I arrived back in Georgia at 4 AM. By 6 AM my group had been shuttled into the city and dropped off at a spooky looking hostel. After dragging my 100+ lbs of luggage up two flights of stairs, I was ready for some sleep. My tentative plan had been to get a few hours of sleep, get to the mysterious Customs/Post Office, put the box issue to rest, and possibly catch the martshutka back to the village. Optimistic, very optimistic.
I woke up at 2:30 and got a horrible jolt when I saw the time. So much for going back to the village that day. I got dressed and talked to the hostel owner about the best way to get to the airport. A taxi could be as much as 50 lari for the round trip. Possibly the easiest, but the most expensive option.
I knew there were buses, but I had no idea which one or where to catch it. A solution presented itself in the person of a lady from my area who offered to go with me. She was at loose ends and needed something to do. She knew how to get to the airport. Fantastic! Off we went. We took the metro to a bus station and caught the correct one shortly after.
One thing I love about Georgia is how incredibly helpful people are. Georgians will really and truly go out of their way for you. Possibly even more so because of my obvious foreigner status. I didn’t know where we were going, just that it was somewhere in the vicinity of the airport. As we neared the airport, Marlene asked me if I knew where to get off. ‘No, I’ll just ask someone’ was my response. I turned to a sturdy looking matriarch sharing our bench, held out the notice I’d received, smiled and asked “Posta? Posta?” She glanced at my paper and then boomed out the question to the entire bus. Heads turned in our direction. A few voices discussed the issue and then suddenly the situation was resolved. The bus stopped and a man gestured us out. Posta? I asked, just to make sure. He nodded and we set off.
A short walk led us past what was obviously the old airport and into an area with various cargo offices. The man pointed us down the road to a building which had the Georgian Post logo. Effusive “didi gmadloba”s followed.
Now we got down to it.
In the Georgian Post I handed the lady in a little shabby office my notice which went on top of a pile of similar notices. She typed the parcel number into her computer and spent some time sorting through a number of Excel spreadsheets. I shifted anxiously from foot to foot and tried to gauge what the news was going to be. I checked her desk for Dove or Tootsie Roll wrappers, which would indicate the fate of my box, which was long past the 20 day pick-up period.
The lady, who spoke a little English, questioned the fact that the box was addressed to the Education Resource Center, sort of like a district or county of education office. I explained that we thought that would be safest since I live in a village. She commented on that fact that there were books in the box. One book, I said, a novel. There was chocolate. Just a few bags, I explained, for my students and my school. She was noncommittal. More clacking of the keyboard.
Finally she turned to me and told me that I had to pay 100 dollars. One hundred dollars?!? I was incredulous. I tried to get an explanation. Why 100 dollars? Our communication began to break down. All I understood was that the food items seemed to be causing problems and the fact I had addressed it to the ERC complicated the issue. I tried to explain that the contents were not worth $100 and that if I truly had to pay that then I would just walk away. May you choke on my kids’ Tootsie Rolls!
She mentioned the ERC again. I decided to call my contact at our local office. Fortunately she answered the phone, but didn’t understand why I was calling. I thrust my phone at the office lady and decided to let her explain the problem. I listened to this one-sided Georgian conversation and couldn’t make any sense of it. Next thing I know, the conversation is over and my phone is handed back. Huh? The lady tells me that I should be getting a text with a number. Sensing that some progress had been made I waited. The phone rang and I handed it back. A number was repeated and then entered in the computer. Typing, lots of typing. Then forms being printed. I am gestured back to the counter with a finger. Take these forms to the girl at the next window. I move on.
At the next window, which was actually an office, I forked over my passport. I signed papers and waited for the final verdict. I had to go to the Bank of Georgia in the new airport and pay . . . 9 lari. What a change from $100! I was laughably relieved. Sure I’ll give you 9 lari. I’ll even give you 10! I’ll give you 20! I felt like throwing the contents of my wallet up in the air and doing a little dance.
BUT, it was 5:10 and we had to get back with the receipt that I paid my 9 lari before 6. Otherwise I’d have to come back the next day. Uh-uh. Not gonna happen. We powered out of the office and down the road. I thought I remembered taxis hanging out. Yes sir, there they were. We got ourselves a taxi, rode to the airport, paid my bill, and, gauging the time, quickly walked back.
Back in the office I proudly presented by receipt and was led upstairs to the special package room. I signed 2 forms and a clipboard. Then the man disappeared down an aisle and came back with two packages from . . . Hong Kong. Ara, I said. Erti, one. Amerikidan, from America. He looked doubtful, but left and came back with a white Priority Mail box with the address written in my mom’s familiar hand! Hip hip hooray!
Clutching my liberated box I left the Georgian Post, never to return.