All Our Worldly Goods

Let me start by saying that it is not our fault – at least not entirely. Whether by nature or nurture, or most likely a combination of both, the Handsome Dutchman and I both like stuff, particularly beautifully designed stuff, and once we have something, we like to hold on to it. If you would step into either Castaway’s or Handsome Dutchman’s parents’ home, you would find the same, so you could say we were brought up that way. It is not a bad philosophy. Spend a huge amount of time in finding the perfect thing and then hold on to it forever, only replacing it with exactly the same thing if it literally disintegrates. Over time, the house holds a collection of carefully curated, much-loved things. In our case, having no house, we have a shipping container of carefully curated, much-loved things. Regular readers will also know that the contents of our container are the result of determined efforts to throw away things we no longer needed. So, while the container does not exactly only contain the bare essentials, it really was our best endeavour to reach that. We reluctantly left chairs and a bike in Aberdeen, and shipped other items to the Netherlands adding back to the Trinidad shipment, at the very last moment, the most awkward, difficult to ship dining table… carefully curated, much-loved.

We expected that clearing customs would be stressful and we might have to watch through our fingers as our belongings were spread about a warehouse. We did not expect to be the entertainment for the day. For some reason, the point of entry to the country for our container was the industrial port down the coast, rather than Port of Spain. The customs warehouse had space for six containers to be examined and it became clear that they did not see many containers of domestic effects. Every other container was filled with commercial goods: microwaves, tyres, martini glasses, something unclear from China – but always pallets of many identical packages. Then in berth #6, all our worldly goods.  To be fair, the team unloading our container prior to inspection took good care of our packages and worked hard in the heat. The warehouse had no air conditioning and although we were not out in the sun, it certainly was not cool. After a couple of hours, we were beginning to drip with sweat and our only role was to observe. In principle every package had to be taken out the container, opened and examined by the customs official. By lunchtime, the container was still one third full and nothing was yet opened or examined. There were people there observing every container, but it was not long before we were getting a lot of attention. That probably started when our large, circular sofa was lifted out by forklift truck, after only three other pallets. Being a government office, lunch hour is strictly observed and everything was locked down. By that point, we only had one instruction for our driver : “take us anywhere, anywhere at all, as long as it has airco!”

Not for the first time since arriving on the island, we have been very grateful to have a driver who takes us safely from A to B but also gives us useful tips and takes care of us in these situations. He dropped us off at an unprepossessing looking restaurant. The Handsome Dutchman and I entered with some trepidation, bearing in mind we were in the middle of an industrial complex. The restaurant was very dark, empty of people and decorated with Christmas decorations, Mother’s Day decorations (reasonably enough given Trinis were due to celebrate the coming weekend) and a selection of extremely artificial, luridly coloured and glittered flowers. It also had air conditioning on full blast, so this was enough to take a seat. Despite the unusual decor, we should have known to trust our driver. As we were sitting there, one by one the tables began to fill up and I was served a most restorative and tasty burger while the Handsome Dutchman had kebabs. Fortified and cooled, we could return to the customs warehouse.

Shortly after lunch, the unloading of our container halted. We had used the entire supply of pallets in the warehouse. Luckily, at that point, the customs official decided that she wanted to start the examination whether the container was empty or not. She had also clearly decided we were slightly ridiculous and naïve fools who were not trying anything underhand even if we could not identify the box with our mini-fridge or our electric coolbox. Thankfully, this meant she would only sample check our packages, as we still had an audience of much-entertained customs agents.  Embarrassingly, the first box revealed a stapler and some obsolete phone chargers (bare essentials, obviously) but this no doubt only reinforced her view of us. The second box revealed a half-burnt candle. The third box at least contained something that normal people might try to import: champagne glasses. We were challenged on whether the glasses were new and therefore liable for import duties given they were in the original boxes. However, by that point, our hoarding credentials were well established so our answer that we had kept the boxes already for the last two moves was readily accepted. The customs official gave us a look which conveyed that she thought these crazy fools would never survive on this island but she was not going to make their poor lives any more difficult and declared the customs examination complete. All that was left was for our packages to be reloaded into our container ready for delivery to our house. It was announced that the reloading could not be completed that day and it would start the following morning. We were not keen to leave without seeing our container rebolted shut but we had no say in the matter. We likely set a record for requiring two full days in the customs warehouse (with an audience) but that is what happens when all our worldly goods, carefully curated and much-loved follow us around the world in a shipping container.

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