Christmas Part 1: Special Delivery

25 Dec 2006 03:12 pm

At long last, I write about the Christmas parties we held for the kids at Pamplona and Villa el Salvador. Go grab a cup of coffee and a cookie to settle in for a long Christmas tale…

Around the 27th of November, I got my letter in the mailbox saying I had received the box of gifts Mom had sent to the kids for Christmas. See, in Lima, when you receive a package, the post office (named SerPost) delivers you an official looking letter on proper letter head with all the information about when it came and who it’s from, etc. You’re then supposed to take this slip and your passport across town to the collection office where you generally have to wait about 2 hours to sit through the queue, pay a little, then, at long last, get your property. Or you could just pay them about 15 extra dollars to deliver it to the house… hahah… no. Having talked to Jos and Dennis about their experiences collecting at the post office and knowing that Pam Thompson had sent a package on behalf of the Women´s Club four days after Mom sent hers, I decided to wait until both had arrived to minimize wasted time at the post office.

Well… I waited about four days and still hadn´t received the slip telling me Pam´s package had arrived. Finally, around December 3rd or 4th, I got a telephone call. Jabbering away in rapid Limeño Spanish, I managed to work out that the man on the phone was asking why I hadn´t picked up my package from the post office yet. I tried to explain to him that I was expecting another package and couldn´t be bothered waiting two hours for each when I could just pick up the two packages at the same time. He seemed discontented and continued on to tell me he was a vigilante, not a post office worker. Vigilante? Hmmmmmmmm…. He was just beginning to say that he would stop by the house when the phone was suddenly disconnected in that inconvenient way only a phone in Peru could do.

I had to admit, I was a little scared. Some dude had just called our home phone number, explained some poop I really couldn´t understand, and now he knew our address and was going to be standing on our doorstep. WTF? So I waited, and sure enough, about 30 minutes later, there was a nappy looking sweaty man standing outside our gate asking for me. He smelled horrible and his the fibers of his clothes (a Cosby sweater in 85 degree heat!) were lined with that dark black traffic dust that coats most everything that stays outside in Lima. His fingernails were dirty and his skin had those baby little bumpies of grease on it that indicates the desperate need of a shower. In his hand was a SerPost package slip… MY SerPost package slip!

From his side of the iron gate, he started talking immediatly, for some reason a little more clear than he´d been on the phone. I finally understood what was going on. He said he did not work for SerPost and that he was a vigilante (which I still don’t understand) who works for a company that collects packages and processes slips for SerPost. When my slip arrived to his company, he took it upon himself to personally deliver it to our door. He withdrew a grubby piece of paper from his pocket that had my name, address, and telephone number on it… alone… not listed with other people who he might be so graciously delivering a slip to that day. Skepticism overwhelmed as he held the paper out to me and asked if that was indeed my information.

He then went on to explain that, for an economical price, he would be happy to take my passport down to the the post office and collect my package for me then deliver it to the house…. ….. ….. ….. ?!?!?

Of course… how convenient! I could give this nappy man my passport so he could collect (::cough cough:: steal) my package, and PAY him to do it! What a wonderful service as I could lose my passport and package all for one low price. By this point, my only thought was how to get my package slip out of his hand so it would be safe on our side of the gate.

Yanet, our housekeeper and cook, was standing there with me, not needing to say a word as the confused look on her face said enough. So the man could hear, I asked Yanet if she´d ever heard of this before and she said she certainly hadn’t. I looked at the man and he looked back blankly as if Yanet´s Peruvian accent had not already discounted his tale. To ease his confusion, I explained that my friend was PERUVIAN and she´d never heard of such a service and that I had had a slip delivered by a SerPost employee less than a week before and expected this to be the same. The grub made the mistake of handing my SerPost slip to Yanet to inspect. She said it did look like an official slip and started to hand it back to the guy. I seized it and took it immediatly inside. Just inside the door, I looked at the delivery date of the slip… November 30!! He´d had it for days! When I came back out, I explained again that a SerPost employee should deliver the slip. He looked confused (lost, astonished, saddened as only a guilty person can look) and began the Peruvian whimper you´d have to hear to believe.

He said if I didn´t want him to collect the package for me, all I had to do was pay for his ride back to his company. ”Just 2 soles” (about 60 cents US) as he´d ”taken time off work” to come ”all the way” to my house to deliver my slip. I told him I really didn´t think that was necessary as I hadn’t requested his service and had actually expected an official to deliver the slip for free. Again, he looked confused, even saddened, and, despite my less polite phrasing, couldn’t seem to comprehend that I wanted him off my door step and on his way without any of my money. Five minutes later, he still hadn’t left so I got Dennis from his room. Though Dennis appears pleasant in that priest sort of way, he isn’t afraid to unleash the terror and shoo dishonest grubs off the doorstep!

Sure enough, Dennis came down and, with a few forceful words, had the guy trucking in less than a minute. We stood there for a moment trying to figure out what had happened. How could this man possibly have gotten my slip? I had two thoughts:

1. The day I´d received my first slip, we were standing in the doorway of the house talking to a bunch of our students. The mailman just sort of waved me down through the gate and handed me the slip without checking for identification or anything. For all he knew, I could have just been someone visiting the house or one of the students. Perhaps when the mailman was delivering the second slip, the grub had been loitering on the street and just told the mailmain he lived there and would get it to the right person. Slip in hand, all he had to do was make up the story and hope the stupid gringos would fall for it.

2. Our mailbox is basically just one of those slots in the door with a box clinging on the inside of the door to catch the mail that falls through. It wouldn´t be impossible to stick a hand through the slot and take out whatever was there. So maybe he was just passing by the house, saw the sign on the front that announces our gringo-ness and thought, ‘Hey, I bet a bunch of gringos live in this house. I’ll snatch their slip and invent some story to get a passport, a package, and some money and they’ll fall for it because they’re not from here. Damn I´m good!’

So who knows how he got the slip but both of them are very likely possibilities. In the end, I got my slip although it was folded with the grub’s dusty filth lining the creases. The post office didn’t seem to mind as Andy and I received my packages in a timely fashion… we only had to wait 1.5 hours! And when the post office employees opened the packages to inspect the contents, toys a plenty bursting at the boxes’ seams, they looked at me and just said ‘Niños?’ Yep… for the kids.

I got home from the post office and ripped into the boxes. I couldn´t believe how much stuff my mom and the Women´s Club had sent! All sorts of schools supplies, glow bracelets, a big bag of assorted Cracker-Jack-type toys, candies, gum, gift bags, stuffed animals, hair clips, Matchbox cars, stickers… oh the list goes on and on. I felt like a little kid myself. There were so many of the gifts I could already assign to certain kids. Xilary would love the hairclips and Marilyne and Shirley would go nuts for the stickers. Martìn and Miller would be amazed by the glow bracelets and Benedicta would love one of the Snoopy dolls.

As I was sitting there digging through all the gifts thinking how wonderful this Christmas would be for the kids, I have to admit I was a little suprised at myself. The Anna 3 months ago couldn’t have really cared less about kids. I mean, sure, happy kids were the best type of kids as they’re less likely to cry and make niusances of themselves but now I was actually getting excited thinking about how each of our little ones would enjoy the gifts.

Not only was I shocked at my being truly stoked about the happiness of a kid, I also realized that, in the last couple months, I had gotten to know each one of these little people. They were friends now as I cared about their safety and their futures, shared stories and memories with them and made them laugh and supported them when they cried. We had become parents to them, or at least parent enough to fill in the void where so many of their parents failed. They looked up to us and anticipated every day they’d spend with us. In their often harsh and dangerous world, we were their safety just as much as they were ours. Three months ago I would have never believed I´d be sitting on the floor of my room so excited to be digging through two big boxes of Christmas gifts. What have these kids done to me?!

And on top of it, I was getting a glimpse, for the first time, what Christmas must be like from the perspective of a parent. Here I had always experienced it as a kid, looking forward to receiving gifts and being nestled at home by the wholeness and support of my family. But there’s a completly other side to it. This year I´d be among the ‘parents’ picking out the gifts for our kids and nestling them into the wholeness and support of our great big family. At the same time, though, these gifts were given to the kids by all my friends and family back in the States, so I was just a middle-man parent. And because the kids would end up with a really great, joyful Christmas, I felt like they were also a gift to me. I’m not sure many people get that unique perspective of Christmas both from the point-of-view of child and parent. Quite a Christmas miracle if you ask me! This was sure to be a different sort of Christmas… =)

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