My trip to the Post Office, the Main Post Office in Nairobi in City Square on Hailie Selassie Avenue, was a real adventure yesterday. I sent myself two packages in December, and they finally arrived in Nairobi. One package contained a printer, which I will leave behind as a gift to the Theatre and Film Department, and the other a small step-down transformer, to change the voltage from 220 to 110 for the electronics in my house, since American voltage is different than most of the world.
How many people did I interact with to get two packages? How many workers’ jobs did I justify today on one errand in Nairobi? Why did it take me two hours to get two packages? In Newport, Kentucky I would have entered and left with my two packages in less than 5 minutes and I would have been waited on by one worker. Yesterday, 17 different employees in and around two different buildings interacted with me and helped me before I left with my two packages.
– Female Guard to lower the chain for us to enter and park who gave me directions for how to enter the building.
– Male Guard to check me with a metal detector before I could enter the building.
– Smiling woman who took my two yellow package slips, and came back to the counter with the two large packages. She handed me a knife with a wooden handle and a 6-inch blade and instructed me to open the boxes.
– Nice man who looked in my boxes and asked about the contents. He ripped a small corner of white paper from a sheet of paper and wrote:
and told me to take the slip to the window behind me.
– Man reading newspaper at desk who was sitting at an empty desk reading, who finally looked up as I stood there and told me to go into the office behind him.
– Man in messy office with food on his desk who looked at my wee ripped slip of paper and wrote 16% underneath.
– Back to the same nice man who took the slip with 16% on it who then worked with a calculator and wrote charges on my two yellow slips, customs fees for the materials. As he worked out the figures the original smiling woman was re-taping my packages back together. I was then told to go to another window with the two slips.
– New woman who took my two slips and typed up a bill on a computer and printed another slip for me to take across the street to a bank three buildings down to pay the fees at Window 13.
– Female guard to give me directions to the bank across the street and down the block. To cross the street: ‘Run.’
– Security guard at bank building to check me with metal detector.
– Security guard at elevator to tell me when I asked about Window 13 that she had no idea what I was talking about.
– Additional security guard to save the day and tell me I wasn’t in the bank and I needed to exit the corporate offices and go around to the back of the building for the bank entrance.
– Security guard at correct bank entrance to check me with metal detector.
– Bank teller at Window 13 who took my 2,000 Kenyan shillings (about $25) and gave me a bank slip proving I had paid. He slammed my new receipt with a rubber stamp pounded on an ink pad. I waited in line for 30 minutes for this teller.
– Back to original nice man, who took my two original yellow slips and after seeing that I had a bank slip, took out his ink-pad and a rubber stamp and slammed stamps onto all 3 documents before telling me to go to the next counter.
– Young girl to check my passport and write my passport number on the two yellow slips. Go to next counter.
– New young girl who double checked my passport and collected 360 more Kenyan shillings in Kenyan postal fees for the boxes sitting in the post office. She then wrote me two separate receipts by hand, using carbon paper to make duplicates, and she too slammed with rubber stamps on the new receipts, telling me to go back to the original counter.
– Original nice man who gave me my two large packages that I first sliced open with a knife 105 minutes earlier.
– After taking the elevator down to the ground floor with my two packages, another man at a previously unnoticed counter who stopped me and asked to see my slips. He took out a spiral binder with hand-made columns and wrote down information from my slips in his notebook.
– Security guard to lower chain so we could drive over the chain and exit.
I depended on 17 different people. I was fascinated by the process, the jobs, the employment, the layers of tasks, and old-fashioned rubber stamps, and carbon paper, and forms, and seemingly made-up fees, and home-made notebooks, and knives, and banks, and security guards, a web of people all with one small role to play, helping me and making me crazy all at the same time.