There are many things I took for granted when I lived in the states. I have a very long list. But the one today is 'US Post Offices'. I know, post offices you ask? The institution that inspired the term 'going postal'? Those? Well, yes, you see the US system is Nirvana compared to our Georgian Postal service.
The first time I went to the main Tbilisi Post Office was in response to a little slip of paper that showed up on my desk. All in Georgian script, now I could puzzle out how to say many of the printed words (the handwritten Georgian- no way) but I was no closer to understanding what it meant than I was when I first picked it up. Defeated, I asked one of my Georgian staff.
"You have a package at the post office," she said.
I broke out into a cold sweat. A Georgian post office! I hadn't know there was such a thing. A few days of looking at the little slip of paper, steeling my courage, girding my loins, doing my daily affirmations, and I was ready. I found a cabby with reasonably good english (as my Georgian can get me most common menu items, the check, directions to the water closet, and pleasantries in an elevator, it is NOT up to wrangling a package from a post Soviet civil servant).
After dodging in and out of traffic, up and down small alley ways and side streets, we made it.
It was a mad house.
One thing to know about living in Georgia is that you realize lines are primarily a western covention. Here they understand there's a place you want to end up, and there's the place you start, but all those people milling about between you and the front- who are they?
I eventually made it to the front of the line and proudly handed my slip of squiggly line paper to the four young women sitting on folding chairs, I was rewarded with a postit note with a number on it and a finger pointing me to another line (to pay the 15 lari to get the package out of hock). I went through a confusion of line negotiating, gave my money, got my receipt and a finger pointed me back to the first line. Another shuffle, block, shuffle and I got back to the front of line one, gave a different one of the four girls sitting on a folding chair my receipt and was handed a slip of paper for my trouble ... and sent to another line. Patiently I waited and finally a little old man showed up with a santa sack full of packages over his shoulder. He dug through the bag and I was rewarded with my mail.
All in all, only an hour of my life and a lesson in how postal delivery is done 8,000miles from home. And what did I get for my troubles? Our US-based Company President had mailed 10 pounds of Peet's Coffee! (Georgian Coffee isn't really that good. They really like Nescafe...).
Well today, a Georgian postal neophyte no longer, I received another little slip of paper. No fear. No anxiety. I sprang into action, negotiated the mean streets and alley ways of Tbilisi, and was in and out of the post office in fifteen minutes. And what did I get for my trouble? Seven kilos, two hundred grams of Oreo cookies (no Oreos in Georgia either).
And it only cost me ten lari, a 'didi madloba', and a smile. (Smiles work here too).
Thanks Steve, I'm almost down from post double-stuft sugar high...