Today is cold here. (Ok I know in comparison it’s not cold, but it feels cold) It’s spitting rain, with an icy wind. I wish I was wearing gloves. I am walking from my house up to the market to pick up garlic and carrots, then stopping by La Poste to collect a parcel. (!!!)
By the time I reach the post office, I’m thoroughly chilled. I push open the fogged-up glass doors and nearly stagger back at the wall of heat that hits me. There are heaters cranking out blasts of hot air, and the place is packed. In spite of this, even the people working there are wearing wool coats and caps. Are they crazy?
This post office has been recently entirely remodeled. The first time I went there was about a year ago, to collect my Christmas parcel from TongguMama. The place looked kind of what you’d expect a post office in a developing country to look like—discoloured pale green paint, smeared with dust and age, cracked tiles, long disorganized lines straggling all over. The next time I tried to go, the place was shut down entirely and it looked like a pile of rubble. To transact your business, you had to walk around the block and enter a secret back entrance, unmarked, and go up a couple flights of stairs to the temporary post office, which looked like back rooms everywhere, only with a counter set up.
Today was my first visit to the new and improved post office. Coincidentally, I was picking up another parcel from TongguMama. I was impressed with the difference. For a start, working heaters—by no means a given in a country that is much much colder than you were expecting.
As you enter, you are confronted with a machine that looks rather like a freestanding ATM. You have several different options depending on the reason for your visit. I punch the “collecting” button and receive a ticket numbered 32, and the security guard tells me at which “guichet” or window I must wait in line. Impressive, I think. I note the numbered guichets with LED displays above, the wall of post office boxes, the new tiles, the seats for people to wait.
The LED display above my guichet reads 28. Not long, I think. I’m wrong though.
The place is packed, and it soon becomes obvious that people are not waiting anywhere near their particular window. They cluster in groups, chatting; they fill up whatever seats are available; they unobtrusively cut each other, in spite of the little numbered tickets. I stand there, right in the middle of the room, trying to not trip people up with my umbrella, failing at this.
It’s interesting to eye those around me to see what’s fashionable in Takkadoum on a rainy winter day. Many of the men are wearing wool djellabas over trousers and wool sweaters. It’s funny to watch them inevitably reach down to the hem and hike up their robes to get at their pockets underneath; I always do a bit of a double take though, as they hitch their robes above their waists. Women are wearing layers and layers…first of all pajamas, then a wool djellaba, then a poncho, then a scarf or shawl. I am surprised to see many of them wearing slippers on their feet. This is a fairly common fashion statement, but in the rain? Surely not.
I am often amused to catch glimpses of pajamas under djellabas. I think this is a fashion I need to start emulating as I can hardly imagine anything more comfortable and more conducive to hiding those pesky extra Christmas pounds. Basically, as near as I can tell from casual observation, you wear pajamas, then a dressing gown (bath robe), then over that a wool djellaba. Finish this look with fancy socks and fuzzy slippers with rubber soles. Cover your hair under a headscarf. Et voila! You are ready to rock with the Moroccans.
I had thought of getting us all black hooded djellabas for Christmas, to wear around the house. We would look rather like wizards, or sith lords. Think how warm we could be, in our unheated drafty tiled home, the wind whistling in through cracks round every window and door. Think how stylish! I suggested, the children protested, and it hasn’t happened…yet.
I waited and waited. Finally number 28 was finished and moved away. The teller clicked number 29. No one budged. Number 30 went up. Great, I thought! Only 2 more to go.
15 minutes later, as 30 was leaving, a little old man went up to the window and she helped him. I don’t know if he cut or if he was number 29, but he didn’t seem to have a numbered ticket. I rolled my eyes and waited patiently, but a woman wearing a pink fleece cap over her scarf seemed annoyed, and spoke to him quite sharply. I’d been eyeing this woman, who’d come in after me and was standing closer to the guichet than I was. Sure enough, as soon as 30 had left, she was there.
No worries, since no one responded to 31 so I was next. I waited while the teller paged through an entire notebook, looking for the record of my parcel. Finding nothing, she turned to the side and bent over, and picked up my package right away—it had been sitting right next to her.
She took another notebook, found the record, had me produce ID and sign for it. We were done! I thanked her and left. It has only taken 30 minutes to get through 4 customers.
I returned thankfully to the freshness and rain of the outdoors, and made my way home, through the throng of women begging outside the neighbourhood mosque, along the cracked sidewalk, home to open the parcel and exclaim at the generousity of those I only know through blogging.
It’s been quite a week for this, since yesterday I got two books in the mail from Meredith in France. I was showered but my hair was still wet and I was wearing sweatpants when the doorbell rang. Our front gate is kept locked and it’s quite a little walk from our upstairs apartment down the stairs, around the house, through the small garden out front, to the gate. When you ring, it buzzes an intercom in our hallway, and we can talk to whoever’s out front, but we need to physically go down with a key to open the door. When I picked up the intercom, a voice rang out. “Facteur!” he announced, (postman!) with as much joy as he knew I would feel. I couldn’t find my keys! Then I sped down and he presented me with a parcel and a big smile and a “Bonne Année!” I responded with my best “Senaa Saida!” and he mounted his little yellow scooter and drove off in the rain.
(What did I get? From TM, a Peanuts nativity, hot chocolate with marshmallows, candy canes in a pretty decorative tin. From Meredith, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the second one in the trilogy, books I’ve been really wanting to read!)