Monday, November 3, 2008

Correo Argentina

Lisa Maxwell strikes again. No matter how hard the obstacle, she will find you. In high school I went to the Australian Outback for two months, and week after week, her packages found their way across the desert to PO Box 153, Lake Grace, Western Australia. In college, though I was a mere 10 minute drive down I-43S, St. Nick's always began with a package delivery via campus mail to my dorm room. When I studied abroad in Ireland and subsequently celebrated my 21st birthday in Galway, I think the little Gaelic post office was overwhelmed by Lisa Maxwell's love affair with the courier system. But nothing compared to my year in Washington, DC. Week after week something arrived on my porch covered in styrofoam peanuts and wrapped in packing tape. I think Ro once asked me if my mom had considered buying stock in UPS, because it might have served to be a good investment at that rate. Needless to say, 3903 Morrison Street would have had much less flavor without those packages...

It was only a matter of time before Lisa Max's package service found its way to Calle Piedras. However, getting here proved to be quite a maze, and a prime example of Argentine efficiency operating at its best.

The saga began a week ago from Friday when a slip of paper was shoved under our apartment door notifying me that I had a package to be picked up at the nearest post office. Only three blocks away--not bad. True, I wondered why the mailman couldn't bring the package to me if he could bring a slip of paper to me, but I figured it could be a lot more painful. My first free morning came three days later, so Nick and I headed down the block for the p.o.

Five minutes after arriving, I was up. This is easy, I thought. I handed over my ID and package notification to the postman. He mumbled something into the microphone and looked at me expectantly. Ahhh, I was lost. ¨He needs your passport,¨ Nick translated for me. Oy, I didn't think of that. ¨Uno momento,¨ I told the postman.

15 minutes later, Nick and I had raced home and raced back, only to find we had to take another number and get back at the end of the line. 15 minutes after that we were up again. Feeling relieved that this was about to be over, I proudly handed over my passport. The postman looked at it, nodded, and took my notification slip into the backroom. Expecting to see him walk back with a beautiful, cardboard box sparkling with packing tape, my heart sank when I saw him return with another piece of paper. I knew it couldn't be easy, I cried on the inside.

In contrast to my about-to-scream insides, the postman looked quite pleased with his findings.

¨Here you go, seƱorita,¨ he said as he handed me my new notification, taking the courtesy to circle the new address to which I must travel. Apparently, I needed a notification to receive the official notification for which I needed to receive my actual package. Receiving a package in Argentina is akin to embarking on a scavenger hunt, and one that will teach you a lesson in patience.

Allright, let's get 'er done, I resolved. The new address was in Retiro, a neighborhood where I was scheduled to teach on Friday until 2 pm. Perfect, the post office closed its doors at 5 pm, so I would have plently of time to hippity-hop over after my lesson and pick up the goods.

On Thursday I texted my friend John to see if he wanted to get a drink with me and Nick that evening. ¨At the international post office,¨ was all his reply said. It was 3 pm. Could he possibly mean he might be busy at the post office through the evening? This could not be a good sign.

Well, John ended up making it out, and upon arrival proceeded to down two liters of Stella Artois by himself. As the alcohol relaxed him, he began to recount his boiling frustration after sitting at the post office for three hours, an unfortunate circumstance that led him to rip open his mother's carefully wrapped care package right outside the building in Retiro, miles away from his homestay. After tearing open the box, he proceeded to chomp his way through the packets of gum his mom sent, and begin to read the book she had enclosed, David Sedaris' latest, Engulfed in Flames. Laughing at Sedaris' imitation of Parisians while chewing the heck out of some Orbit apparently made John feel better about his situation, and he headed home and came out to meet us. Hmmmm, my Friday chore was beginning to sound ominous...

My time arrived and I surrendered to Correo Argentina at approximately 2:15 pm Friday afternoon. Chin up, I walked in, tried to ignore the massive herd of homicidal-looking people stalking the waiting room, and took a number. #86. I looked up at the board to see a neon #30. Okay, I can do this, I thought to myself, and I opened up my book. About 30 minutes later, my number was up. Whew! That was relatively pianless. This time, I came prepared and had my official, official package notification ready with my passport. The postman, a glorious Argentine with snow-white hair, a deep tan, and a half-unbuttoned white collared shirt, nodded approvingly at my passport, stamped my notifications, and disappeared in back...Only to come out with another notification.

You are kidding me, I thought. There is no way. Just no way. But, oh, it turns out there was a way. The postman handed me my new slip and circled the six-digit number at the bottom. ¨Go the other room and wait for this number to be called,¨ he instructed in Spanish. Sweating profusely at the anxiety of the postal system and also at trying to understand Spanish in such a hectic environment, I nodded my understanding with wide eyes, and obediently headed to the next room.

It looked like an emergecy room waiting room, just as desperate, just as manic. Rows and rows of fold-out card-table chairs, filled with rows and rows of feverishly angry yet knowingly helpless people sitting with their heads down, eyes glued to their slips of paper where their holy 6-digit saving grace was printed. I listened to the numbers being called off the loudspeaker, and immediately my over-worked pores poured. The announcer was listing off these 6-digit numbers so quickly, and without pause in-between patrons, I panicked. How was I going to understand him?? I was going to miss my number and this whole debacle will have been in vain. Oh, pobrecita!

To help me, I wrote down my six-digit number in every possible way it could be called. Uno siete ocho nueve uno cero. Dies-y-siete ochenta-nueve dies. Uno siete ochenta-neuve dies, etc., etc., so that my slip was now covered in written accounts of possible verbal translations of my number. Okay, that made me relax a little and I proceeded to stare at my numbers, my eyes glued to them everytime the announcer came to the mike.

One hour later, I wasn't hearing my number. It was allready 4 o'clock. I thought for sure I had missed it, I was going to go home packageless, I was never going to see what my mom had sent. I resolved to wait until the post office closed, and maybe I would be lucky and they would call everyone who did not respond to their called number. Just hold tight, I told myself, as I looked around and felt like the obvious Americana with deer-in-the-headlight eyes, grasping my number with a grip like the jaws of death.

45 minutes later, I heard it. My number, my glorious number was called, and I understood it! I raced to the back to pick up my package and joined the queue of the others who were just called. When I got up to the window, I proudly handed over my ticket, and the postman just as proudly handed over my package. Hallelujah!! I was so elated I literally felt 20 pounds lighter, and I bounced out of the post office, shouting to every postal employee ¨Buena fin de semana!!!¨ on my way out. They looked at me like the crazy Americana I am, but I was too relieved to feel self-conscious.

I arrived home at 5:30, three hours after my journey to the p.o. began, and Nick and I tore open the package. Scrabble!!! Lisa Maxwell had saved the day by sending a Scrabble board--and just in time, as Nick is really beginning to worry about his post-Tuesday life when there will not be anymore polls to read or pundits to analyze. :-) Scrabble, a box of chocolates, a candle, and a pair of purple loafers that I have not taken off for three days. It was so worth the wait. Lisa Maxwell indeed strikes again.


Caitlin Cunningham said...

ahhh what a great post. you kept me on my toes the whole time. mwuah

Fabricio said...

Argentine saga... I grew up in Argentina and I know how things are. Believe me... the US Postal Service is on the benefits living in the US