As I was driving through the village of Assago today I spied a tiny brown sign along the side of the road. It read “Post Office” in both English and Hindi. For weeks I’ve been meaning to go to the post office to send some cards that I wrote more than 2 months ago. But, because I dread going to the Mapusa City Post Office, I procrastinated. At Mapusa City, the post office closest to my home, there is no such thing as forming a line; it’s just a hoard of people bumping into one another trying to make their way to the solo clerk behind the counter. When I’m there, the adage “survival of the fittest” comes to mind. You have to stand strong in the mayhem and firmly point out to each person who cuts in front of you, that you’re actually waiting to mail a letter too. If you don’t, you’ll be pushed to the back of the crowd and right out the front door.
When I saw the small sign, I felt excited, like I had discovered a secret door. I turned off the main road and onto the dirt path where the sign was posted. I drove and drove. The path became more and more narrow. At the end of path there was a little stone house, and in front, a man sitting in a plastic chair. He didn’t look my way, even though I knew he knew I was there. To get his attention I said, “Hello…Post Office?” This is how I speak these days, using as few words as possible to form a sentence (I need to learn Hindi!). I assumed he would shrug his shoulders to indicate that I was nowhere near the post office, but instead he pointed to the house.
There was no sign that the house also doubled as a post office – just a clothes line with a few tattered saris, a cow tied to a tree, and a broken bicycle leaning up against the fence. As I stood there wondering if I was in the right place, the man pointed again to the house and said “Open.” So I walked toward the little dwelling and opened the rusty gate. After taking a few steps into the garden, I could hear sounds coming from a TV. I made my way around the back of the house and saw a porch. Behind that, through the glass-less window, I saw two women sitting on the floor of their living room watching TV. I called, “Hello” to get their attention. Here in India, saying “hello” is the equivalent of “excuse me, please.”
One of the women jumped to her feet and quickly came to the porch. I was surprised at how fast she moved. I think customer service in government offices worldwide is dreadful (except for Switzerland), but this is especially true in India. But then again, clearly I was at someone’s home, not exactly in a government office.
I asked her, “Post Office?” She smiled and said, “Yes madam.”
I pulled the letters from my bag and put them on the rickety wooden table that stood between us. She picked them up and examined each one carefully.
After some time she said, “Would you like to mail these?” I’m not really one to quip, but in that moment I felt like saying something a little sarcastic.
Instead, I said, “Yes please.”
She paused, and then said, “I’m sorry, Madam. We have no stamps today. Maybe tomorrow they will come,” she said.
“Maybe tomorrow they will come” is a commonplace phrase in India. What it actually means is, “We are out of whatever it is that you want, and we have absolutely no idea when we will receive a new shipment.” You can be almost certain though that it will not be “tomorrow.”
I smiled, thanked her, and began to walk away. She called, “Come back tomorrow, madam.” I got on my scooter and headed down the dirt path knowing I had no choice but to go to Mapusa City. I decided no more procrastinating. I drove through the winding, pot-holed roads of Assago, and then into the traffic, horns and exhaust of Mapusa City. When I arrived in front of the post office, remarkably, there were many parking places. I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve really picked a good time to come.” After getting off my scooter, I saw a white board leaning up against the door of the post office. Someone had scrawled in blue ink “The Post Office has shifted to its old location. Sorry for the inconvenience.” I had no idea where the old location was, and of course, there was no mention of it on the sign.
Rather than feeling defeated or frustrated, which would have been my normal response some years ago, I accepted that, for whatever reason, I was not meant to mail my letters on this particular day.
India has been a great teacher for me in so many ways. It has taught me not to overlay my Western standards onto India’s systems or way of life. I have to let go of expectation or else I will spend a lot of unnecessary time feeling frustrated. As my partner Olaf says, “If you’re not flexible, you will die in India.”
India has taught me to be patient. Everything takes time – lots of time. And there’s no other option than to respond with patience.
India has taught me to focus on what’s going right. Instead of being frustrated on the days that we don’t have internet access, I am grateful on the days that we do. Instead of complaining when we lose power, I am thankful for all of the hours that we have it. Instead of judging and feeling disgusted by the piles of trash that accumulate along the sides of the roads, I see the beauty in the stretches of road where there is no garbage. Instead of feeling sad and overwhelmed by the despair I see among the poorest people living here, as well as all of the homeless animals, I offer help and try to make a small difference in the ways that I can.
In a few days I will go to either the tiny Assago Post Office or to chaotic Mapusa City and try my luck at mailing these cards again. If I am able to send them, I will be thankful. If not, I will appreciate another opportunity to put into practice many of the fundamental teachings of yoga…surrender, patience, gratitude and non-judgment.