The Expatriate and the Post Office

*find out why I will still use the term ‘expatriate’ later this week in a discussion of this article: Why are White People Expatriates When the Rest of Us are Immigrants?

We have a post office in Djibouti though we don’t have a mail box. We use a PO Box, the same one we have used since 2004. No change. Got it? No change.

We have received many packages and letters through this little box downtown. Most of them arrive within 6 weeks. Except that one Christmas package that showed up in October. And that one from my mom that is still presumably circling the globe about five years later. Most of the time the packages are easy to pick up and most of the time we aren’t asked for a ‘donation’ and most of the time rats have not chewed their way through the box.

Most of the time.

We do have endless guesswork as to how to wrap a package. I have only shipped cookbooks but I have been required to ship them in cardboard boxes, brown paper envelopes, white envelopes, or hand wrapped using whatever paper I can find, each wrapping option demanded by the exact same post office employee. I gave up on planning ahead and simply came to the post office with my Djiboutilicious cookbook and all the possibilities and wrapped it there. The price also varied every time. Ah well, it was an enjoyable opportunity to get to know this young woman.

But last week we hit two snags with the post office. And, believe it or not, they were not due to the Djiboutian Post Office. Let’s blame these two snafus on Malaysia and the United States of America. That’s right people, even in the USA the mail does not flow with perfection.


My friend lives in Malaysia and she mailed us a family Christmas card. The card arrived on March 15 and this what was stamped on the envelope

post office1

At least we know where it was all this time!

And then my mom had this interaction at her New Brighton, Minnesota Post Office. Keep in mind that this comes after twelve years of mailing letters and packages and in fact, she had just mailed a letter the week¬†before. This conversation took place because she had sent me a birthday card, thinking ahead and knowing it would take a few weeks to arrive, but the card was returned to her and stamped ‘insufficient address’. She went to the post office to mail another letter and followed up on why this particular one was returned. I will simply copy and paste the email she sent (the ‘me’ is my awesome mom, PO is the post office employee):

post office2me: Can you tell me please why this letter was returned to me when it has the correct address on it?
PO: well it clearly has been stamped insufficient address
me: but it’s not – this is their address- we’ve mailed many things to this address
PO: but you wrote Djibouti twice
me: yes, because that’s where they live – city of Djibouti in the country of Djibouti
PO: Is it a large city?
me: yes
PO: well then that’s the problem – you used a BP number
me: yes, because that’s where they receive their mail
PO: But if it is a large city say the size of St Paul then you need more than a PO like a zip
me: they don’t use zips
PO: well clearly it is an insufficient address
me: we’ve been mailing letters to them at this address for 12 years.
PO: things change
me: I mailed something to this address just last week
PO: I can’t help you

(and he handed my letter back to me)


I love/hate when he says, “but you wrote Djibouti twice.”

This photo is of me using that BP-numbered box in my doubly-named host country.

How do you get mail?