Late last night I got an email to say that my five boxes were in Thai Air Cargo and I could get them. My plan was to go there myself and see if I could independently navigate the bureaucracy. I slept poorly but that was because of jet lag, not anxiety. I busied myself studying Nepali and finally got up to make coffee at 0500. The airport is eleven kilometers away on the Ring Road, and I knew that I could walk a half mile to Lagankhel and get on a bus to the gate for about fifteen rupees. I stopped at the fruit market to buy a dozen bananas and duita roti ( I love fresh roti) and found the bus. A bunch of taxi drivers gathered at the door of the bus, to cajole me into taking a taxi (600 rupees…) But I did smile and said “chaina”
At the airport I presented myself to security then needed to find Thai Air office, at which place they filled out a triplicate form in red carbon paper, hand-entering me in various books. The clerk photocopied my passport. Then told me I had to exit the airport and walk 1000 meters to the air cargo building, there to wait until 11 AM when they were ready. So I did. I made a couple of phone calls while waiting, took in the scene on the ring road. Trucks spewed black clouds of exhaust as they went by. Certainly not the picturesque Nepal. One of the calls was to a friend who told me that we are headed for ten days of general strikes starting this Sunday. She is from the UK and is involved in health care here; says that there has been recent news about the poor status of critically ill persons in Kathmandu.
Meeting the Alpha Male of agents
At the gate to the Cargo Building, various touts tried to convince me that they were an agent, and I ignored them all. I presented my papers to various and sundry at the checkpoints and was allowed in past the concertina wire. The parking lot was presently deserted. An authoritative man about my age finally brushed everyone else away and said to follow, stalking off without looking backward, a move my dad used to make. The Alpha Dog! He was the Nepali version of Lou Grant, porkpie hat and all. Turns out this guy was a real “agent” and he sent me with his assistant. First stop was to a side office to photocopy the passport (again.) We interrupted the clerk, who was occupied flattening out a pile of blue carbon papers (looked like a pile of dried leaves to me) for reuse, with blue smudges on his shirt and hands. Cost 5 nrs for the copy. We walked through a cavernous area lined on one side by rolling cargo doors. The other side was a sort of lumber yard, with triple-decker monster shelving behind a chain link wall. Then the assistant went to a dusty DOS-based computer to fill out my form. This included scrolling though every possible duty category. Now if I brought these books to sell, evidently there would be 11,000 nrs in customs. No no no. He made out my forms and it turned out there was no customs to pay, though the five boxes were subject to inspection. The boss guy returned with a slightly built young woman, and we had a conversation in “Engpali” a mix of both languages, in which the three of them simultaneously emphasized that it was important to claim the books as personal items, since I did not have a letter from LNC to back up my claim saying that the books were destined there.
Meeting the inspector
The place geared up as more people arrived, a lot of milling around. I have always loved trying to make out the patterns that might exist during chaos, and here was a tableau. Who was who? As the crowd scene developed, the inspecting agents were not in uniform nor were the clerks, but these would come through waving the papers – by now a sheaf of red and blue carbons and other official documents were stapled together. My agent Mr. Tamang appeared and asked for “two tousand” so I gave him the money and he disappeared into the customs cubicle. Now there were several hundred people, all Nepali but me, only three or four women. This must have been what a medieval market day would have been like. Or maybe the scene was like a cattle auction or the New York Stock Exchange. The inspector opened each box or container like he was gutting an animal carcass, and when that happened, a crowd gathered. Pallets of boxes being trundled around. Guards of course. One huge suitcase was partially broken open and overflowed with women’s clothes which got tossed around. Somebody had to sit on the case to get it to shut again.
My own inspection was anticlimactic. Only a forlorn pile. Yes indeed it was books, and only books. Textbooks. Glad I had not put any clothes in with them. After that, it was done. There was another ten minute wait. Finally we were ” sidio pa chi” and it was time to go. Four guys carried the books to the door, and though I gave Mr Tamang two tousand more rupees, I did not have small bills to give the porters ( this has happened to me before) nor did I have 1,000 nrs for the taxi guy. Tamang grandly announced that he would cover the fee of the porters, ek say ekjanalai. So the deal was, the assistant came with me in the taxi.
On the way to Jawalekhel I had a delightful half-English-half-Nepali conversation with the two guys, about USA, the brother who is a taxi driver in NYC, food, Tansen, traffic, and the cost of living here versus there. They laughed when I read billboard signs in Nepali. Gave me more confidence. We looked for an ATM as we got closer. The bottom line: got the boxes for an additional $42 USD. Grand total about $800 of which $600 was paid for. Hooray! And now the books sit in my room. Not all will go to one place, I need to sort through them. But now – here they are. 115 kg of books made it this far! The day was a lesson in logistics. I am in awe of the planning it takes to supply a group such as the Aloha Medical Mission, which organizes several tons of stuff when they go abroad. They bring OR supplies, surgical tools, etc. There’s an old military saying about war planning. “Fools talk about tactics. Experts talk about logistics”. This applies equally to any shipment. And in general, conducting business, being patient, and seeing the workings of something I would generally never have had the opportunity to observe. What fun.
At the Guest House, the dishes have been washed and the fridge is repaired. I will now stock up on groceries for the weekend which will get me through the bandh… I hope. Walked to LNC today, that’s a whole nother topic…… Joe