Fuckwittage

Just back from that Nairobi on a mission :-

  • Get my Javascript Notes bound into a book
  • Fax the College’s certificate of registration to KENIC to get our domain name application approved
  • Ask the customs office to reduce the duty they want me to pay on a parcel from Uncle Mungbean in the UK

this is what happened…

These are not in chronological order:-

The book

Just before lunch I found a photocopy place where they said they had binding services. I told them I wanted it bound properly like a textbook with a hard cover not just a plastic spiral binding. Its already printed properly as a booklet with the pages sorted appropriately by some nice free software (psnup and psbook). I left it there and went to my favourite Kenyan food place for lunch. I didn’t hurry over my food and even visited a cybercafe to try and fax the certificate (see below) before going back to the binder because I had told him I’d come in an hour and I thoght it’d take an hour for the glue to set.

This was, in fact, the last of my visits of the day. I returned after nearly an hour and was handed a sheaf of papers stapled together with a piece of blue cardstock on the outside. I shouted:

“You stapled it! You can’t charge me fifty bob for that” (it had been the agreed price and even then I suspected it was high as I’d been told to expect to pay 30-40 for proper binding.

The guy offered to “complete” it if I waited for ten minutes. I thrust 20 shilling coin into his hand, snatched the pamphlet and stormed out, saying:
“Don’t waste my time”.

Maybe I over-reacted. It’d been a frustrating day already.

The Fax

I tried in the morning. The college doesn’t have a fax machine so I carried the certificate of registration with the Ministry of Education, and a cover letter I had written, to town with me to fax from a cybercafe. The nice young lady in the first cafe tried over and over again for me while I filled in clues in the cryptic crossword in her daily Nation. Finally she decided that it was probably a “telefax” machien and the people at the other end had forgotten to switch it to fax mode.

If these are the guys who authorise domain names, and if they require us to send them copies of certificates **by fax**, wouldn’t it be a good idea if they had a dedicated fax line?

well maybe she was wrong, it was only a guess after all and she couldn’t know any more than me. Maybe they don’t have a fax machine after all. 😛

The Parcel

A few weeks ago Jackson, the volunteer from Nguluni, came to me with a problem. He had a diskette stuck in the floppy drive of his old Toshiba laptop. I recognised the problem — the metal covers get bent out of shape and cling to the insides of the drives — and offered to help.

I fabricated a tool from the top of a plastic butter pack and slid it inside the drive to dislodge the thingumajug. It didnt work.

So I set about opening the drive up to look inside. The case of the removable drive was sealed with screws. Inside that were smaller screws holding the drive in place. The drive itself had even smaller screws holding it together. At some point the screws became so small that Jackson went off on his motorbike to get a Jua Kali metalworker to fabricate a smaller screwdriver for us out of a piece of old fence wire.

Having removed a plethora of screws of descending size — rather like that bit in The Third Policeman where Policeman MacCruiskeen opens up his boxes — I managed to free the disk and ejected it. I reassembled the drive like a Russian Doll: layers upon layers, and handed it to him. He had his laptop set up and immediately attached the drive and inserted a disk. I got on with some other work. After a while it came:

“It still doesn’t work?”. He jabbed helplessly at the eject button which proceeded to do nothing in an ominous way. Since I now had all the necessary screwdrivers plus the experience to do so, I dismantled the thing again. This time what I found inside was not so nice: The disk head was folded back on itself!

What I think happened was this: by poking inside with my butter-lid spatula I failed to release the disk but succeeded in slightly bending the head. Once the disk was removed the next one to be inserted caught on the head and took it with it as it was inserted: folding it over on itself. Bugger!

(this is going to be about the parcel soon, I promise)

We tried bending it back and sticking the broken part with super-glue. Do you think that worked?

Youre right.

To the rescue came Uncle Mungbean. We took photos of the offending drive and he managed to locate some on e-Bay for a quid each. As they were untested he bought three and posted them to us here in Tala together with some unused bits of old networking equipment. The manifest on the parcel put the value at twenty of your English pounds.

When the said package arrived in the grubby little post office in Tala it had been examined by customs opfficers in Nairobi (who have possibly not the faintest idea what a Ethernet – 10Base-2 repeater is, or more accurately **was** in any case) who had allocated a duty to pay of two thousand, two hundred and fifty of our Kenyan shillings. Yup, almost as much as the value of the contents. I figured that even on new computer parts the duty shouldn’t be 100% and set off for the customs office on Saturday to ask them to adjust it.

The customs office is closed on Saturdays.

I set off again this morning. The customs office was open. I went to the parcels desk, on the third floor mezzanine, to ask who I had to speak to. They sensed that the customs receiver was out of her office and send me to the senior collector’s office on the 4th floor.

The senior collector was out but the receiver was in his office working. His secretary offered me the chance to wait for her there which was nicer as there were seats. We went together back down to her office on the thrid floor mezzanine (but up a few steps from the parcels desk).

Once in the receiver’s office with the receiver I explained the story and showed the little crumpled yellow slip of untidily written paper that identified my parcel and its duty. The receiver announced that she couldn’t even tell if it was a “DP” or a “KI” (or some similar initials, I cant rmemeber). She set out, with me in tow, for down the steps to the parcels counter to assertain the correct allocation of initials to the slip. It was a”DP” (or whatever).

With that settled she brought a lady from the parcels counter whom she despatched to show me to the place where they actually open our post and poke about with the contents. This, of course, is on the fifth floor. We spoke to two ladies there who actually remembered the parcel (!):

“I was uncertain, so I showed it to my boss”, said one of them, “she increased it to five thousand”.

“She increased what?”,

“We didn’t think the written value was accuarte, the one on the parcel, so she upped it to five thousand”. And, so saying, she got up and came with me and the other woman and lead us off to meet her boss.

(**Note** note that the duty on a 5000 shilling parcel containing “circuits” (pronounced “sir-cue-its”) is 2250 shillings. This isn’t going to be good, is it?)

The boss turns out to be the very same customs receiver whose office on the thrid floor mezzanine (up a few steps from the parcels counter) I had just left. When reminded of it, the receiver also remembered assessing the parcel that had contained sir-cue-its. They gave me a seat outside her office and retreated within to discuss the contents of that parcel as they remembered them. I took the opportunity to help them remember by telling them the story of the parcel (as I did above on this page) and how come there were three disk drives and how come they were not worth much. The ladies got up and went back down the few steps to the parcels desk to get the original of the slip for my parcel.

Upon their return and after some more chat it turned out that the aforementioned customs receiver was from Kangundo, i.e. 6km from Tala, and had heard of Tala Secretarial College (Holy Rosary). This might possibly have been the most important thing that happened in the whole hour and a half I was in the post office, and most likley responsible for it taking only an hour and a half.

“I’m going to pretend that your story is right about the value”, she announced and send the parcel opening woman off on some errand with my slip and its original.

“There is no need to pretend”, I told her, and launched into a more detailed version of the story of how a laptop was broken and how…. you know it already (if you’ve managed to read this far!).

After a while the parcel opener came back with a third piece of paper that required a stamp from the receiver’s rubber stamp. Having received such, she bustled out of the office again. From this point on I no longer needed to follow them about. I sat and waited whlie the receiover performed what appeared to be the same addition of figures from the same stack of paper bundles over and over again. The lady with my parcel slip returned after some time and my hopes began to rise. She recieved a second imprint from the receiver’s stamp and left again without addressing me.

I was thankful. I have no idea how many times she clumbed and descended those stairs between offices, when she finally returned the third time she had a whole sea of rubber stamps on the various sheets and slips of paper she carried. They conferred for a while and then said I could pay the new duty either here or in Tala. I decided to pay in Tala as I had to go back there anyway to get the parcel.

Cut to tala post office some hours later. The post offive lady had been asking me to bring crisps (“cree-sips”) from Nairobi and I had some “Nyama Choma” (spicy goat) flavoured ones in my bag for her. I presented my new parcel slip and offered the duty money: 1120 shillings (ok still a lot but better than 2250, eh?)

“Are you in a hurry?”, she asked.

“Wot?”,

“Are you in a hurry, the postmaster is not here”, she clarified.

“.. and he’s the only one who can deal with this ?”, I asked.

“the ree-seeipt”, she said, flailing a sheaf of pink carbon copies of receipts in her receipt book, “He’s gone out for some, … other business”, she added.

“what do you do if he gets drunk and falls into a bush?”, I asked in all seriousness as I had drawn my own conclusions (probably wrong but entertaining at least) about what “other business” might entail.

She laughed; I went to walk round the market and shake hands with people I don’t know very well.

I came back after some time — I dont wear a watch and its a good thing too, keeping account of time would be suicidal here — and the postmaster had returned and seemed to be perfectly sober so my speculations were completely unjustified and I write them here only for the sake of entertainment and not to cast any doubt over the reputation of the postmaster at Tala, who is a funny thin little man with large round glasses. He filled in a pink receipt for me and there was more stamping of thing with rubber stamps. Turns out I had to pay another seventy bob, on top of the duty, as the fee for having my parcel opened in the first place. But all that being done, I finally walked out of the post office with my parcel…. after exchanging it for a bag of Spicy Goat crispss, of course.

Just now (well, how long have I been writing this?) at home I opened the parcel that had lie so long at Tala post office. The three disk drives were inside, as you might expect. But as you might **not** expect, if you knew Uncle Mungbean as well as I do, they were not individualy wrapped in bubble wrap, but bundled together in the middle of a nest of bubblewrap. I took them out and with them came serveral pieces of bubble-wrap each cut to about the szie of a disk drive, as if they had once been used to separate the drives and protext them against damage. But now the drives nestled togehter and bumped into one another.

One of them is so badly bent out of shape that the door for the disk cannot be opened. I’m hoping Mungbean is going to write a comment here and tell me what the disks were like when he posted them. But in the meantime it looks like the customs department who entertained me so much today, who arbitrarily ‘increased’ the value of my parcel, actually broke one of the drives!

Thank god there are three of them.

3 Comments

  1. Joyce Ying Says:

    Oh, poor Mark, what a day!

  2. James Ng'ang'a Says:

    That was one of your worst days!

  3. Mark Says:

    The other evengin we attacked Jackson’s laptop with small screwdrivers on my Leatherman. First I tried the drive with a door that was almost the same colour as his laptop case — being optimistic.

    It didn’t work.

    Then I tried the one with a black door.

    It didn’t work either but at least the light came on and it made sounds like the starter motor on an Austin Allegro.

    Finally I had no choice but to try the one the post office mutilated. I shook it until the broken door slid out with its little spring attached. Then I used the plyers on the leatherman to straighten up the front until a floppy could be inserted and removed without snagging. Finally I inserted it in the case.

    Im getting so good at this now, openeing and closing the drive case, that I can do it like a soldier who has been trained to strip down and clean his gun with his eyes closed and a hangover.

    It Worked!!

    This happy and ironic ending makes this story a bit better, but Im still not happy with Kenyan beurocracy. And with the british for their contribution to it during colontial times. But there you go, that’s what we sign up for as Volunteers, isn’t it? :7