A Perfect Permutation of an Afternoon
Those who live with me here in Brazil know that there’s one thing that I can’t stand. I’ve cried and cursed about it in ways that seem uncharacteristic of a mellow person such as myself (or so I’d like to think). The most irritating part is that this thing is something I can’t avoid, entangled as it is with one of my favourite activities: letter-writing.
Had your guess? Believe it or not, it’s a lot more specific — out of all the things in the world that frustrate me, the award for Most Frustrating goes to none other than the Brotas Correios Center (i.e. post office).
My animosity towards the Brotas Correios Center is not unfounded. Every single visit has been plagued by some sort of event that has left me wondering how on earth it still exists as a professional institution. From sheer incompetency to thinly veiled racism, I’ve experienced it all: on my first visit, the counter staff — of which all three have disappointed me in some way or the other — printed ‘Japan’ as the country of destination of my letters on the official receipt (the letters were headed for the UK). Having trusted their presumed competency, I failed to check the receipt before returning home. Anxious and fuming, when I walked the whole 1.3km back to the post office in the searing Bahian heat to make sure three hours’ worth of letter writing had not been wasted, I was told that the staff had printed ‘Japan’ because postage rates for the UK and Japan were in ‘the same price band’. Not very logical nor convincing, especially after I witnessed them giggling at their little ‘joke’.
Thankfully, the letters did end up in the UK. The second time I went to the post office (unintentionally, but that’s a long story), I was almost unable to send a postcard because ‘the stamps wouldn’t fit’. In other words, a vertical stamp could not be placed horizontally lest the postman not understand that it was legitimate. After five minutes of exasperation, I succeeded in getting the letters sent — yet unfortunately, both postcards have yet to arrive at their respective destinations.
After these two encounters, I told myself that I’d never return to the Brotas Correios Center again, and for good reason at that. I’d find a new post office to frequent, one with better customer service and, preferably, one that actually made sure that the letters would reach where they had to go.
So my heart sank when, one summer day, I realized that I’d have to make the trek all the way to the post office for the third time. Why? My pen pal had sent me a registered letter which was unable to reach the intended address three consecutive times, which meant I had to go to the local post office — none other than the one in Brotas — to pick it up.
Oh, the joy.
So walk I did. And hot it was. And irritating, and frustrating, and god-damn exasperating it was yet again, when the staff showed me my letter, with my name, and told me they couldn’t give it to me because I didn’t have my original passport on hand. For some reason, a legitimate ID card would not suffice.
As a consequence of this ghastly turn of events, I had no choice but to return, passport in hand, before the doom-date of January 4th — the day they’d presumably send my letter back to its sender, or, more likely, toss it out.
And so I went, earlier this afternoon. After a week of stalling and ‘I’ll go tomorrow’s, I finally decided to don my most heat-friendly shirt and a cap and headed towards the Correios Center. I’d ranted about this day for ages to pitying friends and family alike, and thus this pre-envisioning of misery duly rendered the penultimate afternoon of the year a little glum.
Yet why is it, then, that I come home and feel a lingering warmth?
For the record, I did get my letter in the end. It took a long time, but I won’t get into the details because the Correios Center has already received enough attention. What does deserve the accolades in this blog post, however, are the fortuitous interactions I had on my way there and back, encounters which prove that a) Salvador is a magical place, and b) show exactly why I love living in a small community as I am now. In other words, encounters that illustrate the wonderful permutations a Bahian afternoon can take.
As I was walking down the street by my house, I passed by Daniel and Daniela, two very energetic siblings who are always playing outside their open gate. Today, they were ‘cooking’ with a pink plastic cooking set. After I quickly spun Daniela (and, later, her friend) in the air as part of our usual greeting, I was offered two (imaginary) spoonfuls of soup and three handfuls of pipoca (popcorn) to ‘eat on the way’. I was also told to try on a pair of hot pink infant sunglasses and do a little beatboxing. That was definitely a much-needed energy boost.
On the way back home, I came across the wife of one of my capoeira instructors, who I’d talked to at our recent end-of-year roda. When we mutually recognized each other we both smiled as she asked ‘E ái?’ (the Brazilian equivalent to ‘What’s up?’ or ‘Is all well?’) and I responded with a simple ‘tudo bem’ (‘All is well’). Seeing a familiar face in and of itself was a pleasant surprise, especially in a big district such as Brotas.
Closer to home I came across another acquaintance: a personal trainer at my gym. When I waved he came over and took my hand in his, before we exchanged the traditional cheek-kisses that accompany each greeting. We then had a brief conversation about why he no longer saw me at the gym (answer: he takes the afternoon shift, and I go in the mornings) and exchanged further pleasantries regarding Christmas and the New Year. Although the encounter was brief, yet again it was pleasant to see familiar faces in a place I once knew very little.
And, at last, when I was taking my final steps towards the comfort of my home, I heard my name called from a nearby window. Looking up, I saw Alanna, my neighbour, waving at me from the second floor of her house. Someone then whistled from my right, and I swivelled around to see the man who sits by the square and greets me every morning leaning out from his home, giving me a wave.
With such warmth in abundance here in the community of Candeal, how much harm can the Brotas Correios office cause?
On this particular afternoon, not very much.