Going to the Post Office - seems simple enough, right? :) And actually, most of the time it is - I know there are countries where the mail system is way more difficult to deal with but we have still had to learn a lot when it comes to mail and the post office.
The Post Office here is actually many things - it has its own bank, it’s the telecommunications department and it is mail. They don’t really do street addresses here and I have never seen a person or car delivering mail to an actual street address. Everyone has post office boxes.
One interesting thing with the post office is when we first arrived they were really strict about who picked up mail. If a package was addressed to David (we pick up our packages at a little window) he HAD to pick it up and show his passport. We found out that we could fill out a form so that either of us could pick up mail for the other but we had to sit and wait and talk to someone inside the post office. We got that all set up and still had problems a few times after that. Now they know us and seem more laid back. They don’t even ask to see my license anymore.
Packages take about 2 weeks to arrive to us when things are running as they should (Lately things have NOT been running as they should!) Letters take anywhere from 2-7 weeks depending how they are mailed. Over the month of December though the mail slows WAY down…like way down. This year was especially bad because of Chikcungunya (a mosquito born illness) which had many people out of work. I received a package from early November and a few others from December at the end of January!
Another interesting thing about mail is that packages valued over 20,000 XPF (about $200 US) are taxed 51% (customs gets some of this money as well as…). The 20,000XPF is the value of the contents PLUS the shipping cost. So it sounds high on one hand but when you consider that most of our boxes cost about $60-80 to even send the box that doesn’t leave a whole lot of money for content. The government really wants to keep people from spending money outside the nation but things are so expensive here that even many of our local friends find a way to get stuff mailed or brought to them because affording simple things is hard for some.
Interesting fact: I have I think on three occasions walked all the way to the post office (before we had a car) and back hoping to pick up a package that I knew was on it’s way and all three times there was nothing in our box. Not the best day when you walk 3 miles round trip for nothing. Haha! One time I definitely treated myself to a magnum bar for the trouble.
I have been wanting to do a better job at communicating about life here - not just snippets but really give better pictures of our life here. It’s hard for anyone to connect with something if they can’t see or experience it themselves. How do you communicate about life in a country none of your friends or family have been too (yet!)? :)
So my organized left-brain came up with a system for this :) I am going to do little blogs that talk about specific areas of life here. I will do topics like Grocery Shopping, Going to the Post Office, Driving, School, Team Life etc so that I can expound on that area of life here, share stories and interesting facts and answer questions if you have any. Hopefully it will be fun!
So today - Grocery Shopping! There are two main grocery stores here in Tahiti. Unlike the states we have very little choice when it comes to where to shop. In my hometown of Lititz there are 3 large grocery stores within a mile of each other! Not so here! The two largest chains are Carrefour (a French store) and Champion. Champion is the closest to us and it was the one we walked to during our 9 months without a car. It’s the smaller of the two but we were so grateful for Champion and it had a decent stock including a small deli and cheese counter. Carrefour is more like the Super Walmart of Tahiti. A large grocery section but also has household items, cleaning supplies, school supplies, toys, small appliances and clothing.
My first 6 months of shopping here were difficult - A. because we walked and B. it was just a very draining exercise learning what things were called (everything is in French), figuring out what was available and needing to stick to a strict list because of the cost of food here. Shopping is getting easier as I go - I’m much more familiar with things, I know a lot of French food vocabulary now and I don’t feel so intimidated if I have to ask for help. My current obstacle is now figuring out the seasons for different things - when things (especially different produce) are in and when I can’t count on them anymore for meals.
My funniest shopping blunder so far was walking almost the entire way home from Champion (about 1 1/2 miles away) with a large upright laundry basket (that we actually use as a garbage can….actual garbage cans are crazy expensive here!) with about 40 pounds of groceries in it. We had an outreach team here and so had run a few loads of people back and forth to do some shopping. I thought I got left behind (which would have been easy to do because we had several van loads going back and forth) so I decided instead of waiting around another 15 minutes to find out that, yes, I had indeed been left behind I just decided to walk. I had bought more groceries than I would normally if walking by myself because I had planned on riding home. The whole time I walked I was just praying the van would drive by, see me and pick me up. I got within 7 minutes of our apartment when I local friend and her husband pulled up and she was like, “Erin, what in the world are you doing?” I told her that I couldn’t find the team at the store so I figured I had been left. She then informed me that she had just been at the grocery store, seen some of the team and they were still shopping! Oy vey! So anyway, they kindly gave me a lift the rest of the way - which was lovely because I was definitely struggling and the last little bit home was up hill! :)
Interesting food facts: Tahiti bees are only able to keep up with about 40% of the honey demand of the island. Therefore it is EXTREMELY rare to see honey here and when you do it is very expensive! Much of the honey gets bought up by hotels and such long before it’s even harvested so it doesn’t even make it to store shelves. Also, it is banned to mail or bring honey into French Polynesia - they won’t import it because they don’t want anything contaminating their bees. The bees here have no diseases here and they want to keep it that way.