What to Pack?
November 13, 2009
How do you pack? For the next stage of your life.
Changing country is good for the soul. Everyone should do it. Well, perhaps not too often, but every few children or so.
I arrived here ten years ago with three children, a small dog and two suitcases. I will be leaving with my husband, five children and an adolescent cat (said dog having given up on the challenge of yet another move).
So what to take? A move from France to Canada needs some planning because it is not worth the shipping costs to ship most things. They have to pass a test. The “Can I see my life without this article test?”, and then a second one, “Is this part of who I am?”
The aim is to reduce what we take to one suitcase each.
For advice on this I turned to an expert. Adam is a Tuareg nomad I met in Niger. He is a silversmith like the generations of men in his family before him. Whilst he doesn’t travel light when it comes to family obligations – two wives and nine children, he can carry everything he needs in a sling bag. I asked him about this and he shook his head and smiled.
He carries one spare outfit, an elaborate kaftan-type thingy with impressively long headgear to match. At night he can unravel his head topping (over 3m) and curl up to sleep under it with a bunched up bit at the top for a pillow. I asked him to show me what else he had in his bag. Here is a list.
Stuff to carry if you are a Tuareg: 1 spare tunic
1 spare pants
Tealeaves and sugar
Dates (to eat or swop for millet)
1 metal bowl
4 small glasses for tea in case of spontaneous tea
1 very sharp (and beautifully decorated) knife
I know it is rude to ask but I ask anyway.
“What about a toothbrush?”
He laughs again and gives me the opportunity to verify that his dental hygiene is surprisingly good for someone who doesn’t carry a toothbrush.
He pulls some twigs out of his pocket and hands me one.
I don’t know what it is. I sniff at it tentatively and he shows me what to do.
He chews on the end of his twig with his molars until it becomes a mini-mop and then polishes his front teeth with it. I do the same and am surprised at the sweet, fresh taste.
Then I think of something else and know I have caught him out. Of course he can’t travel with just this – where is his water bottle? How can he live in the Sahara without swigging water every 15 minutes? He must have a stash over other items somewhere.
“Water?”, I ask, with a victorious look on my face.
He pats what I think is his lower back.
I peer behind him and see a soft leather gourd.
And now I am transported back from that place of heat and wonder to our house in the wintery, provencale countryside.
Our very full house.
What is all this Stuff?
Granted, we live in a small house and we do have five children, but seriously.
But Adam has taught me something and it is revealed to me in a flash.
Instead of agonizing over each item and whittling away until I arrive at a pile of objects I can’t bear to part with, I will carefully choose what we are taking and get rid of everything else.
So what is important?
People. But I carry my People with me always. The ones who are in my family and the ones who may as well be. But this move involves a shedding of people too, the ones I have never really got to know and the ones I have, but prefer to quietly place back on the shelf.
The wonders of technology have fed all the keepers into my computer and a firmament of friends hovers in cyberspace, no matter where we are.
But what about other friends? The sofa that has cradled us all, the mixing bowl that is just the perfect size? I have to thank them for their friendship and find new homes for them.
My home has become an archeological dig of who we have been for the last ten years and our suitcases will represent sleeker, more streamlined versions of ourselves.
The time has come for us to shed this skin and step in to our future clad only in our shiny newness, receptive to the slightest kiss of light.