Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fulbright Blog
Place: Dhaka
Date: January 10, 2007

Good news! The packages that I sent myself in September finally arrived!! I almost couldn't believe it! It was a great coincidence that I happened to go to the office today (I haven't been here in weeks) otherwise I may have missed the notice. The notice was in Bangla so my friend Nasim translated it for me. In order to retrieve my packages I had to write a letter to the Postmaster saying that I wanted them. Then I had to bring that letter and the handwritten form they brought to my office to the General Post Office (GPO). The GPO is in Mojiteel. When Nasim told me the name, it sounded familiar to me, but I could not remember why. As soon as I was in Mojiteel, however, I remembered why I had heard the name before. It is one of the hotbeds of political activity in Dhaka and regularly shows up in my security reports as a place that I should avoid!

Sure enough, I passed groups of hundreds of protesters leading up to the Post Office. When I arrived at the Post Office there were thousands of angry Bangladeshis in front of it! I had waited four months for my packages, however, and was not to be daunted! So, I approached the building and a man stopped me and politely said, "Sorry madame, we are having a meeting here today." (I loved the euphemism.) I then told him (in Bangla) that I had a package and just wanted to get into the Post Office. I think that my sari bought me brownie points because he let me pass.

When I got into the Post Office several friendly men helped me navigate the byzantine passageways to the Customs (a.k.a. "Foreign Post") Office. There, I found several dingy, well-worn desks and a large bookcase stacked ten feet high with piles of dog-eared sheets of paper tied together with string. I handed the guys behind the counter the notice that I received. I was then introduced to "the boss" who introduced me to his boss who introduced me to "the big boss" who apparently has to check me over to see if I am worthy to receive my packages. I then answered several questions about my personal life, including what my parents do, how many brothers and sisters I have, and why I am not married yet.

Next, we went to get my packages. They brought them to a table and I practically leaped for joy at the sight of them. (I sent these packages to myself at the beginning of September and had nearly given them up for lost.) The boxes were in surprisingly good condition considering how far they had travelled. They opened the boxes and examined the contents for customs purposes. These items were catalogued in a handwritten ledger. Then one of "the bosses" (one level down from "the big boss") took me back to the room with the dingy desks. He calculated what my duty would be. We had become "friends" (bondhu) by this time, however, so he marked down that it was mostly books which have a lower duty. The entire tax ended up being 1,602 taka (about $25) plus I had to give him my phone number (I "accidentally" mixed up the last few digits however...)

Anyway, after all of that, for some reason I still could not take my packages with me. I now need to go to the Gulshan Post Office on Sunday (Sunday is the first day of the work week here) to pay the duty and pick up the packages. At least I now know that they are in the country and hopefully the post office guy does not try calling me before he sends the packages to Gulshan!

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