One of the great joys of travel is discovering the kindness of strangers. Almost everyone that we have met on our journey has been welcoming and helpful. It seems that everyday simple tasks turn into a lesson on patience and kindness.
Our trip to the Otavalo post office is an example of people helping us stumble our way through South America. Because we decided to do our Christmas shopping at the Otavalo market, we had to mail our market purchases back home. We went to the post office the day before in order to find out what was needed beforehand.
Inside, we met a young postal clerk who spent about 20 minutes with us trying to explain postal procedures over Google Translate. Finally, he decided that it would be easier to walk with us down the street to a packing materials store. He then took the time to explain to the store owner what we needed before he left us and ran back to his job!
After looking over our options, we decided to buy the largest box and a roll of the packing tape. We then returned to our Hostel and made an inventory list on our computer and packed our box for US Customs.
The next day we returned to the post office with our inventory list and our items. Unfortunately, the young man that had helped us the day before wasn’t there. So, we waited in line and when it was our turn the new postal clerk explained to us that he couldn’t ship our package. We didn’t understand since we had everything the previous postal clerk said that we would need.
A woman ahead of us had already finished with her postal business but graciously stayed to help us navigate the confusion. Unfortunately, we did not have the necessary paperwork to ship everything. Apparently, merchants are required by law to give invoices with purchases. Since we had paid in cash, we were not given any receipts. We thought this was typical. However, without the invoices we couldn’t export our purchases. After about thirty minutes we were advised to just go buy an invoice booklet and a pen and make our own receipt. She gave Ol directions to the paper store and off he went on this errand.
While Ol was gone, the postal clerk and our lady advocate were still passionately discussing our situation. Unbeknownst to me, they called the neighboring town of Cotacachi’s postal clerk, which has lots of expats and a big market, to see what they should do. It was decided that the clerk there would wait for us and help us ship everything. We would take a taxi there when Ol came back.
Now during this entire exchange, the other patrons in line all patiently waited. Some just grabbed a chair and others just leaned against the counter. No one was in a rush or upset about this inconvenience. Instead the children took the opportunity to practice their English and everyone visited with me. They inquired about our purchases, our children, our country. It was the best time I have ever had in a Post Office!
Ol finally made it back. He could not find the paper store, but instead went back to the place that we purchased our shipping materials. The nice clerk there took our emailed inventory list and downloaded it onto an official company invoice. Problem solved! Everyone in the Post Office was happy for us. The clerk said he could now mail our package!
Now, we just have to hope that our package makes it through US Customs. The clerks gave us their phone numbers and assured us everything was in order, our Christmas presents should reach Mississippi in 6 days. It literally took a village!
This is just one example, of what we experience on a daily basis. Maybe it’s Ol’s sweet eyes, or the effort I put into my still terrible Spanish, or maybe it is just the kindness of strangers. Whatever it is, for me it’s one of the joys of travel.