faff (dialectal, British): a. (verb) to do things in a disorganized manner and without accomplishing very much. ("Stop faffing about and get the house clean already!") b. (noun) a time drainer; an unnecessarily complicated process. ("Getting your driver's license renewed is always such a faff.")*
*Due credit to my girl Phoebe from Exeter, for teaching me this glorious word.
I have acquired a taxi driver. The taxi driver's name is Joel. He is tiny and sparkly eyed and very soft-spoken and every bit as broad of smile as I. I found him one morning about a week ago near the grungy police station in Patan Durbar Square. He took me to Bhat Bhateni Supermarket after another driver couldn't understand my English and he graciously offered to wait while I went inside and shopped for groceries.
I took down his number and never looked back. I don't know what it is about Joel. For starters, his driving doesn't terrorize my blood pressure (a rarity in Kathmandu). The arrangement is that I overpay him slightly and he doesn't quote me 400% of the standard fare just because I'm white. At this point he lets me decide what to pay so he's won himself a dedicated customer. I had to train him to call me Laynie instead of Madame and it took me half a dozen rides.
Joel picked me up at 11:30 this morning for a "quick" run to the central post office. I had a birthday package to send to my mom and a letter destined for England. Yesterday I lugged these things all over Patan searching for the neighborhood post office. The map was of course wrong and the streets of course unlabeled and the directions from the shopkeepers vague.
After walking right past the thing more than one time, I finally discerned that the third shack down from the bus stop was the post office and not another dumpy lunch dive. I woke the clerk up from her afternoon nap to discover that the Lalitpur post office does not deal with parcels at all, nor with international express mail after one o' clock p.m. Fabulous. Off I go.
Back past the stupa and through the bazaar, dodging tuk tuks and motorbikes and cows, dodging taxis and monkeys and pedestrians and chickens, still lugging my unshipped cargo. So today, Joel is taking me to the main post office in the center of Kathmandu. I have a ride, I'm early, and I'm sure it will be easy. But after all, this is Faffmandu.
We spend a small eternity trapped in a roundabout within reeking distance of the Bagmati River. We nearly get taken out by a water truck barreling at supersonic speeds through Tripureshwor. We watch a monkey steal an orange from an unsuspecting pedestrian and dash cackling into the treetops. Joel has figured out that for whatever reason I am ridiculously delighted by monkeys and so he has in turn become ridiculously delighted by spotting them and pointing them out.
We arrive at Kathmandu General Post Office alive and in one piece. But my smile wilts a bit when I step through the door; it looks like a prison in here. It's a warren of unlit stairwells, dingy counters, and unmarked rooms. I wander around until I find the EMS room—room 32, to be precise.
There is not a line; there's a mob, in fact, so I join the jostling throng. I cut more than once, I get cut more than thrice, but finally I reach the clerk. First I have to fill out a log to get a form and then I have to fill out the form. Each step is a battle against encroaching crowds, another gamble for the clerk's attention. Finally he whisks my letter away to who-knows-where, but he refuses to accept my package. First, I have to visit the parcel desk, it seems. The parcel desk is back down the labyrinthine hallway, close to where I came in.
The mob at the parcel desk makes the first mob look benign but I take a deep breath and dive in. I fill out another form and this one's in Nepali, though I'm supplied with a laminated translation. I hand the form back to receive my stamp but apparently my parcel is not properly "packed".
To get it packed I have to hand it to an ancient Nepali woman seated on a bench by the wall. She hand-stitches the box into a white canvas cover very slowly and then demands my customs form. It turns out the customs form is neither of the two forms I've already filled out before, so I bustle off in search of one, leaving my package with the sari-clad, needle-wielding grandma.
I jostle back to granny with a completed customs form and she stitches that sucker to the canvas. She hands me a massive felt-tip marker which I use to scrawl the address on my package's new outfit. Then I have to move down the assembly line to a grandpa with wax and a seal. He melts the viscous crimson wax onto the haphazard seams of my box's white canvas cover and seals it in a dozen different spots. The next grandpa has a big round stamp and an ink pad to go with his toothless grin. He decorates my canvas- and wax-costumed package with a smudgy black barrage of randomly clobbered imprints. He lobs and he whacks for an inordinate amount of time and then presents me with the final ensemble.
Now the parcel is appropriately "packed" even if it looks like the Joker in drag. I finally get my form stamped and trudge all the way back to room 32, where the swarm has widened. I oust and get ousted and oust again until the package is finally shipped. This really is Faffmandu, I tell you. Faffmanfuckingdu.
Joel is outside reading a book in the shade and his smile brings me back to my senses. He starts up the engine and his Bollywood hip hop booms to life a smile of my own. And off we zoom into the kaleidoscopic obstacle course that somehow feels like home.