Post haste

Just back from my trip to Nairobi. I have an exciting large brown envelope labled “birhday present” that I have not yet opened! Here’s the story:

Got up early, woke some time before the alarm rang — I think the birds wake me at 5.45. Had a nice relaxed breakfast of porridge, papaya, mangos and plumbs. At about 8 I set out for Tala to get a Nissan matatu to Nairobi. I stood at the Tala “stage” for about half an hour wondering if I would travel today or not. First came a bus.
“Are you going to Nairobi?”, asked the conductor.
“Yes, but you are going to the Country Bus Station and I want to go to Afya Centre”, I replied.

Now Afya and Country bus are, apparently, walking distance, so to your average Kenyan this answer doesn’t make any sense at all. But VSO warned us about Country bus and one of the other VSOs got mugged on the way there; until I have seen it (and I think I saw it from the matatu on the way back today) and gotten the lie of the land, I don’t fancy pitching up there by myself. So I waited for a Nissan.

A Nissan arrived. The man whom I had thought was the bus conductor appeared like Mr Benn’s shopkeeper and asked the tout if they were going to Afya. He received a negative reply, turned to me and said,
“This one is not going to Afya Centre”.
So far so good. After a while another came. This time I asked the conductor if he was going to Afya. There was some confusion:
“Are you going to Afya Centre?”
“To Nairobi!”
“Where in Nairobi, to the Afya Cen…”
“Central Nairobi”
“To Aah-Fay-Yah Cen-ter?”
By this time half a dozen Mammas had bustled past me into the van and the only space was the conductor’s seat. I tried sitting there but was required to alight. Matatu’s are very fussy about the number of passengers they cary (more of this, and seat-belts, in a Blog entry coming up soon).

To cut a long story short, I got on the next one by using my height and, probably, also colour.

Found my way to the central post office ok having studied the map before I left home. Located the customs office after a short walk round the maze of post boxes. There was nobody there. Posibly the best thing that happened to me today. I went to another desk and spoke to the one lady there who wasn’t interacting with the gentleman-in-a-suit. I explained my reason for being there and made myself open to offers of assistance. The gentleman-in-a-suit turned and told me whom to ask for: the “senior receiver of duties” or some other such outrageous title, but he also told me his name (which I have now, sadly forgotten). I went to the fourth floor and asked for Mr Whatever-his-name-was and was shown directlyl into the senior collector’s office through a door with a sign saying “It is your right to be served here, do not offer a bribe”. He and his assistant were very helpful: I was taken to another office and invited to sit while a replacement of the receipt for my parcel was produced in which I was required to pay only the 67 shilling presentation fee, and not the duty! This had to be taken back to the senile receiver (or whatever his title was) for a signature. They asked me who had told me to ask for him by name. I did not know who the gentleman-in-a-suit had been, but surely he gave me the best possible advice.

For a while I waited by the desk of the assistant deputy revenue accruer (or whatever) while the replacement chitty was prepared. I was in the very nerve-centre of Nariobi post-office customs office. Outisde various dreadlocked crusty white ex-hippies filled in forms and formed queues, beautiful Japanese girls sat patiently on the floor waitin for something… Inside was like a scent from Brazil. And thats Brazil the movie, not Brazil the country. In fact it was unlike Brazil because there were no computers, not even some made by strapping CRTs and Fresnel lenses onto old Imperial Typewriters. there was an electric typewriter, in one corner but, most of the work that was done there seemed to be done by stapling many small pieces of yellow paper to larger pieces of white paper and then rolling the whole up into a bundle rather like a scroll, fastened with an elastic band, and placing it on a big pile by the wall. In a couple of places cardboard boxes that once held Lexmark printers were brimming over with these scrolls, as if waiting to be taken off to some more dusty place of storage. The desks of the staff were loaded with towers of ledgers of varying age: some new and bearing cryptic abbreviated titles in marker pen, others old with yellowed pages and spines helt together with brown parcel tape, but all were interspersed with sheets of dark carbon paper: the stuff that makes this kind of office work at all.

On the way out of the post-office, down many flights of stairs (as the fourth floor was more than four floors up due to many mezanines) I heard the soun of a cistern filling. Following my ears I located a Gentlemans Loo which was another piece of excelent luck. So I was ready for the return journey, but I decided to treat myself! Went to the Java Coffe House and spent nearly half my Duty savings on pastries and Hot Chocolate.

And that’s it folks, I took another matatu back to Tala, did not stop at the turning for college but instead went into the market and visited the post-office there (so small by comparison) and collected my parcel. I still don’t even know who it is from!

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