Monday, January 12, 2015

Alanna's Inferno


No, not you, my dear readers. But that is the message that greeted me from the front of a truck as I waited in traffic on my way to Kathmandu this afternoon. I thought to myself, what an odd-sounding and ominous message that is. 

Now, as you’ve probably picked up from my photos, Nepal is rife with fascinating variations on English words and phrases. Just today, even, I saw a sign that said “Medicine for fishes,” and a sweatshirt that proudly bore an American flag and the words “New York City, Massachusetts.” Even common images get mixed up. A boy passed me today with a shirt showing a Guy Fawkes face fused with King Tut’s burial mask. And don’t get me started about the Playboy bunny. It’s everywhere, from notebooks to second graders’ earrings. 

But back to the original point: GO TO THE HELL. Well. I was already headed to Kathmandu, but I wouldn’t call that “the hell.” It’s a hectic and exhausting place, but it doesn’t seem to contain many obvious features of eternal damnation. I rather like it. Within KTM, I was headed to the heavenly Fulbright office to pick up a package and a letter.

So where was this hell? 

A little bit of context: I was planning to visit KTM on Tuesday, but due to news of a planned bandh, or strike, which can shut down anything from neighborhoods to the whole country, my aamaa advised me to run my errands in the city today. In fact, while I was in one of the various buses I took today, I did notice a gathering of people dressed all in red (not an uncommon color in Nepal) carrying sickle-and-hammer banners. But that was not hell, either, even though I don’t like my plans getting messed up.

No, the hell was the government post office. I had to pick up a package that my parents sent me for Christmas that had never been reported to my office. I had my tracking number. I had a passport copy. I thought I was all set.


Picture a trip to the DMV in America. Generally a miserable and confusing place, yes? Now, spread it out to fill several buildings. Strip the paint from the walls and the lights from the ceiling and the linoleum from the floor. Change the signs into an alphabet you don’t know all that well. And for good measure, spread an even coating of grime over everything. That’s Nepal’s central government post office.

Despite my preparation, I had an almost immediate hang-up: my name on my passport did not match the name on my package. My passport lists me as “Alanna Elizabeth Smith.” On the package, my mother wrote “Alanna Smith.” Obviously not the same person. And then there was the matter of the missing intimation letter. I have no idea what the heck an intimation letter is, but I didn’t have it, and neither did Fulbright—and I didn’t have a PO box key so we could check to make sure that the letter really wasn’t there.

Thank God for Robin-ji. I called him and handed the phone to one of the four post office employees that had surrounded me. My Nepali skill level is not high enough for me to explain what a “middle name” is. Whatever he said convinced them that I was not a con artist trying to abscond with a package of Christmas candy. And then the really fun part started!

I know that my dad and siblings will get this reference, but I don’t know about anyone else. In the movie Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy¸ there’s a scene where the main characters have to run around a galactic government office trying to get the right forms to keep their friend from being executed. That’s how I felt, except I was more worried about getting my package before the office closed than being fed to the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal (or whatever it’s called). I ran back and forth between four separate rooms, paid three different people (bribes? taxes?), and finally, finally walked out into the sunshine with two packages and one hell of a headache.

Go to the hell? I guess I can check that one off my bucket list.

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