Friday, November 14, 2008

The Post Office is a Black Hole of Beaurocracy

In my last post I mentioned that I had to go back to the post office Friday morning to pick up my package which had been sent from my parents in the United States. I returned to the post office this morning between the random hours they assign for package pickups. Luckily I made it to the office just before 10 other people showed up, so I only had to wait a few minutes before getting in, even though they had 4 people working on one person at a time.

Once I was let into the box room, a man checked my notice from the office and checked my ID card. They found my box and then gave it to the customs official who cut through the layers and layers of tape to see what was inside. The condition of the box led me to believe that it was handled with anything but care.

Inside were just some things that my parents had sent me from back home: a pair of khakis, Q-tips (you can't find a decent Q-tip down here), scissors, shaving cream, deodorant, and a number of other odds and ends that I probably could have gotten down here for more than it would cost back home.

After checking that there was nothing illegal, the officer taped it back up and gave me a piece of paper, telling me I'd have to pay for it before I could have it. I went to the little Banco de Guayaquil kiosk but was told I needed the form to be photocopied. An old woman selling lottery tickets told me I needed to go across the street, so I went across the street, got the copy, and came back to the bank kiosk.

Now, however, the man was telling me that I needed another form photocopied in triplicate. I was starting to get annoyed, and nothing was making much sense to me. The guard who kept playing with his pistol holster was telling me to walk over to the corner and wait, but for what? Luckily another woman named Claudia was also having trouble. She had no idea what all of the trouble was for and why it was so hard to just get the package, and she's from Cuenca. She said she would help me out, which I was grateful for.

Now the guard handed us another form which we had to get photocopied in triplicate across the street again. Along the way Claudia badmouthed the post office and the beaurocracy. Back at the post office again, we had to pay. Claudia had recieved a package from a friend in Maine. It was just a few fashion magazines, but it cost her $22 and change. I tried reading my form, but it made no sense.

Even though the listed value on the box was $0, it had cost about $42 to ship it. The customs officer itemized the pants as costing $5 and all of the candy (which was not in the box) at $10. The final total was up to about $50, but all I had to pay was $7.21, or closer to $8 after the tax the bank kiosk added on. I was finally able to go back into the customs room to pick up my package, nearly an hour after I'd gotten there.

It could have been so simple to just sign off on the package and let me be on my way, but instead I had to make 4 photocopies of useless paperwork and pay for what was already paid for. And that is the mess of beaurocracy in Ecuador.

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