An hour at the post office?


Our hotel room in Dakhla is fabulous. Of course only I would say that. One of the balconies has a view out over the palm trees by the promenade and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean. The other balcony has a view out over the Dakhla airport. Nice! Really nice! With a short walk up the stairs to the sunny rooftop, I watch fighter jets and helicopters taking off and landing. Ok, so the shower is only a tiny dripple of water. The music blaring from the street below keeps us awake late at night. But… The sound of blaring jet engines, United Nations airplanes taking off and landing, the occasional smell of kerosene… make up for these things.


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There is one other nice thing. The post office is across the street. We have not used our neoprene rain shoes, well, since we arrived in Morocco. Actually we have not seen much rain at all, except for where we least expected it of course, on our second day in the Sahara desert. To make a long list short, we have some equipment that in Africa has become dead weight. What a better idea it is to carry along some extra milk powder and send some of the rather "un-needed" rain gear away by post. I would have said "send home". But where is home, but right here in Dakhla, in this small city in Western Sahara on the end of a peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean.


Tomorrow morning we are heading back out into the Sahara desert with an early morning start. The post office is across the street. What could be more convenient. It does not close for an hour. Good timing. It can’t take an hour to send a small package?


Down the stairs and across the street, into the small building we head. “Pour les pacquet c’est la-bas.” (For the packages, its over there.) I suppose we should have known that sending packages is done from another part of the post office. “Over there” we head. “Bonjour monsieur, nous voulons envoyer un pacquet”‘. “Hello sir, we would like to send a package”. Of course, no problem. You can buy the box here. You can send the box from here. But you must go to the customs office. There you can have the package approved. Then, you must come back to the post office. And then we can send the box. “What?” At the Marakesh post office, the customs office was right in the post office (and they declared our map illegal and almost confiscated it from us). That’s another story of course.


It turns out that the customs office here in Dakhla is on the other side of the city. How convenient. The minutes are ticking away, the post office is soon going to close. The only option: “Le Petit Taxi”. A quick ride across Dakhla and we are dropped off in front of the customs office.


A small busy office, with an uninterested customs officer taking care of things today. This is only after my passport is taken away (I’m not really sure why.) After waiting for her to finish photocopying, having friendly chat with others on a coffee break, we finally can talk with “The Customs Officer”. A big deep sigh of exasperation… More Europeans needing to send a package… “Passport”. “It was taken from me by the guard downstairs madam”. I must wonder to myself if this is the first time that a someone comes into this office asking to send a package to Europe. It ends up that Chantal’s passport will do. Sliding a big black book across the desk, with a great amount of disinterest, she writes our names, passport number and who knows what else.


Carefully checking the contents of our box, madam stops at our map of southern Africa and begins a close inspection (looking obviously for Western Sahara, an illegal country). Our hearts jump! We have experienced this problem before, not too long ago. We left the “black marker legalized” map of Western Africa at home (our hotel room) on purpose. I would suppose that someone working in a customs office has at least a university level of education. However it is with rather some difficulty that we explain to her that she will not find Western Sahara on a map of the southern countries of this great continent. She does not believe us and has to have one of her official colleagues come explain this to her.


The heart-stopping map situation finally resolved (our rain gear is of no interest to her), madam finally approves our package.


“You must tape the box shut now.”


Rather confused at being told that we were supposed to have come here with our own roll of tape, we explain that at the post office, they somehow forgot to tell us this small but important detail. Now we have a problem. After searching every single drawer in her desk, each one with a loud heavy dramatic “sigh”‘, it turns out that “madam” has no tape. Neither do any of the other five people with desks in the adjoining offices. No amount of explaining that the post office is closing in a few minutes, that no one told us to bring our own roll of tape to the customs office, that we are leaving in the morning and that the weekend is coming up anyhow and the post office will be closed then. None of this seems to help anyone, who all act in almost extreme levels of exasperation and client unfriendliness bordering on anger, find a roll of tape. There is no tape to be found anywhere in the customs office building. In frustration, I have made it my mission to ask every person in the building for tape. Surely, a customs office in charge of approving (on a daily basis I imagine) boxes coming from the post office, must have tape somewhere. There seems to be a “no tape, no approval, no legalization stamp policy”‘ here. This strikes me as a rather odd state of affairs, but so do a lot of things in Morocco I guess.


Chantal (the social bird in our family) has been friendly with madam . Together they have found an employee willing to drive me in his car to go look for an office kiosk in town where we can go look to buy a roll of tape.


Downstairs, out the building, into the car… Off we drive, Mohamed and myself. Back we go into town, looking for a “papeterie”. Through one neighborhood, then another. We pass papeterie after papeterie that all seem to be closed. The very finite number of minutes in the hour before the post office closes do not stop ticking away. Somehow, we are as fast as a flash.


Finally, there is an open papeterie. The driver of course knows the people here and there is all the usual social talk. To a European on a time schedule, this is somewhat of a challenge. I am learning that in Africa, time is not important. Presence, social contact. These are important. And somehow, when I slow down, it seems to make sense. But NOT when I would like to have my package posted within the next few minutes.


We tell the boy running the store that we need tape. He hears us but seems more interested in other things. Somehow, I get the message across to him that I actually really would like to buy that roll of tape.


Finally, a big, thick, expensive roll of tape in hand, we jump back in the car, drive back through the neighborhoods, down the large avenue. Within minutes we are back at the customs office. Just as I arrive at “madam’s” desk, the guard from downstairs (whom I had already kindly asked) walks into the room and drops a big roll of tape on the desk, next to mine.


Well… No Comment.


We tape our package shut. Slowly madam writes more numbers and other things in her big black book and puts the magic stamp of approval on our box.


Off we go… Pick up my passport… Downstairs… To look for a taxi. This time though there is no taxi. And so we walk back towards the city. Finally we find a taxi who drives towards town for us. After my explanation that we need to rush, for the post office will close, the driver stops, picks up another passenger (an off duty military officer). Those two have an argument as to exactly where the post office is and the taxi driver of course drives even more slowly after my explanation of our need for haste. We have been living in Dakhla for a few short days now and know exactly where the post office is (one turn to the right and 150 meters down from where we are). But somehow that is not quite clear to this professional taxi driver who is in no hurry today.


To make a long story short. The hour has passed. We arrive, jump out of the taxi and rush past the still luckily open gate, and into the amazingly still open office with our small, stamped, taped and approved box. Almost at a run, we zip into the still open door. “Voila monsieur! Nous voulons envoyer notre pacquet.” “There we go sir! We would like to send our package.”


No comment is really needed about the most friendly of all customs office or their lack of tape. The hour is up and our box, somehow and amazingly, has been posted in an hour, from the post office across the street. The world can go on, and so can we…

2 Reactions to: “An hour at the post office?”

  1. 1 Dottie Ragouzis

    You have the patience of Saints for sure.
    Good luck on your next leg.
    Love to you both, Dottie

  2. 2 Kelvin George

    Dear Friends,
    I came cross yours at Guinea,Conakry international Air port few days ago,when we discussed about the political affairs around the sub-region, and their living condition of the people.futher detials i am a Sierra Leone by nationality.i was provoked by the revolutionary united fronts rebels in freetown .i will give yours more affect on your reply.Thanh you for your undrstanding.
    Kelvin George

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