Today at the Nomad household, we’re listening to Christmas music. You know what that means. We just got a delivery of Christmas presents! Included is a new CD, Elliot‘s present to Ilsa this year, her favorite “girl band“ doing a selection of Christmas songs both old and new.

Celebrating Christmas in March is a not-uncommon part of life overseas. We’ve gotten Christmas presents in April, in July. Once, we were really impressed with some friends’ organizational skills when we received our Christmas presents in early November…until we realized they’d been mailed “in time” for the year before.

That was in Mauritania. Getting mail in Mauritania was a bit of a gamble, always. For a start, most postal workers in the US have never heard of Mauritania, although they will smile thinly, offended, if you ask. “Of course I know where it is,” they will tell you, always. “This will arrive in 10 days to 2 weeks.“ Then they will send your mail to Mauritius, and it may or may not ever reach Nouakchott, Mauritania, West Africa.

Then there were Mauritania’s stellar organizational skills. For a start, there is no door-to-door mail service, which makes sense, since Nouakchott is literally a place where the streets have no names. (I should have named my blog that! Darn…) Very few streets are even paved in this capital city, only a few major ones. By no stretch of the imagination could one impose a grid pattern on the city. Everyone I knew lived on one of the many sandy alleyways, choked with trash, that meandered across the face of the city.

To get mail, you have to rent a mailbox at the city’s one post office, located downtown across from the Hotel Marhaba, which has a really nice pool if you enjoy paying money to be on the receiving end of a lot of attention from Arab men. The mailboxes are small squares with a key, just like the one you had in college. If you get a parcel, they put a small slip in your box, and you go out that door into the hot glaring sun and round the corner, where you present your slip to a person sitting behind a desk. A couple of times, I was allowed back into the dusty, cavernous back room. Picture Aladdin’s cave, that vast hall of glittering treasures piled haphazardly with no sense of order. Now replace those golden piles with dusty boxes, time-begrimed bits of crushed cardboard, outdated sun-faded magazines and smeary envelopes. Add in some cobwebs, piles of fine sand in the corners, and masses of flies zooming round in that annoying square pattern, and you’re getting the picture. So it’s really not surprising that we occasionally got parcels 2 years after they were sent.

Given the risk, if at all possible you got someone to bring things to you. Anyone coming from the US was besieged with requests. Best of all was if someone was just unexpectedly going to a conference or something like that for a short time–sometimes you could even negotiate an entire suitcase.  The kids quickly got used to having two or three Christmases and birthdays–usually the best presents weren’t the ones received on the actual day.

I have to say that so far, I’ve been quite impressed with Morocco’s postal service. I’ve gotten 3 parcels since we arrived, and all have come in a timely fashion, intact, and delivered to my door. But there are certain things one shouldn’t send through the international mail, and the boys’ long-awaited and much-anticipated new DS’s are a good example. Today, we got a small suitcase full of things just for us–yes, a friend went to a conference. The kids got some much-needed new clothes, we got a couple of new DVDs, and the boys got their Christmas presents from us and their grandparents–a red and a black DS Lite, to be precise. They’re pretty stoked on them. They spent the evening sitting two feet away from each other “chatting” on their DS’s.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas! We are.

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