Monday, August 8, 2011

Post-Office Odyssey

My directors have been telling me to not have anyone send packages for over a year now.

-- “It’s not worth the fuss and expense,” they’d complain. “It is just better to have people bring it in by hand.”

When I asked them why it was so hard, they’d describe crazy traffic getting downtown to the main post office, long lines ending in inept staff who invariably charged custom fees that should not apply.        

Knowing this, I discouraged all packages (and still do).

But the day came when it couldn’t be avoided; I needed some books that hadn’t arrived in time for one of my summer classes.

More out of desperation than defiance, I had them sent to Africa directly.

The books were ordered in June then sent to Kenya in mid July. My package slip arrived sometime later, after taking a number of people and a taxi ride to track it down.

That was a week or so back.

Since my return from the coast, I realized I needed to get these books quickly or I’d have to pay storage fees. So I arranged for a young girl from church to guide me.

Pink claim slip in hand, I walked the 30 minutes to the matatu (bus-like transport) stop to meet my friend.

Non-stop honking and smoky exhausts coated us as we waited. We were just two more faces in the sea of would-be riders.

To my right, a woman in a sharp pencil-line skirt suit and black stilettos stood beside a grungy day-laborer with motor oiled stained nailbeds; he was carrying what looked to be the engine block of a foreign car.

Matatu after matatu honked their way past, holding up tiny signs of the number of their routes and calling for passengers.

-- “Forty to BS! Room for one. Forty to the Bus Station. Room for one.”

When no one stepped forward from the dusty line, the man would slap the side of the van, signaling to drive on.

-- “Only 10 bob to get to the main stop. Ten to the Station,” another yelled. It was endless.

Dust and fumes smothered me till I wheezed and choked, counting the minutes tick by in frustration. We waited close to 40 minutes but our matatu never arrived.

My guide and translator seemed surprised.
-- “Normally it’s easier to find a matatu at this time,” she apologized. 

She decided to take the only route open and have us walk once we got there. I didn’t mind walking. I just wanted off that street.

The ride into town wasn’t long. The 30 minutes passed quickly as I watched street venders pedal peanuts and fresh sugar cane to the weary passengers. In order to sell their wares, they would run up to the buses and hand them through the windows.

Once we reached downtown, my guide told me to get off in haste. I pushed my way out with little regard for life or limb, then turned expecting to see her right behind.

But no, she’d gotten trapped on the matatu as it sped away!

Panic filled my veins as I looked around in confusion. Not only did I have no idea where I was, I had no idea where I was going!

Fortunately, it didn’t take her long to find a bewildered white woman clinging desperately to her phone; and we laughed.

Walking in circles, eventually we found the post office; but only after asking three separate police officers. The third one told us it was just around the corner. As we turned the corner however, the doors were locked and barred!


I laughed to think that the main post office would be closed on a Monday morning. Could this be right? Was it some kind of public holiday?

Fortunately, we continued on around the building and found other doors wide open. Relieved to know my coating of dirt and grime had not been in vain, I stepped forward pink slip in hand.

-- “Can you please tell me where I pick up my package?”
-- “Go right,” she said with a quick gesture of her hand. “It’s in the basement.”

So I went right in search of the basement only to be confronted with more lines, and stairs going to the second floor. So I asked again.

This time, I was informed that in going right I had to exit the building, go through a gate and then navigate my way down stairs.         -- Sigh.

Long story short, it took five people all pointing right before we found the stairs and the man who knew what to do with the now crumpled slip in my hand.

When he handed me my package, I suppressed an urge to cry out in triumph.

No. This was not quite Homer’s Odyssey... but it was awfully darn close.

... to be continued.