Last weekend was Divali. It's a Hindu festival wherein families decorate their houses with lights and hand out sweets to friends, family, neighbors, and the errant curious (and hungry) American. Think of Christmas time, but the sweets are Indian and the lights generally don't include Santa Clause, although I did see one reindeer.
Furthermore, it's been Mauritian mid-term season. I've been furiously studying and have been continuously stressed. I also found out that one of my classes is a semester course- not a year course like I'd thought. That means that I have to sit for an exam in December. Normally that would not pose a problem, except that last week I bought a plane ticket to Dubai for the end of November/beginning of December so that I could meet a member of my immediate family. This trip falls directly in the middle of scheduled exams. I'm not pleased, nor am I sure of what exactly will happen. I also found out that apparently 40% is a passing grade at the University of Mauritius and that 70% is quite a good grade. I rattled off an e-mail to Tulane. Apparently my grades won't transfer at face value, but it still makes me nervous. If I don't get into graduate school because my American Literature course at the University of Mauritius kills my GPA, I may go postal. Don't worry, I'm giving it my best.
Oh, and speaking of going postal.
My mom mailed me a package full of candy about a month ago now. The exact arrival-in-Mauritius date on the package said October 9, although I am absolutely positive that the notice didn't show up in my PO box until several days after that. In any event, I found the pink slip in my PO box telling me to go and claim my package on October 15th. I was instantly elated. I walked the twenty paces from my PO box to the front counter at the Flic en Flac post office. They took my slip and handed me back another one. I was befuddled. "Yes, but where is my package?" I asked in gentle and naive French. "Ah," they told me, "You must go and collect it from Port Louis." Wonderful. I was a bit agitated, because the capital city can be a particularly hectic place, and it's a pain to get to and get out of. Anyway, I boarded a bus for Port Louis and went to the main post office, or, what I thought was the main post office. Long ago when I was trying to rent my post office box in the first place, I was sent to this post office (and indeed, back into the darkened and drippy bowels of it) to discuss my life with a man whose last human contact must have been pre-Mauritian independence, before he finally agreed to rent me the box.
Anyway, still feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited at the prospect of home things, I arrived at the post office and presented my slip. I was immediately told that I had come to the wrong post office and that I should go to the waterfront to the Postal Museum to collect my package. I set off in that direction, becoming less excited and more annoyed with every passing step. That post office turned out to also be the wrong one, and so after another set of directions, I finally arrived at the parcel center for the Mauritian Post. It was, well, a warehouse. It's where international packages go. To die. I presented my slip again, and was this time told to take a seat and wait. After 20 minutes, I was called to the counter. They had to find my package in the dark recesses of the Mauritian postal abyss. Anyway, I was taken to a counter where they opened the package in front of me. My feelings of elation returned as Skittles, home-made Halloween mix, and other assorted American delights spilled onto the counter in front of me.
My excitement died almost immediately. The man said to me in English that, as the contents were perishable, they would have to be retained by the Post and sent through an inspector who would then clear them for delivery. I think that the man mistook my look of supreme disappointment and instant melancholy for a lack of comprehension, because he immediately repeated his statement in French, thinking that maybe he had chosen the wrong language. Hearing it a second time only hurt that much more. Anyway, the man told me not to cry and that I would probably receive my package the following week and that they would be kind enough to forward it to the Post Office in Flic en Flac so that I wouldn't have to return to Port Louis. Let's do a quick tabulation: that makes four separate post offices in two different cities and no fewer than six different postal workers.
I had seen the promised candies, but was not allowed to indulge. I was glad though, that the man let me take the note that my mom had written and stuck inside the package. He told me not to worry- I would be reunited with the sweetened essence of America soon enough. All the next week I went to my PO box every day waiting for my package to arrive. Yesterday, that is, the 26th of October, I finally received word via a teensy scrap of blue paper that my package had arrived.
That the slip was teensy is particularly salient to this narrative. Maybe I haven't mentioned this before, but my PO box, either by pure coincidence or due to a mean sense of humor on the part of the postal worker who assigned it to me, is on the tallest row of PO boxes. I mean, I'm a tall guy. It's part of my identity. Anyway, even I, who tower above the average Mauritian, must reach my arms well above my head to feel inside the box. Seeing inside it would require a step ladder. So checking my mail is really much more of a tactile exercise than I had ever imagined. Anyway, it was only after desperate feeling around the box and painful arm and shoulder extending that I finally got my hands on the aforementioned teensy slip of paper. It is for that reason that I cannot state with any certainty when that teensy slip of paper arrived. Cruel fate.
Anyway, I went to claim the package, feeling falsely triumphant once again in the candy saga. The man at the counter asked me for 106 rupees. I asked why. He told me that it was customs duties. I was a bit frustrated- the man at the parcel office had estimated the value of the contents of the package at 200 rupees. Over 50% customs duty on candy? But fine. I was willing to pay it. The problem was that I didn't have 106 rupees on my person. I would have to return the next day.
The next day, October 27, was today. I showed up again, this time cautiously optimistic, with exactly 106 rupees in hand. I presented the slip to the post man. I could almost taste the America in my mouth. "381 rupees," the man said to me. "Excuse me?" I said. He repeated the sum. I instantly exploded. It's been a rough couple of weeks.
Apparently when I went to collect the package yesterday, the man hadn't noticed that it had been two weeks since the package had arrived in Mauritius. I was expected to pay a demurrage fee that accumulates according to the number of days they'd been holding my package, including days during which the Post doesn't operate. I asked to speak to someone else. I was given a phone number of a bureaucrat in some postal cavern somewhere in Port Louis. We talked for a while. The man told me that he sympathized, and that even though I had attempted to pick up the package well within two weeks' time, I was still expected to pay the fee- the fee that amounted to almost double the value of the parcel. He told me that he would waive the fine if he could, but for that I would have to talk to his boss- someone he kept calling the "Mauritian Postmaster General." I declined the phone number, by this time so frustrated that I could feel my body radiating acidic heat back at the tropical sun.
I went back to the man at the front desk. "I believe that this post office is holding a package for me. Please throw it away." I had to repeat it several times in both comprehensible languages until he understood. Yes, I accepted defeat. It does seems ludicrous that after all of that time and effort that I should be unable to collect my morsels of home. And I could have just paid the fine(s) and gotten the candy. I almost regret what I did, except that I can buy candy here. Indeed, I bought a lot of it so that I could eat my feelings surrounding the entire postal ordeal. And I'll have my whole life (probably) to eat America. It was the thought of my parents that mattered to me, and I did get their note out of the package. In the end, after talking to a slew of postal workers and failing several times to get my grubby paws on some candy corn, I just had to stop playing their game. Tropical bureaucracy, though charming, can have a seriously sour taste to it. I didn't make them destroy the package in front of me, and I know that they are aware of the contents. It is highly probable that Mauritian postmen are eating my candy. I hope they enjoy it, really. America is too delicious to waste.
Oh man, though, I do miss candy corn.