Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The (Almost) Dead Letter Office

Imagine my delight yesterday when I thrust my hand into my nonsecure mailbox and pulled out mail. Well, not mail exactly but close enough: a flyer. Since my arrival in Rabat, I have received exactly 4 pieces of bonafide mail, with the exception of my electric bill which confirms in my mind that the Utilities company is my most ardent admirer. The flyer was kindly deposited in my box by the AFI, roughly translated as the Instititute of Womanly Arts, and advised me that pastry-making "will no longer be a mystery" to me. Wow - was I tempted, or what? As much as I wanted to be initiated into the arcane arts of soufflés, petit fours and 'salty' cakes - after all, they did offer flexible hours and a certificate - this glossy little flyer ultimately joined my used teabags in the kitchen wastebasket. But it did get me thinking about the one and only trip I made to the central post office last week.

My husband had sent me a small package which included a yoga ball, a DVD and a crapload of M & M's (these items are not mutually exclusive as the M & M's were 'minis' and therefore contained neither calories nor fat). I received my pick-up notice a scant 3 1/2 weeks after the package was mailed from the central sorting station of all of Atlantic Canada to the capital of this country. With much anticipation, I nipped up to the neighbourhood post office only to be told that it was in Centre Ville, downtown. So the next day, I cabbed it downtown with Robin, my moral support and sister-in-arms who has vast experience dealing with the post office as she has received 2 - count 'em 2!!! - parcels (hopefully my friends & family are reading this).

Because of Robin's aforesaid experience, she pushes me through the small group of people assembled at the counter and I thrust my notice at the woman sitting at a computer. The process (in theory) is this:
1) Helpful Receptionist takes notice and gives it to Speedy Parcel Retriever
2) Speedy Parcel Retriever retrieves said parcel from the back room and places it on inspection table for Efficient Inspector
3) Efficient Inspector opens box, confirms that it contains no AK-74 assault rifles, then quickly finds a copy of the delivery notice from a large archaic file on his desk and then forwards everything to Helpful Receptionist
4) Helpful Receptionist officially signs out the parcel with her computerised scanning system.

It is probably completely unnecessary for me to say that none of this actually transpires. In reality, when I push my notice towards the Helpful Receptionist, she moves it to the side of her desk with as little effort as possible, so as not to interrupt the conversation she was having with another staff member. What where they talking about? - I would hazard to guess (based on their conspiratorial laughter and knowing glances) that it was not related to Matters Postal. Meanwhile, what appears to be several Speedy Parcel Retrievers shuffle back and forth, chatting, taking orders for coffee, and probably offering to car pool kids or pick up dry cleaning. Meanwhile, other pick-up notices are added to mine - this not unsubstantial pile of paper is completely unnoticed by those who are paid to notice them. Then a new female customer approaches the desk - oh wonderful, she is the Helpful Receptionist's friend! - there is much kissing over the counter and I think, this will be yet another long drawn-out conversation, but no! - Helpful Receptionist takes her friend's notice with surprising alacrity and barks something at one of the Speedy Parcel Retrievers. Poof! her parcel appears. Poof! she is gone.

I am impotent, as are the 2 men ahead of me. We are not Helpful Receptionist's friends. With little to do (her friend is happily long gone), Helpful Receptionist begins to chew her nails, profoundly inspecting them between nibbles. Do you want a fucking magazine? I scream. Well, not scream actually - more like think to myself but in a very angry tone. Eventually, a Speedy Parcel Retriever picks up the leaning pile of notices and disappears into a back room. He returns to the main foyer several times without a parcel or my parcel, but eventually he does. My parcel is placed on the inspection table and I wait. The Efficient Inspector is inspecting another parcel. It is causing him some confusion as the box, a slapped-up cardboard contraption held together with masking tape & bits of string, appears to contain that elusive AK-74. But the Efficient Inspector is satisfied that it is only a golf club, so he moves on to my diminuitive parcel. He struggles with the freakishly-strong staples and finally rips apart the padded envelope, sending forth a cloud of padded stuffing. With a manner suggestive of cleaning out a cat's litter box, he daintily pulled out its contents: the DVD, deflated yoga ball and M &M's. The rubber yoga ball causes him the most consternation. He asks what it is and Robin and I answer in unison, "C'est un bal," for such is the excellence of our French. Deciding that he had bigger fish to fry (a juicy parcel next to mine was awaiting him, which clearly held TV remote-controlled explosive devices), he pushes my package aside and, I must say, finds my notice in his file quite quickly.

The parcel and chit are returned to my good friend, the Helpful Receptionist. Hoping that she will scan the parcel out on her computer so I can leave, she instead reaffirms the inscrutability of the post office by grabbing a dusty tome of a register and labouriously enters the details of my parcel into it. So what exactly is the computer there for? - to play Spider Solitaire during off-hours? - silly me, there are no off-hours, are there?Finally, the parcel (opened with its contents hanging out like a disembowelled prisoner) is mine.

The process took 35 minutes.

This is what I know:
1) I am lucky that my parcel even arrived
2) I am equally lucky that my parcel had not been opened beforehand and its contents pilfered
3) I am luckier still that the Speedy Parcel Retriever was on duty - if it is Friday then he will be at prayer for most of the day.
4) I should be thanking my lucky stars that I only waited 35 minutes
5) 7 Moroccan postal employees are doing the job of 1 person
6) a 15-year old kid back home could reorganize the post office here with a Toshiba laptop and a couple of Girl Guides and make it an efficient, smooth-running & profitable operation
7) even stale M&M's kick ass.

But, in the end I got the parcel. Robin's presence was key to my retaining any semblance of sanity that morning. To kill time and to somehow make sense of this inane process, we maintained a running commentary, talking a jumper down. We were the Howard Cosells of the post office.

... a week later, I have yet to blow up my yoga ball. I think that'll necessitate a trip to the gas station in order to use their air hose. Frankly, I'm not ready for that.

Addendum: Chris appeared to be rather horrified that I had not yet inflated the yoga ball so I bought a pump from a sporting goods store and inflated the damn thing. There! - I hope you're happy!


Blogger knarf said...

"Dead Letter Office", eh? Rarities and B sides indeed!

5:48 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

It was all I could do but post a photo of the album cover. As it was, I hummed King of the Road while I posted.

8:49 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

...and as we all know, if REM had any shame, that little gem would never have seen the light of day...

9:14 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Was the red light on?

9:48 a.m.  
Blogger woman wandering said...

I loved this posting ... I had a disturbingly similar experience in Istanbul. It makes a great story retrospectively ...

10:24 p.m.  

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