Sunday, July 20, 2008

Moving Woes

Sorry that I (Bonnie) haven’t updated the blog in months but life has been very hectic. Those of you who have moved in the recent past will likely remember that moving is at best an unpleasant task. Multiply that misery by some very large number and you will get the agony of moving your household and laboratory overseas to a small island developing state (SIDS).

I had an NIH site visit in Seattle in late February which corresponded with spring break at UWI, so I arranged to spend several days in Salt Lake with Rich sorting and packing our stuff. The task was particularly painful because stuff had to be sorted into stuff we planned to store, stuff we needed to take, stuff to get rid of and stuff we needed to take but that Rich needed until he moved at the end of May. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that we had no clear idea how much stuff would fit in a 20 foot shipping container.

Back at the beginning of the year, I contracted Global Ocean Freight to move a 20 foot container loaded with our stuff to Trinidad. If ever you should need to move something overseas, DO NOT use Global Ocean Freight. They screwed up every single aspect of the shipment. Under the contract, they were supposed to deliver the container to us on March 1 while I was in the states for an NIH site visit. Since we were told we would have only 2 hours to load the container, we spent the week prior to March 1 trying to get them to nail down a specific time when the container would arrive at our condo. No luck. Finally on Friday afternoon (Feb. 29), they told us that they wouldn’t be able to get a container to us until the end of the following week. (insert appropriate string of curses). Of course, I had to fly back to Trinidad on March 2 so I could teach my classes on March 3 which meant Rich would be left to do the job without me. Even after a great deal of negotiation about their breach of contract, we still couldn’t actually pin them down to a delivery time but they did agree that we (or rather Rich) could have a full day rather than just 2 hours to load the container.

To make matters worse, both of us had picked up the nasty stomach bug that was going around Salt Lake at the time. Rich spent the rest of the week trying to not collapse completely while finishing the packing and teaching his classes. Meanwhile the shipping company still wouldn’t give us the slightest clue as to when the container would arrive. Friday afternoon, Rich left work early because he was so sick so he happened to be home in the middle of the afternoon when a truck driver called saying they were on I-15 and would arrive any minute. So the truck showed up and left the container in the Condo driveway, still on the semitrailer (5 ft off the ground) and without a ramp. As soon as he left, the Condo manager showed up and yelled at Rich because we had not properly informed them of the time that the container would arrive. He was quite insistent that the container had to be moved immediately (which was physically impossible since the truck had left) or he would call the police. Luckily my Father showed up just about this time and managed to reason with the Condo manager. Fortunately for Rich, my Dad was able to arrange for a bunch of family members to come help with the loading, which required hoisting everything up the 5 ft. Unfortunately, they could only do it Friday night and Rich was sick so the packing wasn’t finished which didn’t make anything easier.

It turned out that a 20 foot container holds about twice as much as we’d estimated so after all the stuff we’d originally planned to take was packed, Rich and I talked it over on the phone and decided to bring the rest of the furniture. That meant that everything in the container had to be rearranged once again and a bunch of stuff we’d sent off to storage had to be retrieved. Rather a nightmarish weekend for a sick guy. Finally, on the 11th of March they came and picked up the container only 10 days behind schedule. Not so bad for a SIDS, but this was still on the USA end, a supposed developed country.

Fast forward 20 days to the beginning of April. I’d been busy working with the Trinidad subcontractor to Global Ocean Freight to make various customs arrangements, which included things like getting a license to import a freezer and a sea kayak. So we were all ready for the container to arrive before its scheduled date on the 2nd of April. I got a call from the shipping company late on a Friday afternoon (March 29) saying the shipment had arrived. False alarm. The ship had arrived but my container wasn’t on it. A mad search ensued to locate the container, which was initially thought to have been left in the Bahamas but was ultimately located in Dominica. The container gets booked on a new ship scheduled to arrive in Trinidad on April 21. This is cutting things a bit close since I have plane tickets to attend an advisory board meeting in Seattle on April 30 and I have to be there in person to clear the shipment through customs. The Trinidad shippers did a fantastic job expediting everything so that we can get the container rapidly cleared through customs but there is still one problem. Global Ocean Freight hasn’t paid the freighter so they won’t release the container. Both the Trini shippers and I talk to them several times and are assured that the bill has been paid and the container will be released before the ship reaches port. The ship comes in Sunday and Monday morning it still hasn’t been released. I make panicked phone calls to Florida but since it’s a Jewish holiday, no one at Global Ocean Freight can help. First thing Tuesday morning, I’m back on the phone to GOF, and the same woman who told me the previous Thursday that the bill had been paid and the container would definitely be released before it arrived in port, tells me she had just paid the bill and it will take 72 hours for the payment to clear before my container gets released (insert appropriate string of curse words). I point out to the woman that if I can’t get the container before I leave, it will cost me $50 US per day. She tells me tough luck. This continues through the week until late Friday afternoon when the ship finally releases the container. At that point, customs set an appointment for me to clear the shipment on the following Wednesday. AARRRRRGG, I’m scheduled to be on a plane to the USA at 7 AM that morning and it will cost me over $1000 to change the ticket. Early Monday morning, I accompany a representative of the Trini shipping company to customs and they agree to move my appointment to Tuesday morning. The plan is to get it cleared through customs in the morning and then deliver it that afternoon when I’ve arranged a group of people I know from church to help unload.

Tuesday morning I arrive at customs at 9 AM but the container isn’t there. A truck has to haul it around the fence from the port to the customs office. This was supposed to happen Monday afternoon but customs had closed before the trucking company got there. About 10 AM, the truck comes to the port to get the container but there is a long line waiting for the crane so my container doesn’t get loaded on the truck before 11 AM, when the port takes its 1 hour lunch break. About 5 minutes after noon the truck carrying my container pulls into customs but now customs is taking their 1 hour lunch break. Shortly after one, a woman from customs escorts me and the rep. from the Trini shipping company out to the container to check the seal. BIG PROBLEM. Global Ocean Freight has incorrectly recorded the seal number on the paper work; they left out two digits. BIG PROBLEM!!! So the rep. from the Trini shipping company literally runs across town and persuades some upper level person in customs that this was a clerical error and they agree to let me have the stuff. So now its nearly 2:30 and they start unloading everything from the 20 foot container and then a customs inspector and I go around while he randomly opens boxes to see what’s in them. Finally, they clear my shipment at shortly after 3 PM. They are then supposed to repack the container and deliver it to me. I rush off since I’ve got people from church meeting at my house at 4 pm. When I’m about half way back to St. Augustine, I get a call on my cell phone saying that customs closed before they had reloaded the container and locked all my stuff inside. No chance or recovering it before my flight the next morning. (Insert appropriate string of curses).

In the next hour, the Trini shipping company arranges for some professionals to unload the container the following evening and my neighbor agrees to open my flat and sign for the shipment. So the next morning I hop on a plane for Salt Lake City with my stuff still locked in customs. Luckily, my good Trini neighbor Annabelle and the local shippers managed it all with only one small hitch. The truck carrying the container was too tall to fit under the electrical wires above the gate to our complex. It hit the wires and according to the neighborhood kids there were sparks flying. Then they had to get a smaller truck to shuttle stuff between the gate and our flat. Luckily, I didn’t hear anything about this until the neighborhood kids regaled me with the tale. When I called from the states, Annabelle just said everything had arrived and was safely stowed in my flat.

Two weeks later when I returned from the states, the first floor of my flat was packed to the ceiling with boxes. Some wonderful friends from church came over the next couple of days and help me carry beds upstairs and unpack most everything. By the time Rich arrived on June 1st, there were only a half dozen or so boxes left to unpack. Amazingly, only a couple of things got broken and they were largely reparable. The glass from only of larger pictures got broken and it was quite a hassle cleaning it up without cutting the rest of the pictures but Rich managed.

The day after Rich arrived, we had our first guests, a friend and student who we’ve worked with in Münster Germany for the past several years and his lovely girl friend. Between entertaining guests, trying to get Rich’s VISA (another torturous tale) and various obligations at UWI the next two weeks raced by and now we are on study leave in Europe for the next two months. We barely managed to recover Rich’s passport and VISA from immigration hours before our plane departed.

It was a hellacious three months, but we are finally moved in with legal VISAs and everything. We'll post some stuff on our Europe trip soon.

Bye for Now.

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