Ah the post office. You think it's bad in the US? Try sending a package in ecuador. Yesterday I attempted said task for the first time, and expecting problems I allotted one hour, not including travel time. But, lo and behold, they managed to exceed even my low expectations and it took even longer and made me late for work!!! good lord! There wasn't even a line... I kind of felt like I was in a video game. I just kept going up to the window and getting another task, which really in theory could all be done at the same time, but because of the rules of the game I had to accomplish the first task to even get the instructions for the second task. And instead of, say, getting 10 points in between each task, I had to wait in line behind another 5 people.
So, I get to what is supposedly the central post office, and inside it looks like a slightly larger version of the wesleyan mail center. One window for receiving packages (you have to pick up packages from the post office here), one window for sending, and a bunch of PO boxes. I walk up with my two packages, and before I can do anything else I have to have them searched for contraband. They have an elaborate list of things you can't send out of ecuador, but I can only imagine they're mainly looking for drugs. After waiting about 10 minutes for the "customs expert", aka the random guy who is qualified to poke around in your box and nod his approval, some other girl comes over and does that highly scientific task. THEN at my second trip to the window the woman finally got around to weighing my packages and informing me that for some reason it's almost twice as expensive to send them separately than to combine them in a larger box and send the same thing. Since they were both going to the same place, I took her up on her offer of a spare box. (she was about 500 times nicer than postal workers in the us, but also about 500 times more inefficient.) Of course, this meant that a) I had to pick off every trace of a sticker. At least I didn't have to cover it in brown paper like in italy. b) I had to repackage everything. Do they have package tape I can use? No, even though they are required to open your package and search it, they don't have tape for you to reseal it. I have to go across the street and buy tape at a package store, even though I already have some at home. (At least now I have it in both clear and package color.) Then, since they don't have any scissors either, I have to mangle 50% of the pieces of tape I tear off to cover the ratty old box. Then when I finally have all the stuff together, I take another trip to the window, wait my turn, and am presented with customs forms to fill out. Because she couldn't have given those to me 45 minutes ago when I came in. After about 3 trips to the window to verify that my forms are correct, it's time to send my package, yay! Oh wait. Despite the fact that I asked her about 3 times for a marker to write the address on the package, and was informed each time that she could do that later (I swear I understood her correctly.), she appeared surprised that I didn't have the address written on the package already! OK, find some paper, fill out the address, wrestle some more with the tape to attach it. Now it's really time to send my package! Right??? No, she has some important business to attend to, checking in packages, and we'll just have to wait. Of course, she's misplaced a package, and as her job is probably on the line, she has to find it RIGHT NOW. Wait for it. OK, now I've paid my money, and am waiting for my receipt and the assurance that the package is really ready to go. She just has to put the postage on. Oh wait, this is my favorite part. She can't just print off a postage sticker for $30.60, no she has to stick on real stamps. And she only has TWENTY-FIVE CENT STAMPS!!!!!!!!! So she starts tearing off strips of 4 each, and plasters the box with them. At this point I'm late for work and getting really antsy. So. Many. Stamps. You are going to laugh so much at the state of the package once you get it, between the uncooperative tape and the 5 million stamps.
Finally, my package is officially on its way and, just 1 hour and 15 minutes later I find myself FREE TO GO! Wow. I'm sure it took you that long just to read my description, and I probably left out half the steps. Fortunately I will know what to expect when I send my next packages tomorrow, and I will bring my own tape and request the forms right away. But I do take comfort (oddly) in the fact that it's not just me not knowing the ropes. Most of the 50 or so customers who were helped in my presence also had hassles... like the poor man who tried to send 3 letters and was waiting for half an hour for change for $10 (the ecuadorian black hole of change is another rant for another day) before he finally gave up. And the woman who was sending sand to Belgium, and had to consult with 3 or 4 "customs experts" on the legal status of this, by which I mean the postal lady would be like "hey jose, can you send sand to belgium?" At which point Jose would saunter in from somewhere, poke around in the bag, and eventually conclude, "uh, I don't know... Where's Pedro? Let's ask Pedro." Wait 5 minutes. "Hey Pedro, can you send sand to Belgium?" At which point Pedro would also poke around for awhile before admitting that he has no clue either. And so on. It was kind of funny, except until I started losing my mind.
In conclusion, Ecuador is a country of contrast. By which I mean inefficiency with a smile. You're lucky I love you all!
In non-postal news, I'm finally going to get out of this dirty city and do some traveling! I'm going to the Oriente tomorrow with my choir. All I know is that I am meeting them at 11:30 am and that this trip will involve some singing and bathing in hot springs. I don't know if we are actually going to the rainforest itself, but yes, mom, I will take pictures. I imagine I won't be reachable internet-wise, but I will have my cell phone. (001-593-9-474-8420)
Hopefully I will get the rest of my packages and christmas/hanukkah/secular winter holiday cards in the mail before I leave, barring further bushels of red tape. If not, well, they'll get there eventually and until then you can just feel my holiday spirit permeating this blog. Or something.