A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.


"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kathmandu Post Office - A study in the ancient art of form stamping

Ever since our First Need water filter broke back in Rome, we have had to buy bottled water. This really sucks. Not only is it expensive, but we pollute the planet unnecessarily with more empty water bottles. Also, it’s a constant daily struggle of procurement and transportation to ensure we always have enough. I had left a spare filter at my Dads which was not exactly convenient when we needed it. It’s like having your spare car tire not in your trunk but somewhere in Romania. So now we would need the spare and a spare spare so I went to REI.com (which was so bizarre online shopping again, trying not to faint at the costs) and bought one, in addition to super strength insect repellent and replacement indestructible sporks (our first pair, I accidently threw away in a bag of half eaten fried rice in Africa, and whenever we caught without a utensil Ron gives me the stink eye).

Since we didn’t know anyone in Nepal, my Dad sent us the care package to the Poste Restante, General Post Office in Kathmandu Nepal. I had read online that you can send letters to people traveling by sending it to Post Restante but not a lot of positive remarks about care packages. I was worried when we arrived to the post office, a dimly lit concrete wasteland of a building one afternoon. We were shuttled to three different tellers before entering a closet sized room to root through a box of letters, all too slim to contain what was sent. Uh oh, I thought.

My forehead perspired, as I tried to communicate “package” in sign language to the clerk. He went through a stack of orange slips and found one addressed to me, verifying my passport with a quick glance, and sending another fellow off to get a key for the giant iron safe next to us. Hooray, how easy was that! At this point I went in to a congratulatory speech on the reliability and efficiency of Kathmandu’s Post Office, how in the backpackers circuit it is second only to Bangkok. Never mind my single audience member didn’t really understand English all too well. The key was produced and in the cabinet was…only a stack of papers. Hmmm. Not so fast, flapjack.

We were directed to another low squat dingy building out back and that’s when the fun really began. First I handed my paper to a lady behind a counter in what looked like a shipping/receiving dock. She had me write my name and address on the back and wanted a photocopy of my passport, upon which when I told her I didn’t have one she ordered Ron to go out and get one. Good ole chivalry….or something. Then I was directed to a man sitting at a nearby table to fill out a form that was in Sanskrit. He pointed to one line and had me write my name, and pointed to another to sign. I had a fleeting thought of being in a foreign prison and being told to sign something you can’t read. Never a wise idea.

He wanted 20 rupees and told me to take my form to another room. This room had three desks where the men looked like they were not working hard but rather hardly working. One with a funny hat, beckoned me over, stamped my form and wrote some numbers down, sending me back to the lady. The ladies assistant produced my box from somewhere “in the back”, opened it, and started rummaging through it. What is this? He questioned, as he held up the water filter. I explained and he snorted in response. He wrote down what I gathered was the contents of the box on another paper and sent me back to the room where the guy listed the items in an oversized ledger book and asked for 65 rupees in “tax”. He stamped my other form and sent me back to the lady for the second time, who then sent me back to the guy at the table (again for the second time), and then back to the lady (for the third time), where Ron was back with my passport copy.

She stamped and collated all these papers and forms, and then she asked for another 40 rupees, before finally passing me my box. I wasn’t sure if this was actual payment for service or each stations “tip” for looking busy by stamping forms. This was no kidding, I must have been there two hours shuttling forms around, but at least I got to see the fascinating, unbelievable and wholly unnecessary bureaucracy of a post office in action. Thanks again Dad for sending it, can you believe it made it to us?!

On the way back to our room, we saw The Cutest Little Girl in the World. She wore a tattered sweater and dusty roses in her hair, with a smile that could melt your heart. We are accosted by street beggars at least a dozen times a day, but we could not resist her charm, I think we gave her 5 bucks, what amounted to a fortune in comparison to the single rupee coins filling her bowl. Ron took about a hundred photos of her. Finally I had to pull him away from her gaze, before he adopted her and smuggled her back to the US. He was totally smitten.

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