I’ve found that one of the most common things that people who travel a lot complain about (or share in laughter over the frustration) is experiences in the Post Office. Standing in lines, only to be yelled at by the staff, because you’re standing in the wrong line. Or that you need to fill in a certain form or something. Or waiting in lines, and then having to leave because when it was your turn, the person working decided to have a lunch break or something. When traveling, I often feel like I’m in a Kafka story, and it’s in the Post Office that this sensation is most acutely evident.
Due to my silly mistake of taking too long at the ATM in Belgrade at 5am a few weeks ago, I’ve been trying to out how to get a new bank card sent here. (Thank you mom…) But I don’t trust the Georgian post with such an important delivery. In my first week in Kutaisi, I mailed out a few postcards. They arrived in their respective destinations about a month later (or at least one did!), but apparently it took about three weeks to make the 3 hour journey from Kutaisi to Tbilisi. And a friend apparently sent me something about a month and a half ago, but it’s disappeared somewhere.
I’ve been to the main Post Office in Kutaisi, so I’m really not surprised that it takes three weeks to send something to Tbilisi, or that packages sent here go missing. I’m not sure if the staff (ha, staff!) at the Post Office can read the Latin script, so something sent here written in English might just be put into a pile of unreadable mail, to be delivered when they remember to ask someone to read it. I remember when I went to send my postcards, I went with the dorm director, who spoke with the one lady working. It took a good five minutes to explain to her the destinations of the postcards, so she could look up how much the stamps cost. She then sold me the stamps, and showed me the box in the corner, where I should put them to be sent.
Oh, I wish I could describe what the post office looks like! Photos could not do it justice. It’s in a grey, dusty building that’s ratty and run down. Oh, all the buildings are grey, dusty and run down. There’s a small sign out front that says “Georgian Post” on it. Then there are the innards of the place. A few wooden support beams, one bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling throwing the whole room in shadows. A desk, piles of letters and packages strewn about the place behind the desk, one woman working. No line, but just about eight people standing in a pile around it, each one jostling to be the next “in line.” (Coincidentally, this is the thing that irritates the Expert the most. He’ll launch into epic monologues about the values of the queue, about how it is fundamental to the structure of Western society. In Britain, we base our society on the principle of queuing. Once the population refuses to queue, the entire society is liable to fall apart!) I really can’t describe the building effectively. The best I can come up with would be in shooter video games about WWII, there is the inevitable setting of an abandoned village or something. Shelled buildings that are bleak and empty inside. This one is bleak and empty, but with one bulb burning.
But anyways, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get something important mailed here in an expeditious, reliable manner. DHL sounds like a good plan; I’ve even seen it around here in Kutaisi! But I got word that DHL no longer ships things from the USA. So I asked the dorm director if other high speed, reliable, private companies shipped things to Kutaisi. Maybe Fed Ex or UPS? Hmm, no, he didn’t think any of them were around Kutaisi. Oh dear.
I wondered if any of my students or if my co-teacher Bibi knew of other mail providers. (What a silly, name, why did I name her Bibi? I should have given her a more fitting name. Bibi really doesn’t make sense at all, it’s not a good name at all. And one time I almost called her Bibi by accident.) So today, before class began, I asked her:
Hey, Bibi, I need my parents to send me a package in the mail. Do you know how I can get it very fast.
Steven. Do you not have internet? They can send you email.
No no, I have email, I have internet. I don’t need them to send me an email. I need them to send a package, a letter, a box.
Oh, you need a letter? I will ask my neighbor, she has a cousin in New York, she gets mails from USA sometimes.
The bell rang, and class, were we in a normal school environment, would have begun. But Bibi started speaking in Georgian to the class, and though I couldn’t understand it, I could understand OOH ESS AHH, USA. Ah, yes, I thought, she’s explaining my dilemma to the students. It’s amazing how, after you’ve been in a place long enough where you don’t speak the language, you pick up on one or two words that you do know, and imagine to yourself how the whole conversation went. And since there’s little difference between the personal and the professional here, so I’m not too surprised that this is a discussion topic for classtime. A few students start speaking, and one girl brings out her phone, speaking hurriedly with someone who may be familiar with express mail providers that operate in Kutaisi. She hangs up and tells Bibi a few things.
Steven. There is a main Post Office in Kutaisi.
Yes, I know.
It is across the street from the University, do you know it?
Yes, I know it. I have been there.
She says you can get mail from this post office.
Yes, but I need to get my mail quickly. The post office will take much too long! More than one month!
You need it quickly? You need express mail?
Yes, I need it very soon. The main Post Office will take too long.
Oh. I think it is not in Kutaisi. It is in Tbilisi.
Ah, right. Express mail does not exist here. What does Brown do for me? Well, in this case, not very much, you bastards. Supposedly ship worldwide, please allow me to interject with the accusation of: bullshit! But this is sort of what I had expected, or what I had been mulling over in my head since hearing that DHL, the only express provider I’d seen in Kutaisi, did not ship from the USA. Find a reliable contact in Tbilisi, have it expedited to him or her via Fed Ex, and make a special trip to Tbilisi to meet up with said contact, collect. And probably, the fewer destinations the package needs to travel to, the better the probability that it will arrive. Good thing the Expert has an uncle who lives in Tbilisi, who is relatively important and probably knows what his address is.
Ahh…. fingers crossed!