirty). Inside said pouch are all the boxes of crap we order online. For John, that generally includes bizarre food-stuffs he can't find here. For me, it's usually clothing or odds and ends from Amazon (toys for Jack, sink filters, etc.).

Yekaterinburg is a non-consumables post, meaning we don't get a separate shipment of food and paper goods and toiletries and whatever, like you do in many African posts where those things aren't readily available on the local market. Unfortunately, just because you can buy toilet paper in bulk here doesn't mean it's up to Western standards. Not to mention that the prices of typical Western brands are hugely inflated because of import costs. On the bright side, our weight limit for what we can bring in our regular houshold effects shipment is high enough that we can bring a lot of consumables with us. Of course, we didn't really figure out what we needed until we got here, but that's another story.

At any rate, the pouch, being literally a bag of mail, has size restrictions. So that train table I ordered for Jack for Christmas? Rejected by the pouch. Lesson learned. We can't order liquids beyond 16 ounces total, anything with batteries (although batteries for things like cell phones have recently been allowed I think), anything flammable or potentially hazardous, etc. It's limiting, but it's still a lot better than having to rely solely on what's available here. The pouch makes it to Yekat roughly every two-three weeks, which is annoying in an Amazon Prime, free-two-day-shipping world, but certainly tolerable. When the pouch comes, it really is like Christmas. You've forgotten what you ordered by that time and it's kind of a fun surprise. And for the most part, the mail arrives in one piece.

Of course, there is always an exception. Like the other day when I went into the mail room to pick up my packages and saw that our box of crap from Amazon had been smashed to smithereens. It's contents had been moved into another box by one of our local Russian staff. When I saw a tampon sticking out of the box, I just about died. See, the box of tampons within the Amazon box had also gotten smooshed. It was like an explosion of tampons. They were everywhere. I wanted to crawl under a rock and die, because the poor guy had clearly been tasked with moving every last tampon from the smooshed box to the new box and well, it was a large box of tampons. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, him or me. Probably me. I think.

I probably shouldn't be surprised, especially not after seeing this video that my friend Emily showed me.

Such is the privelege of the diplomatic pouch.

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