Heaving a deep sigh, she bends her head over the scale. It is rather worn out and it’s probably not her first challenge with the oh so necessary piece of post office equipment. It’s not the first time I’m witnessing these kind of inconveniences and it’s also not the first blog I am writing on the postal services in Mali. It may not be the last one either.
Post office visits are never really high on my want-to-do-list.
They usually come with challenges and they in general take a lot of time.
In general I prepare to avoid the most common challenges:
– I carry plenty of small bills and coins so they don’t need to set out on a search for change (or else I’m willing to take stamps as change).
– I already write my own receipt at home, which I complete with the prices at the post office, so they just have to stamp it.
– I make sure to not collect too many parcels to avoid facing a lack of stamps.
– I make sure I have about an hour available.
On Monday it was time again for a post office visit:
– small bills & coins – check!
– pre-written receipt – check!
– only two packages, one for Benin and one for Burkina Faso – check!
– time available: 1 hour – check!
Pretty straight forward, nothing special. Let’s see if we can beat Murphy’s law!
The post office clerk grabs the scale after having greeted me and sure enough the battery falls out. Now this is not the type of AA or AAA battery, but the one where you need to click on the + and – connectors.
She clicks on the connectors, puts the battery back in place and turns the scale around.
The battery falls out.
She puts it back in place and turns the scale around.
The battery falls out.
She puts it back in place and turns the scale around…
By now I feel like I’m watching Groundhog day.
Due to the lack of a battery cover – which probably got lost a long time ago – the battery falls out again and again and again.
And sure enough the moment arrives when one of the connecting cables disconnects.
A pair of scissors and scotch enter the stage to tape things back together.
They fall apart.
Are being taped back together…
They fall apart…
One disconnected cable.
Two disconnected cables.
She definitely wasn’t aiming at quitting the efforts, yet all efforts contributed to more pieces falling of the scale and a solution was not expected to happen miraculously.
The sighs get heavier.
‘I’ll be back in a minute’, I told the lady and went straight back home to grab the kitchen scale.
I admit it almost fell apart on the way to the post office (the extreme Malian climate wears stuff out – even the good quality stuff!), but luckily we could get the weighing done.
It then turned out that the lady – who usually sorts out the packages and was now replacing a colleague – had no clue which price list she needed to use. Phone credit had to be ordered and a colleague was called for information.
Another challenge tackled!
Now we get to the hardest point. That is: for me. I’m kind of a number freak and the lady at the post office isn’t – nor are most of her colleagues. She had a real hard time to figure out how many stamps of 1,500 were needed for a package requiring 13,300 in total.
I gave her a hint, which she ignored.
With her phone serving as a calculator, she started narrowing down the options:
‘6 x 1,500 = 9,000, 9,000 that’s not enough.’
‘10 x 1,500 = 15,000, ah, that’s too much’ she whispered.
‘7 x 1,500 = 10,500’
‘You may want to try 8’, I suggested one more time. No response.
Breathe in, breathe out…
’10 x 1,500 = 15,000’
‘9 x 1,500 = 13,500’
‘So, now we just need to add 300’, she happily said.
Even though I felt like saying yes, to save a lot of time, I didn’t want her to end up with a deficit at the end of the day, so I suggested she might want to double check the amount.
In the end it all worked out. She managed to find out how many stamps 0f 1,500, 1,000, 300 and 100 were needed for any of the two packages and yes, even the stamps and change were available.
45 minutes after having entered the post office for the first time that day I walked back home again, feeling very grateful for the kitchen scale and… for having been patient enough to not grab the stamp booklet to get the job done in a fraction of the time.
It was probably not her choice to be poorly educated!