Friday, February 4, 2011

Post Office Prisoners

On September 17, 2010 my mom carefully wrapped several hand-made dolls in pretty blue tissue paper. Four rolls of Charmin were wedged in place to fill the box and make the dollies nice and snug for their long journey. Toilet paper in Uganda is akin to the crepe paper used to decorate at birthday parties sans the pretty colors, so don’t laugh. While not intended for a birthday party exactly, these dolls were destined to fill the arms of small orphan girls in East Africa.

These dolls made their way across the ocean and in early October found themselves locked in the Kampala Post Office Jail. Their crime? Having the post office box owner’s name alone on their container. The first trip to the Kampala Post Office resulted in learning that my name should have been on the box rather than Andy’s name. Okay. Now what?

My instructions were to have Andy send an email to a specific address indicating that it was okay for me to receive the box. That done, the email was rejected as undeliverable so a return to the Jail was impending. The same man confirmed that the email address was correct, reviewed the printed copy of the undeliverable email notice and said, “try again.” Several tries were met with the undeliverable notice. A final visit was met with more frustration and a request to “return to sender” that box, which the warden refused.

I returned to the States only to constantly worry about these girls held in the Post Office Jail and to ruminate on the 500 shillings per day I would be charged for their safekeeping.

Upon my return in December I begged the warden for the release of these captives…to no avail. On January 24, 2011 I met a new person with a soft heart. “Please, oh, please release these dollies to me,” I begged. You would have been proud at my ability to be calm and quiet (as is culturally appropriate) during this trial. After retelling the entire saga she suggested that I get the signature of the man to whom the email was addressed and had been undeliverable. I wound my way through the catacombs of the jailhouse to find this man called James who very gladly put his name on the paper (what’s up with that?). He obviously didn’t even remember the case.

Returning to the parcel pick up building, I proudly showed my signed achievement. The soft hearted women then informed me that the post office was doing inventory and that she could not give me the box. Seriously?!? I departed for Kenya the next day and it would be 10 more days before I could return. Sigh.

February 3, 2011 was the day these dollies were released from their prison. The soft hearted woman questioned me thoroughly and then finally released the prisoners with the comment that I was to pay for their keeping from October to now, which totaled 64,500 UGX (about $35) plus customs charges. A bit of negotiation and she reduced their bail to 4,600 UGX (about $2.50). Whew.

A woman and a man were both seated in the customs booth. They would determine the value of the package based purely on subjective measures. That meant the woman would likely assign a higher value because moms know dolls are important for their girls. Yippee, I got the man. He sliced the box open and grinned at the TP inside and then wrote a “box of toys” on the customs paper. No one bothered to collect any bail OR customs fees and I don’t feel one bit guilty about not pointing that out to them.

Freedom! I walked proudly out of this post office jail with my dollies and toilet paper in hand. And so the saga ends. Praise God.