December 10, 2006 - I thought that it might be nice to have links to some websites that have neat stuff to buy. You can order from these websites from the US or once you get to Iraq.
Here is a really cool website started by two FS Spouses in Caracas, Venezuela. They sell beautiful cards - calling cards, place cards, greeting cards - which are of very good quality (I have some samples given to me by someone who helped them get started). Please show your support of e-commerce for EFMs (Eligible Family Members) and check out their website: http://www.pinkinkcards.com.
For those of you who can't find what you need at the PX, you can order from CVS and they will deliver to APO/FPO addresses: http://www.cvs.com. If you have a special brand of toothpaste or shampoo or whatever, this works very well.
Another website that is good to have is one that will send you non-perishable grocery items. I have heard there is a place where you can cook/bake, so theoretically you could bake a cake or make some cookies, although for the life of me I don't know why, as the DFAC is so well-stocked with these items. But personally I like to order non-fat evaporated milk to put in my coffee - tastes like cream without the fat. Anyhow, this company does deliver to APO/FPO addresses and is fairly quick about delivery: http://www.netgrocer.com.
There are a couple of websites that I belong to that will give you a kick-back if you go through their portal and order from the websites that are members. One will actually deposit money into a 529 (college education) fund for you or your children, your nieces and nephews, whatever. The money accrues tax-free as long as you withdraw it to use for higher education costs. Check with your accountant or tax attorney, though. Anyhow, I like this one: http://www.upromise.com and I buy through that website a lot. Another one that gives you an actual check as long as you go through their portal to make purchases is: http://www.ebates.com. I figure if you're going to order through the web, why not get something in return?
Here's another website that was recommended to me by one of the Office Management Specialists here: (she says it has lots of cool stuff to buy): http://www.geocities.com/mangus112/Shopping.html.
I will add more as they occur to me. And if you have any suggestions, let me know. You can write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
December 17, 2006 - In the spirit of Christmas shopping, I thought I would add to this. First of all, keep in mind that shopping is (to put it mildly) limited in Baghdad. You cannot go to the mall, you cannot go into the Red Zone, and your choices are limited. You can buy stuff in the PX and occasionally they actually have items that make great gifts - beer steins, t-shirts, stuffed bears, etc. I found some nice commuter mugs just in time for Christmas with the American Embassy seal. But, the cardinal rule for shopping at the PX is: If you like it, buy it. Things go very, very quickly.
In front of the PX there is a little kiosk that sells patches, coins, (occasionally) T-shirts, postcards, stickers and baseball caps. I bought each of my kids a sticker for their bedroom door that says "Danger: Stay Back 100 meters or you will be shot" or something along those lines. They loved them! That little kiosk also sells the lanyards/pouches for your ID and money that I mentioned previously. Sometimes they have other items (bath or beach towels, etc.) Again, if you see it, buy it.
There is also a couple of small shops next to the PX which sell rugs, jewelry, some leather items and some clothes, plus inlaid wooden boxes, paintings, etc. There is also a barber shop and a tailer inside the small grouping of shops. You pay more than you would if you could shop in the Red Zone, as you are basically captive clientele.
You can also find some local entrepeneurs within the Palace compound that have made up some coins, t-shirts, etc. Some groups sell t-shirts from time to time to raise money. Sometimes the Marines sell t-shirts and so does the Regional Security Office. The holiday bazaar held on Thanksgiving had quite a few of these items available. The money raised goes to a non-profit organization of the group's choice.
Another possibility is the Al-Rasheed Hotel. It's the closest thing to the mall that we have, with a series of tiny shops. You can negotiate prices, although they're still quite high. There is a fairly large selection of rugs in the lobby, along with a newly-expanded shop which has a lot of cooper, brass, etc. Some of the stores are still selling silver place ettings with the Republican Palace seal on them. Not cheap, but if you want something unique. . . There are paintings and some jewelry, etc.
Last, but not least, if you know what you want and you have an Iraqi friend or colleague who lives in the Red Zone, you can always tell them what you want and they can find it for you. I have done this on a couple of occasions, although I don't like to abuse their friendship.
Just remember: You need to get all this stuff home, so don't go crazy. But many, many people buy at least one carpet and a few other mementos.