One of the pleasant surprises of living here is the number of friends and family who write or call and say, "If there is ANYTHING you need, anything, we will send it to you"---and they mean it.
It is rather overwhelming and humbling.
And it is a difficult question to ponder. Do I need anything? Yes and no.
After several months here, you learn to live without many creature comforts readily available in the US. I have managed to whittle my toiletries down to the bare basics. I once had 4 drawers and three cabinets full of hair and face stuff---most of it I never even used. It all fits in a shoe box now. We live somewhere with daily heat and humidity and with only one hair salon that does very, very basic hairstyles, so I have had ONE haircut in 14 months. Yes, one. Since I quit getting those oh-so-attractive spiral perms in the 80s, I haven't spent more than 10 minutes in the morning fixing my hair, so this has really not crimped my (lack of) style in any way.
Can someone send me good hair genes? Or a hair stylist that can work with my bad hair?
You can't get some basic clothing items here. At first, I was delusional. If I tell myself I really don't need clothes I can't get here, then I can live without them. But who am I kidding? And when it's things like work shoes or a good bra, it's almost impossible to order the items online---some things you need to see in person or try on. I'm sitting and looking at a pair of shoes I'll probably never take the time off work to stand in line at the post office and fill out the customs form to return (after I find a box they will fit in), even if I paid quite a bit for them. Because time is money, too, and I am not a patient person most days.
So can someone send me a shoe store where I can try on shoes? Or patience to stand in line at the post office, which is only open 6-7 hours a day, five days a week?
How about large jalapeños, Texas pink grapefruit, or real milk? Fresh chicken or Sherry? Round steak? Brisket? A pork butt roast? None of those are available here (or if so, only 1-2 times since we've been here).
Or a bookstore? Or even a book section that has more than 20 titles that aren't mostly religious/inspirational titles?
Internet that doesn't take 24 hours to download a one hour television show I can't get on cable here (and only if the internet doesn't time out before it downloads)?
Pearl Light beer? A purse that isn't $100+? Something (or someone) that will kill the ever-present mold in my bathroom?
When people ask if they can get us anything, I am grateful, but have a hard time coming up with anything that isn't petty. The things we really want are things that can't be sent through the mail. We have managed to improvise pretty well here, and we have learned to do without what can't be improvised.
I will say I was completely ecstatic last week to get a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Lavendar Castille Soap in the mail (I've missed the Moral ABCs!). I've gotten some amazing and thoughtful care packages from friends and family since I've been here: Zero bars, great-smelling bubble bath, Turkish coffee, German chocolates, Café du Monde beignet mix, HEB brand borracho beans, Christmas cards from former students or college roommates, great novels, BACON!, grits, holiday decorations, plant bulbs and seeds, clothes for the kids, running gear, and more.
I am thankful for having so many thoughtful people in my life. If I don't get back to you when you've asked if I need something, please don't think it's because I'm not listening or that I don't appreciate the thought. I say this in all sincerity---just go enjoy a good home cooked meal with fresh ingredients, or a night out at a Chinese/Korean/Mexican/Italian restaurant, or spend an hour at a book store perusing the aisles without buying anything, or try on some shoes. Know you can live without any of it, but enjoy every moment for me of all the small things I once took for granted.
One more thing---please don't think I'm wallowing in self-pity. I can quickly name things (other than thoughtful friends) to be thankful for. While the deep south has been experiencing Snowmageddon 2014, we've enjoyed gorgeous, sunny weather. We didn't have a run on (super homogenized) milk and bread! For the first time in my life, I've seen almost every Oscar nominated movie---for free, outdoors under the beautiful Cuban sky. My husband has the most killer flip-flop tan I've ever seen in my life. Even after stressful, bad, rotten, no-good weeks at work (we do have some of those here, too), I can vent and then count on laughs over a glass or three of wine with some true-blue friends I know we'll stay in touch with long after Gitmo is in our past.