Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mail Call

I received my first piece of mail today! It wasn't a simple letter—it was a large 12x12x16 inch box stuffed full of school supplies! There were lots of pencils, erasers, sharpeners, pens, crayons, chalk, flashcards, little toys, tissues, an inflatable globe, etc. Not only did it make me happy, but it also made the principal and my fellow teachers happy.

First, I should explain a bit about how the mailing system works here. Dominica does not employ postal carriers to deliver the mail (not in my area or anywhere else, at least as far as I know). My address is simply my name followed by the name of my village (which the Peace Corps would rather I not specify in my blog). The whole address looks like this:

David Kurtz
{insert the name of my village—send me an email if you want to know}
The Commonwealth of Dominica
West Indies

Within the USA, you can add the zip code of 00109-8000. This isn't something that Dominica uses, but at least the zip code helps to route any Dominica-bound mail while it is still within the U.S. Postal Service's system. Note that it is helpful to use the phrase “The Commonwealth of Dominica” because this differentiates it from another Caribbean nation known as the Dominican Republic. It takes long enough to get mail that comes directly here, so if you can avoid a mistaken detour to the wrong country, you will get your mail faster.

Residents here need to check at the local post office to see if they have any mail. My village's post mistress works on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The post office doesn't have individual post office boxes where you retrieve your own mail. Instead, the post mistress just keeps it all stored alphabetically. You walk inside and simply ask her if you have any mail.

I understand that letters come much more quickly than boxes. This is in part due to the fact that boxes must be opened and inspected, and import duties must be paid. Because of this need to pay the import duties, it cannot be done at the local post office—you must go to the post office in either the capital (Roseau) or the second largest city (Portsmouth). The Customs Office will send a pink notification message to your village post office when your box has been inspected and is ready to be picked up.

Thanks to Facebook, I was able to reconnect with an old friend from my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Charleston. I haven't seen her since around 1978, but Facebook has been great for helping old friends get virtually reunited. She works out west for an educational software company and gets to attend a lot of education conferences, where she often picks up a lot of freebies to send to people such as myself.

I should point out that unlike sending boxes to Americans in military service overseas, it is much more expensive and complicated to send boxes to Peace Corps (or anyone other than military). Mail headed to military folks stays in American hands the whole way, through a postal service ran (and subsidized) by the military. For everyone else, the U.S. Postal Service turns the boxes over to the national postal service of whichever country the box is headed. For any Americans who have sent servicemen things overseas, there is a big price difference! I'm not sure what she paid to send the box that arrived today, but my family recently sent me a smaller box (currently en route to the island) and the postage for it was about $75.

Sue, my long lost friend from UC, put together this box of goodies, and mailed it on September 7. She has sent boxes such as mine to other friends of hers overseas, and chose to send it with a tracking option. She informed me that it finally arrived on the island of Dominica on Saturday, September 26.

I knew that the next step was for me to get a pink slip, so I checked at my village post office on Monday. However, there was no mail for me. I checked on Wednesday and still no mail. Unfortunately, I forget to check on my way home from school on Friday. However, the post mistress saw me in the village and let me know that the pink slip had finally arrived. I could pick it up on Monday.

The only trouble was that I was scheduled to spend all day Monday in the capital of Roseau for training in the Peace Corps' new online monitoring and evaluation program (the paperwork that must be kept to show Congress we are really working). Fortunately, my post mistress gave the pink slip to my host sister to give me when I got home from Roseau.

Today, my principal gave me permission to leave at lunch so I could retrieve this box from the Portsmouth post office. I caught a bus from our village to Portsmouth, but had to wait until 2:00 when the Customs officials arrive at the post office. I had no idea what the import duty on school supplies might cost me, but I got lucky—the officials there only charged me two dollars. Nearly one full month (September 7 to October 6) had passed, but I finally received my awesome box of school supplies.

Thank you so much, Sue! We will put these materials to good use! However, we can always use more if anyone else is interested in helping out!

No comments:

Post a Comment