April 29, 2006
I never imagined that sending a CD by mail could be a very labourous work in Pakistan.
That day I wanted to send some books and a CD of my photos to Indonesia. The post office system in Pakistan, as in India, curiously work inside and outside the building. Outside the building? Yes, in fact, half of the process of mailing have to pass these counters outside the building. There are a row of men with kiosks offering service of packing, packaging, enveloping, legal mattering, etc etc.
The madam on the information desk directed me to an old man to package my books for the posting. The madam told me that this man would know anything I need to know. The book posting is quite cheap for sending books, with one requirement, the packaging should be one side opened for the checking by the post office.
Then from outside I went back to the office building. The book post for sending my 1.5 kg books cost me only 166 Rs, but the man of the stamping counter said that I could not send the CD. He said that sending CD is ‘objection’. I went back to the information madam.
The madam said I need to make ‘ijazat’, sent me back to the old man outside as the old man ‘will know everything’. I went back to the kiosk outside the GPO. The man said I need to pay 80 Rs (later on I found I was scammed) to fill a legal paper (in Indonesian what we call as ‘kertas segel’). He wrote everything in Urdu, from my passport documentation until my confession about the contain of the CD I was trying to send. Then he record all of this information in his holy book which contained thousands of names and confessions. I was amazed that this ‘holy book’, a thick book particularly made by an outsider, working outside the post office, might be an official record of legal matters. The legalized paper seemed to be signed already by an authoritative, seemingly from inside the post office, as the old man just wrote on an signed paper.
Confidently, I went back inside the building of GPO. Madam was also satisfied with the paper I had. Then she directed me to the parcel counter.
At the parcel counter, there were two school girls trying to send gift to someone in Europe. Their bags contained two dolls, some music CDs and audio CDs, and a box of perfurme. Only the dolls passed. The officer said CDs cant be sent out of Pakistan, in any form. Then the perfurme, a botol full of liquid,… hmm, it passed anyway. The officer told the girls not to declare the perfurme, and wrap it deep with other paper.
When it turned to my CD, it was completely rejected. I went to the counter next to it, also rejected. The man said that CD couldnt be sent outside the country. It was prohibited item.
I went back to Madam. I told her that her idea of making a declaration on a legalized paper didnt work, and I had spent 80 Rs on nothing. She symphatized me. Then she went to the parcel counter, together with me, to ask the officer to make an exception.
No exception was made. Even to CD made by myself.
She, then directed me to meet the director of the GPO to talk about my problem. I didnt expect just to send a CD I need an interview with the director.
The director, was busy with his phones when I was in his office. And I just explained less than a minute, he just said, “It’s impossible to send CDs by post outside Pakistan, legally. It’s not worth the money if your CD will be damaged.”
Back to Madam, Madam also didnt know what to do. She then directed me again to the old man outside the building. Again, outsider knows better. Madam said, the man would tell me what to do, as he knew better. I was amazed.
The old man told me to ‘smuggle’ my letter by ordinary post. The main post office of Pakistan rarely scan the ordinary post, so homemade CD should be able to pass easily. But it was risky.
Then two Pakistani friends of mine came to help me. Asad talked with the Madam again, and Madam was also helpless this time. She actually didnt know about the system by herself. When I talked to her in English she couldnt explain really what I needed to do. But no doubt, she was trying hard to be helpful.
We checked the DHL, and it was possible to send by DHL courrier. But the price was about 2400 Rs. We checked several courriers and the cheapest was 1900 Rs. Still they were way too much. Asad said that Pakistan faced terrorism problems so they had to be strict. But I didnt think it was the reason. The terrorists from rich organizations would be able to pay that 2400 Rs for DHL to send the secret information of Pakistan out to their head office somewhere on earth, or maybe out of the earth; while the normal people would suffer of not being able to send (and also receive) CDs by post.
The old man asked us to re-attempt the CD sending from the begining, at the afternoon, when the second shift of the officers start working. It was because of the hot weather, the first shift of officers got to be very uncooperative. He assured me that the second shift of the folks would be very helpful.
Our re-attempt was made at 4 pm (the shift change was at 3, but as expected, it was delayed). First, Asad went to the counter. The officer was a young man, in casual shirt, and very polite. He said that it might create problem to send a CD, but as I was a guest, he would take the risk for me. Again, the ‘mehman’, guest concept in Pakistan even could defeat the cold rules of the books. And that’s it. The CD was sent with only 177 Rs charge plus 1 Re registration fee.
Same office, same counter, different time might produce different result.