On packing

How does a guy from Alabama pack to move to Egypt?

I’ve been pondering this question for more than a month, but I’ve yet to do any actual packing. The time has come, it would seem, to do something. But what?

The legion of unknowns here feels paralyzing. I’ve never moved to another country before, so I have no truly comparable experience to draw on. How much will it actually cost to ship things to Cairo? (The shipping instructions I’ve received from the university make it clear that the ultimate cost of an overseas shipment is not possible to nail down in advance.) What books will I desperately want, and be unable to find in Cairo, next month, or three months or six months from now? How will the pandemic affect, say, how difficult it will be to buy clothes in Cairo–not to mention what clothes I’ll need? How exactly will I do X in Cairo, during or after the pandemic?

The answer to so many unanswerable questions must be that I’ve taken the wrong approach to the fundamental question. So let’s go back and think about that question–what should I take to Egypt?–ecologically rather than egoistically. This simplifies things, for now the fundamental point is that there is a high fossil fuel cost to transporting anything from here to Egypt; therefore, I should transport as little as possible. There will of course be a certain fossil fuel cost to replacing items I find that I need and could have transported. But my ability to predict in advance what those items are is weak because of all the unknowns, so shipping a bunch of stuff to Egypt on the basis of such predictions would surely result in considerable waste. So the clear ecological answer would seem to be this: “take as little as possible, and replace what you really need in Egypt at as low a fossil fuel cost as possible.”

That answer perfectly accords with my desire to spend as much of my remaining time in Alabama as possible being present with what is here now–my family, the cicadas, the catfish, and so on–instead of trying to predict the future and pack a bunch of stuff for shipment to Egypt on that basis. So here is at least one situation in which being ecologically ethical would seem to be a source not of guilt and anxiety, but of freedom and pleasure. For now, at least.

Oh, and “as little as possible” will still include a number of things, which I’d better get packing.

Published by drsamuelc

Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at The American University in Cairo

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