The arrival of a parcel in Mongolia meant a summons from the Central Post Office.
Handing over my passport, with a slip detailing collection instructions, I would wait while the ‘International Post Lady’ bustled off. Parcel successfully retrieved, she would direct me to the enigmatic ‘Cashier Ladies’.
‘Cashier Lady Number One’ required 10 cents for the processing of my form. I was obliged to sign the resulting receipt in triplicate before it was methodically cut into three. One part was retained, one was handed to me, and the other was passed to the second cashier.
A step to my right brought me face to face with ‘Cashier Lady Number Two’. She never looked very happy. Couldn’t anybody see that she was busy reading the newspaper? Or filing her nails?
When my receipts interrupted her she would glare at me with narrowed eyes, her pursed lips accusing me silently. She would demand payment for the $2 storage fees which created another receipt for my collection.
The ‘Customs Lady’ was another shuffle to my right. She was fairly blasé about her job, but would occasionally shove a sharp knife in my direction, brusquely demanding that I open my parcel with it. A cursory glance inside and I would be dismissed with a curt wave. She wasn’t interested in the contents. The power trip was far more important.
Attempts to reseal my parcels were usually futile. There was not a scrap of sticking tape to be found in the post office. With the contents threatening to spill all over the floor, I would lug my prize back to the ‘Customs Lady’ and hand in my triplicate signed receipt. Then back to the ‘International Post Lady’ to retrieve my passport.
If the parcel could be located swiftly, the whole process would be over in half an hour. If not, it could take up to an hour. In a quirky Soviet way, the manhandling and paper shuffling made sense. If one person had done the job there would have been three more people looking for work.