Express Delivery

Most packages that I receive in Nairobi are delivered directly to me at my work post office box. Recently, however, I had to go to the general post office in the Central Business District to claim a package that was being “detained” by customs.

After asking 3 people where to go, I was finally directed to a second floor desk called Counter Govt Depts Individual Parcels (A) and Detained Packets (DP). I handed my customs receipt to a very friendly young woman who then examined my passport to make sure I was indeed the recipient of the package I wanted to claim. She stamped my receipt and handed it to another woman who went to fetch the package from some dark and distant corridor – I imagine the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant as depicted at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. She returned with my package and directed me to open it a little further down the countertop under a sign that said Counter 3 Air Parcels (AM). As I was doing so a man, also friendly, came to inspect the contents. He scribbled on the back of my customs receipt “cake approx 500 grams” and “magazines (used) four” and under a column marked Customs Fee he wrote “no value.” He handed me the customs slip and said something that was obviously meant to be an instruction. After asking him to repeat it several times, I realized that I was supposed to go “mezzanine 4 room 223.” I was roundly scolded when I tried to take my parcel with me.

At Mezzanine 4 Room 223, I was shown into the office of a nasty little man behind a very large and important desk with nary a paper on it. He grumbled something, added a stamp to my customs receipt, and then changed the “no value” to “300.” He told me to return to the Counter Govt Depts Individual Parcels (A) and Detained Packets (DP) desk. There, another man, the fourth person so far that I had to see at that one desk, added yet another stamp and changed the “300” to “NIL.” He directed me to a counter on the far side of the room labeled Customs Cashier.

After waiting in line, a long time, the cashier, a not so friendly man, took my customs receipt and then went digging through a giant and messy mound of what looked to me like other identical receipts. Apparently I had the copy. The original was somewhere in this poor gentleman’s office. It was his unfortunate task to match them. When he did, he added the same stamp to both copies, kept the original, and returned to me my copy with its growing collection of stamps from throughout the post office. He waved me to an unmarked counter across the hall. Oddly, I paid the cashier nothing.

But the man across the hall, he analyzed the back of my customs receipt where it once said “no value” and then “300” and now “NIL,” and he charged me 70 shillings. He analyzed my passport once more before collecting my customs receipt and issuing me a payment receipt for 70 shillings.

Finally, I was able to return to the Counter 3 Air Parcels (AM) desk to collect my package. The friendly female clerk gave me a resigned and apologetic grin as she said “You are finished.”

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