We've developed a pretty good system for getting things we need while on the road. First, we place orders online and have the items shipped to my parents house. Then, when we are planning to stay somewhere for awhile, they act as our support crew and mail everything out to us. There is usually a month or two between shipments so it is always exciting when one of them arrives. For our stay in Tunis we have been waiting for two packages, both of which came today!
The first package (from my parents) contained:
2x Smartwool Women's Microweight Boy Briefs
1x Smartwool Women's Microweight Long Sleeve Crew
1x Windows 7 Ultimate OEM CD
1x OCZ Vertex SSD Hard Drive
1x GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 2L (non-stick camp cookware)
Marked as a gift, the box was delivered directly to where we are staying in La Marsa with no trouble at all. THANK YOU MOM AND DAD!!
The second package, from Globalcom contained our mobile satellite internet reciever, a BGAN Explorer 110. This nifty piece of high-tech hardware will keep Tyler connected to his clients absolutely anywhere in the world; even in the middle of Siberia! Unfortunately, the device is very expensive and so are the service plans that go with it. We'll use it sparingly for uploading work, emailing, and if need be, emergencies. Tyler will be writing about our experiences with it later on!
Unfortunately the Globalcom package was actually marked as a very expensive piece of technology, and so it was stuck in customs. When Carla gave us the note from the post office saying we'd have to go fetch it, she also gave us some advice as to how to handle the situation. "Play dumb", she said. "Act like a poor puppy dog, say you NEED this because your parents sent it to you so you could stay in touch. They are VERY worried about you! You're on your way to Libya and then Egypt (they want to make sure you will leave with the device and not try to sell it here) and you won't see your families for a LONG time and they will be SO WORRIED and that is why you need this. Do NOT say it is for work, and do not get aggressive. Trust me, I've tried. It doesn't work."
Armed with Carla's advice we hopped in a taxi and headed towards the airport. Five different offices and six sets of directions later, we made it to the custom's office of the RapidPoste. Behind the darkened barred doors, it was an absolute madhouse. Various desks lined the back of the room, each swamped with its own mob of people vying for the attention of customs officers seated behind glass partitions.
Papers were lying around everywhere, packages were being tossed and slapped with vigorous resounding thwacks onto the counter. People smoked directly under the "No Smoking" signs (including the officials working there) and then tossed their butts on the linoleum floor, crushing them mercilessly like bugs underfoot. Unsure of what exactly to do, we stood in one of the mobs and waited.
A very nice man noticed us arriving and pointed us in the right direction. "First," he said to me in French, "you have to look at your sheet of paper. See that number? Now you go into this box (of wildly disorganized papers sitting on the counter) and find the one that matches it." Seriously!? He helped us locate ours, a wrinkled stack of pink and blue carbon paper stapled together, and then showed us where to go next: out of the room, down the hall, into an office on the right. Obviously!
We found the office and a man in uniform was waiting behind his desk. He asked us what was in the box. I told him what it was and made a very convincing performance in French using all of the tactics Carla recommended. I have lots of practice stretching the truth around cops since I used to get paid for it at the Police Training Institute, so the whole thing went well.
Finally after some deliberation, the man said "I don't know what's in that box… but let's just say it's a telephone and I'll sign your paper." Telephone it is! Success! With that, we were ushered back into the madhouse and our friendly man was there to help us along. First was the "stamp-the-piece-of-paper and shell out 8 dinar line", and then finally, the moment of truth. We had made it to the "waiting for our actual package" horde!
The man behind the counter disappeared into the bowels of the building, returning periodically with a rolling cart stacked as high as the doorway with a teetering pile of packages. He would call a name and then slam the appropriate cardboard box onto the counter with gusto. Yikes. After several rounds of this, our name still wasn't called. Another friendly guy who was studying English told us "they can't find yours." We felt our stomachs drop. "But it's okay!" he assured us with a smile. Oy vey.
Finally after several official-looking phone calls and failed trips into the back of the building, a man brought out our package! I quickly held out my hands to snatch it before any enthusiastic thwacking could ensue. We showed him our passports. He handed it over. Success! After five sets of directions, six different lines, two hours, two friendly helpers, eight dinar, and four different counters, we successfully picked up a package from the post office.
Next time I get impatient waiting in a slow moving line at the post office back home, I wonder if I will count my blessings for the well-oiled machine (by comparison) that is the USA or feel sentimental for the utter chaos, challenge, and excitement of trying to accomplish a basic task in the third world.