Friday, October 23, 2009

Zip code THIS, Indonesia!

I almost declared a one-woman war on the Palembang Post Office yesterday.

My mom sent me a package 3 ½ weeks ago. She was told that it would arrive at my house within 6 – 11 days. We knew better than to start thinking THAT optimistically, but we didn’t think it would take this long.

Luckily, she’d paid for insurance and tracking. According to the online info she had, the package had arrived in Palembang over a week ago. I had heard nothing. On Monday, I asked Yana (my counterpart) to call the post office for me. No answer.

So I paid my ojek (motorcycle taxi) guy $5 to drive me downtown and back. He came in with me to help. (Though, to be honest, he was very nice but not too much help.) We walked in, and I was immediately caught off guard by the throngs of people waiting in line.

Ok, waiting in line is probably a bad description. Shoving each other and throwing things would be a better phrasing. It’s what I imagine the beginning of the Great Depression was like, if somehow the post office were going to be open for five more minutes EVER. Kind of like that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. People were just throwing things behind the counter… people were grabbing pens out of each other’s hands… and in the corner, a man was selling refrigerators. What?

I thought, “There is absolutely no way I am ever going to get through to the front of this line.” People constantly cut in front of me in a five-person line to the bathroom, for God’s sake.

But when I walked up to a security guard and told him I was expecting a package from America, he led my driver and me behind a secret-looking set of doors. We walked through winding hallways and climbed stairs. “How lucky!” I thought. “Maybe they have a special little room for international mail. I am quite worldly. “

Oh no, they do not have a special little room for international mail.

They finally led me to an office at the end of a hallway. Outside, a shirtless man was sleeping on a bench and a stray cat was peeing on an envelope. It wasn’t looking good.

Even though I showed them my ID and the package number, they said they’d never heard of my name or seen any package from America. It must not have come yet, they said. So I left my name, address, and phone number and told them to call me the second they got it. Sure, they said. Right.

So I waited three more days and begged Yana to call again. I waited expectantly with my fingers crossed the whole time. (Apparently, this is not a gesture the Indonesians “get.”) “Yes,” she said. “Your package is there. Let’s go get it.”

What?! It IS there? YESSSSS. Strangely, she arranged for a student to drive us there in his personal car. Sooo… he didn’t have to go to class the whole afternoon, and he was using his personal car to drive us around. Hmm.

We finally got to the post office, and we were led down the familiar pattern of hallways, past the man and cat (cat still there, man still shirtless), and into the same office. Bless his heart, the man did still have my name and address sitting on his desk. “NO PACKAGE, MISS!” he called when he saw me and gave me a big smile.

I turned to Yana. I think she explained that she’d already called and it must have been somewhere else. Then another guard came and led us around on another crazy path. We came to a doorway.

I could see my name on a package riiiight past the guard. Actually, I saw my name on TWO packages right past the guard. BEST DAY EVER!

“Oh yeah,” the guy said. “You have to pay customs first, though.” I began to throw a fit. I should NOT have to pay customs on this end, too. Yana said we should just go and talk to the customs people before I started blowing out blood vessels in my face.

We walked upstairs and around a corner to a padlocked door. We knocked. No answer. A man came up behind us and said, “Customs is closed. Only open until noon.”


I decide at this point that being mad does me no good. They don’t understand my mad faces and Yana makes everything polite when she translates it anyway. I opted for my very best sad face, instead. “Pleaseeee help me,” I said.

Nope. We go back downstairs, where the guard finally agrees to give me my package if I pay HIM the amount I owe customs. My sad face disintegrates and my mean face comes back.

He says that it will be 14,000 rupiah, about $1.50.

Oh. Well, ok. I’ll pay that.

“Your package has been here for eight days. Why haven’t you come to get it?” The man asked.

“HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW MY PACKAGE WAS HERE?” I say slowly and loudly, as though my manic rage will make him bilingual. “YOU DID NOT BRING IT TO MY HOUSE. YOU DID NOT CALL ME. YOU DID NOT EMAIL ME. HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW I HAD A PACKAGE?” Yana politely translated.

“Because it says your name on the box,” the man said simply, and pointed to the address label.

“Yes, I can see that this is indeed my package.” I breathed deeply. “But I only knew it was here because my mom has been tracking it from America.”

They shrugged. What do they care?

But then I took my beautiful, perfect little packages home. One was from my mom, filled with some shirts I’d asked her to send, some masking tape, rubbing alcohol, delicious tropical skittles, delicious trashy magazines, and a little stuffed cat just like my sweet little Callie. I could still smell her laundry soap on my shirts, and it made me miss her more than any emails or talking on the phone.

My other box was from my dad and the secretaries in his office at Regis Jesuit High School in Colorado. Those wonderful people—they put in hand sanitizer pens (PENS!), tide wipes, peanut butter crackers and granola bars (which I cannot find here ANYWHERE), and enough delightfully sugary things that I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to gorge my way through any other minor tragedy I might endure.


  1. That story was epic to say the least.

  2. Would it make you feel better if I offered to reimburse you the additional $1.50 for customs?

  3. Glad to hear you received both packages. We thought the sugar items might get you through some tough times or could be used when you have to bribe someone for something. That sounds like the Indo way!

    Love, Dad

  4. I want to hug you... but while hugging you, I can't help but laugh at the cat peeing on the envelopes! Yes... you need a long, heart-felt bear hug from me. I miss you!

  5. Miss Chris cannot get her package either Miss Katie. "What Miss Chris?!? Important medicine that will keep you out of the hospital?! You have been trying for two months to get it?! We never called you either to tell you we were holding it?! What?!?! This is the 4th time in two days you have called us?! have to go to the Food and Drug Administration first. Then customs. You Pay us both. Bule Special. 5 million rupiah. Sekarang" Calls America and gets reply: "We cannot help you Christine. We sent the package. It made it to Indonesia. It is no longer our responsibility. Good luck, love the US government. Evil laugh. Click." And still no package....