If you really love me (Don’t worry, it will NOT hurt my feelings at all if no one loves me. In fact if the roles were reversed I wouldn’t love me either.) and decide to send me a box you MUST have it tracked. The biggest reason for tracking packages is because there is a high likelihood that customs will seize the package. I’ve had two packages sent to me and customs seized both. But at least if the package is tracked than the shipping company (normally Fed Ex) will contact me and tell me what hoops I need to jump through in order to get the package.Recently my amazing graduate students sent me a package. Once it actually arrived in Botswana it only took 13 days, three trips to two different offices, seven phone calls, and a slight decrease in my sanity to receive it. When you send packages to Botswana you are required to list the full contents of the box on the customs declaration paperwork. In my package there were a couple of t-shirts, a mouse pad, a few personal necessities I can’t buy here, and some beef jerky. In a country where one of our primary exports is beef, customs threw a fit when they saw beef jerky listed.
Since I was “importing beef” I was required to go to the Ministry of Agriculture to obtain permission. Despite the fact this was for personal consumption with no intent to sell, I still had to get approval. I showed up to the Ministry to find about a dozen men all dressed in safari khaki waiting to talk to the one office clerk who was processing applications. Being adorable, and obviously out of place, I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with one of them. It turns out they were all cattle ranchers and being that we live in a pretty small country, they all knew one another, which was why they welcomed making a new friend. Since I had no idea what half the questions on the application meant, one of the ranchers helped me fill it out. Then I had to go through a line of questioning. Here was the conversation:Clerk: We don’t import beef into Botswana. What is this you want to bring in? What is beef jerky?
Kelly: It is the same as biltong (the name for beef jerky here in Botswana, but here it’s pretty gross).
Clerk: Why don’t you just eat the biltong we have here?
Kelly: Ummm… Here’s the problem, customs has my box and they need approval for the beef jerky, otherwise they won’t give me anything in the box. Can you please approve the permit? I’m not going to sell it; I’m only going to eat it myself.
Clerk: Well, how much beef jerky do you want approval for?
Kelly: One kilo.
Clerk: One thousand kilos….
Kelly: No, no, just one kilo. (clerk looks at me quizzically)
Clerk: One kilo? (looks at everyone else in the room and they ALL collectively laugh)
Kelly: Yes, as in, the same amount of food I will probably cook for dinner tonight.
Clerk: Well, this is a lot of work for one kilo of beef jerky.
When he said that all I could think to myself was, EVERYTHING in Botswana is a LOT OF WORK!! Need a faculty ID on campus? That takes two weeks and countless visits to the same office. Need to have a meeting? Plan to spend your entire day there because no one will show up on time and then they will break for tea, so they can’t be rushed. Need your residence permit? You will get it the last possible day you are legally in the country about an hour before they decide to deport you.Clerk: Ok, I will process the paperwork. You can come back in the morning to pick it up.
The following morning I excitedly woke up and returned to the Ministry to collect the permit. Guess what happened when I got there. That’s right, no permit. I had to see a second person who questioned me and then informed me they don’t grant permits for fewer than 10 kilos of beef.Kelly: Ok, then can I please have a beef permit for 10 kilos?
Ministry Director: No.
After another thirty minute inquisition the Ministry Director wrote me a note stating that I had permission to import the beef jerky.
I love Africa. There is no such thing as a dull moment here. And in the end, my beef jerky sure was good.