While enjoying my evening meal (creamy polenta with spicy Italian sausage, onion, and green peppers) it occurred to me that I have never shared with the internet one of my greatest triumphs, the one single action that has done more than anything else to make Conakry a more pleasant place for me to live: last Christmas I brought more than 40 pounds of meat home with me in my suitcase on the way back from my R&R.

After six months of struggling with stringy beef and gristle-filled sausage obtained on the local market, trying desperately to turn it into something remotely palatable, I was running out of hope. I was on the verge of becoming a geographical vegetarian, but this single shipment – carefully, reverently rationed – has kept me in quality meats for almost a year now. I brought a whole beef tenderloin, a whole sirloin, five pounds of Italian sausages, six pounds of breakfast sausage, and assorted smaller amounts of boudin, chorizo, and pre-cooked chicken sausages. And it was good.

I am a simple creature with simple needs. I have come to the conclusion that I can put up with an awful lot as long as I’m well fed. In this regard, a freezer full of USDA-certified Choice steaks and Jimmy Dean maple breakfast sausage (the candy of meats) has done things for my long-term morale that nothing else ever could. There’s still quite a lot left too, so I won’t be repeating this feat on this year’s R&R, though a small top-up on essentials might be in order.

If you too have an unmet need for higher-quality meats than are obtainable in your country of residence, here are some tips you might find helpful, the Four P’s:

  1. Plan. See how your local customs officials are likely to feel about this little project. Think about what you want to buy and how much to bring back; remember that meat is heavy, so you’re likely to rub up against weight limits long before your suitcase is actually full.
  2. Purchase. Buy the biggest cuts you can – minimizing surface area keeps things frozen longer, and you can cut them down into more manageable pieces once you get home. Accept that your airline might lose your bag for a week, turning this investment into money down the drain. Be sure you are okay with this risk before handing over your credit card.
  3. Prepare. Freeze everything solid – for larger cuts this might take a couple of days. Invest in some quality insulated tote bags and pack them as tightly as you can. Put the tote bags inside your suitcase(s) for additional sturdiness and to allow your clothes to do double duty as extra insulation.
  4. Pray. Ask whatever deity(ies) you see fit to protect your suitcase and its precious cargo from negligent baggage handlers, suitcase thieves, and overcautious and/or greedy customs officials. It might help, and certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Good luck!