In something of a test of the capabilities of the American and Angolan postal authorities, a friend of mine sent me a care package from Seattle at the beginning of September. My friend and I were joking that he hoped the package would arrive in time for Christmas, but by some miracle of international commerce during the first week of October I got a notice in the office that a package had arrived. However, instead of actually delivering the package to the office, I had to take a type of claim slip to the main post office to pick it up.
I was expecting a quick exchange, but I should have known better. I sensed trouble as soon as I saw that one of two possible windows had a sign stating “Alfândega” above it, which means “Customs” in Portuguese. Hoping to avoid ending up at this window I started at the adjacent one, and kindly handed my claim slip to a confused-looking postal employee. I think her job was to take the slip and go find my package and bring it to the customs folks. Somehow this act invovled first shuffling through a book of papers about 100 pages thick presumably full of notices for other arrived packages. Of course my matching claim slip was near the bottom and only after rifling through the huge stack twice did she manage to find it. Then she went to look for my package with tortoise-like speed. This part of the process invovled the biggest leap of faith – not only did I not yet have my package, I also did not have my claim slip. Fingers crossed and breath held, I waited.
After twenty minutes my package arrived at – of course – the customs window. I was nervous; during the time it took for my package to arrive I witnessed the process I was about to be subjected to. Wielding a large, opens-any-kind-of-box knife, the customs lady (picture a sassy Marla Gibbs* and you’re pretty close) tore into packages with a little too much gusto for comfort. When it got to my turn her disgruntled customs employee expression changed with the crack of a grin. She rifled through my beef jerky and skittles without much interest, but the big bright bag of Sour Patch Kids caught her eye. She asked what it was, and wielded her knife once more to slash open the bag of what is perhaps the most perfect candy ever known to man**. She must have been relishing the look of terror on my face as her greedy little fingers reached into the bag and plucked an orange one (my favorite flavor!!) and poped it into her mouth right in front of me. The nerve...
Exhibit 1: Customs lady adulterated bag:
It turns out I got off easy. She only ate one and while completing yet some other paper-intensive process muttered the Portuguese word for “yummy” under her breath. I wasn’t quite done yet unfortunately. I had to go back to the window where I started originally and pay 172 Kwanzas (about $2) as a “customs fee” before I could pick up my package. Not only do they steal your goods they make you pay for the experience! Of course they didn’t have change for me and tried to make me pay too much, but I wasn’t going to fall for that and told the original lady I dealt with that I would wait. The problem wasn’t that she didn’t have change, it was that she somehow lost her key to the change drawer and couldn’t open it. I asked the driver (by now he had come to check on my progress anyway) to make change and before long (but after forty minutes of this madness) I was on my way, finally, with my cherished box o’ processed sugar. I’ll never see a bag of Sour Patch Kids the same way...
*remember the maid from The Jeffersons?
**based on a scientific candy poll conducted by yours truly