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January 14, 2008


And I don’t mean culture. Although I suppose a country’s bureaucracy is a reflection of it’s culture, and Ethiopia loves paperwork. (In even quite remote places with dirt floors and no permanent structures you can sometimes get a stamped receipt in a restaurant.)

Long hours, no food, just a few more steps, we’ll do all this for you today so that all you have to do is pick it up tomorrow—but is there any chance we can get it today? I ask—, ours is a rush process so that helps, just two more steps but now the computers are down and it is already after 6 and everyone helping us wants to go home, so come back tomorrow, but can’t we just check once more? I ask and the computers have come back up, so there’s that step taken care of and now it’s just the inspection. Nothing is ever “just” one thing or another, which is why I wanted to push through as far as possible that night—who knows how long each step will *really* take, and who knows what unexpected things will come up, and whose signature you’ll need, and whether that person is gone for the day.

The last-step-inspector was nervous. It was a conceptual inspection, just the manifest, and his boss said Just sign it! and he hemmed and hawed and told us to come back tomorrow and I said But we leave tomorrow morning, and he studied the papers again and it was all very frustrating, but really, probably the man’s job was on the line. With all that paperwork, it wouldn’t be hard to track a mistake back to him. How could he know how harmless we were? Eventually he steps away from his desk and from us and makes a call and comes back and signs his name, and stamps, and signs his name, and stamps, and signs his name, and stamps. It must be 8 PM already.

Now it almost really feels like we’re on our way out. We go to claim our goods from the cargo store. The GPS stuff, which has been sent thankfully on a single pallet, is all there. The MT stuff, sent as 12 pieces, is 83% there. Two pieces are missing. These two pieces may have gotten separated from the rest for appearing to be dangerous goods; one is a box of batteries and one is a gas container for the LiDAR plane. The container is completely empty and therefore should not have gotten classified as dangerous, and besides, Graham has cleared everything from the UK before sending it out so everything *should* have gotten through no problem, but at 10 PM when the two pieces still haven’t shown up and we don’t see them anywhere we load up the rest of it onto a big flatbed taxi which we have to negotiate down to a reasonable price and then negotiate the porter fee (they charged us for the loading of the truck which occupied the hands of about twice as many men as necessary—especially considering that we could have just done it ourselves had they let us—and took all of about 5 minutes) down to a still-unreasonable but slightly less ridiculous price and hop in our vehicle to head back to the University where we must drop the equipment at the foreign goods office.

We make it to the office fine, but the big flatbed pickup runs out of gas about 50 feet from the building. We push the truck forward to the door to unload it. It’s always something. When we’re done in the foreign goods office, to which we’ll have to return to retrieve our equipment tomorrow, we say goodbye and good luck to the truck driver (not our problem—we paid him, probably too much even, and that’s that) and warn the guards at the University gate of the problem and head out.

When Graham called Tim partway through our ordeal, he was just sitting down with the gang to a steak dinner. At least Tim ordered some pasta for Talfan and I to enjoy when we got back to the hotel, in case the kitchen had closed by the time we made it in.

Posted by beth at January 14, 2008 8:52 PM

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