Thursday, November 4, 2010

Going Postal

The Francistown Post Office

I think few of us would describe going to the post office as a pleasant or enjoyable experience. It is slow. It seems inefficient. There always seems to be a long line.

Whenever I receive a package from home, I get a little slip and then have to go to the post office to actually pick it up. This involves standing in line an then showing my passport to prove that I really am the person the package is addressed to. It can be a slow process but generally is hassle free.

That was, until yesterday. I had a few padded envelopes to send and so I walked downtown to the post office. The post office is quite chaotic. Besides selling stamps and shipping packages, they also sell mobile phone airtime, do car registrations, distribute pension checks, and do western union money transfers (and I am sure I am leaving out several others). I still am not sure, but there are at least three lines inside. There is the main line for stamps and posting, but then there is also a line in the back to go see a woman at a desk (I'm guessing it has something to do with money transfers), and then there is a separate line for completed money transfers.

I got in the line for postage which was about 20 people long. Good thing there were only two employees helping people. (Adding to the chaos, sometimes people will walk in the door and then go directly up to the counter, rather than waiting in line. They generally get helped rather than being sent to the back of the line. Lines, or as they call them here, queues, are merely suggestions).

After waiting for 30 minutes and wishing that the fans making lazy circles above would actually create a breeze, I get up to the counter. I say hello and tell the woman I needed to send some letters to the US. She asks me if I want to send it "ETS" or something like that. I shrug my shoulders and tell her I don't know. She goes to weigh the envelopes, returns, and then consults a table of prices. "It will be 198 Pula to send these," she says. I quickly do the math and realize that that is $30. I shake my head and tell her that the last padded envelope I sent just had stamps put on it and cost me around 25 Pula ($3.80). She looked at the envelopes, consulted another chart, punched some numbers into a calculator and then decided it would cost me 21 Pula for each envelope. I smile and thank her and she starts the paperwork.

An issue arises about giving me a receipt for the envelopes because she does not want to do a separate one for each letter. She goes to the back to consult her boss and they decide that one receipt can be given for all five envelopes but I will have to write the names and addresses of the people I am sending letters to. She does the first one to show me how it is done and then tells me to finish the rest at a table in the back. I take one quick glance at the line, which is now at least 30 people, and ask if I can come back to her when I am finished. She says that will be okay and I go to fill out my sheet.

I finish and try to return to my original teller but she is busy. I get her attention and then shrug my shoulders, indicating I have no clue what is going on. She says something to the teller beside her and that teller motions me forward. I am quickly cut off by a woman who was next in line and does not like me being seen before her. She and the teller have a long exchange and the woman goes back to the line. I show the teller my receipt (correctly filled out) and tell her I am sending the envelopes to the US. She gives me a funny look and tells me that I better be ready to pay.

She grabs an envelope and goes to weigh it. She comes back, consults a table, and then tells me it will be 200 Pula each to send. I tell her that I have sent the exact same size envelop before and it cost around 25 Pula. I also mention that the teller right next to her told me it would be 21 Pula.

Teller: "She made a mistake."
Me: "A mistake? She is right next to you. I have sent these before and it is no more than 25 Pula for stamps."
Teller: Consults another chart, shuffles some papers around, gives me an icy stare, and then comes up with a figure of 22.60 Pula. "But this is wrong. You are trying to not pay me money. These are not letters, they are packages."

I figure that 22.60 Pula is close enough and hand her my envelopes. She flips one over and sees that there is tape on both of the seams.

Teller: "You cannot have tape on these. Take it off."
Me: "No tape? Is that a rule? I had no idea."

I had closed the seams with the only tape I have around - duct tape. It does not come off paper easily. I take the first one off and it rips some of the paper off of the envelope.

Teller: "What are you doing? You should remove the tape more gently. Now your envelopes look old and dirty"
Me: "There is nothing I can do. This tape is very sticky and you said it has to come off."
Teller: "No, you are not doing it gently enough."

I finish removing the tape, and despite my most gentle efforts, it does rip some of the envelopes.

Teller: "What is in these envelopes?"
Me: "It is a magazine for my friends back home."
Teller: "They don't have magazines back in America?"
Me: "Not this kind."
Teller: "When are you going back to America?"
Me: (Just wishing she would give me some stamps and my receipt) "I live here. I am not going back until 2012."
Teller: "Ah, then you must find a Motswana wife." (This is actually a very common interaction I have with people here. They find it strange that I am not married, and even stranger that I don't have kids. When they find out I am staying a while, they want to set me up with someone).
Me: Laughing (and trying my best to keep a sense of humor) say "Maybe so."

The teller gives me my stamps and again complains that the envelopes are too big and overweight and I am not paying the right price. I ask her what the maximum weight and size are for envelopes and she tells me she will find out. (Which made me mad because she told me that they were overweight but didn't seem to know what those weight limits were).

I pay her and she tells me to get out of the way while I put the stamps on. She then takes another customer while I lick and stick my stamps. I finish with the stamps but then have to wait until the current customer is done.

I get back up to the window and she gives me another icy stare. She stamps my receipt shuffles some other papers around and then takes the envelopes. While I am standing there, she takes another customer.

At this point I am clinging to the last fraying strands of my sanity and patience. The teller looks up from helping her other customer.

Teller: "Why are you crying?"
Me: "I am not crying."
Teller: "You look angry."
Me: "May I please have my receipt?"

She slides the receipt to me. I ask her again what the maximum weight for envelopes is and she just shakes her head. I take one last look at the padded envelopes sitting on the counter.

I sure hope they make it.