Cutting Communication Off to the Poor

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This entry is a bit more anecdotal than per my usual writing, but I wanted to relate an experience I had today attempting to redeem a mail parcel my well-intentioned friend in Lebanon sent to me by post...yes actual, traditional snail mail.

She had sent me from Beirut a book that I had searched the city up and down for during my visit to see her a couple months back. I had combed several bookshops, but eventually gave up, figuring that it simple was not written in my stars to find that book during my time in Lebanon in March.

So, she decided to send me a copy of the book via post, not DHL, not AREMEX--rather the traditional public post office. She put my residential address as the destination, not having my P.O. box number at the time. Three weeks had passed by since she sent it, and today I went in the morning in taxi to the Post Office in Dasmaan to try to localize it.

A post office in Dasmaan you may wonder? Yes, there is. It is located in the same shopping complex as a co-op grocery store and a Naif Chicken. Perhaps the most unique feature of the office is that in order to find its entrance, one must first go through a Kid's Chuck-e-Cheese-esque Cartoon Network-themed discovery zone indoor playpen, turn at the claw machine, through the double doors, and into a strange service corridor--which also happens to have a post office with a crumbling hand-written sign on it. I bet it is the only post office in the world of its kind.

Sure enough, I was directed to the MAIN post office branch in Safat. The woman at the counter even offered to drive me there, but as I had a taxi waiting, I decided to continue on my adventure on auto-pilot. At the Safat post office, I interrupt and office of perhaps twelve Kuwaiti men sitting and chatting over tea in a tiny room to ask about where to pick up mail. They direct me to the front counter, the customer representatives of whom direct me to a hallway to the left. I enter into another office and am offered several options of refreshing beverage.

The lady who attends to me tells me that there is no way of looking for my package, but that she guesses it probably has gone to the "post office" in Shaab, which is closest to my residence. I ask her if she could tell me where this office is located, to which I am told, beside the main supermarket. I then ask her if she is able to simply call the office and see if they can find the package on the phone to avoid an extra one at the central post office has the number to this office.

I think to myself off-hand: As much as I appreciate to be served with drinks and offered a free ride, I would trade all this hospitality for there to simply exist a system to at least make it so that my package can be looked for. I was not expecting the package to ever be found, and I knew I was facing an uphill battle, but they must really just throw all the mail in a hole in the ground for there not to be any storage room to examine. So, what do these employees do? What functions does the post office have?

On another note, I realized I had spent 4.500 dinars and one and a half hours on a failed outcome. This made me think-there are many people living in Kuwait who cannot afford to send everything through something as expensive as DHL, especially sending packages abroad, which matters most to to many laborers. Low-income foreign nationals are shut out of the postal systems-both the public one, for its high risk costs and incompetence, and the private services, which are reliable, but expensive.

Furthermore, while we are in the digital age and witnessing greater egalitarianism of internet use, not everyone has a computer in their household for easy correspondence. One of the greatest e-revolutions of the last years has been the development of Skype for communication. However, for many who reside in Kuwait and are well aware of the issue, skype is blocked by the Ministry of Communications-further adding cost to overseas communication. These policies isolate the sections of an already marginalized majority in this country, and hurt the poor the hardest. Are they merely unfortunate casualties of an indept and protectionist bureaucracy or is there a deliberate attempt to keep communications delivery as a public good low in the country? I am curious to know how the rest of the Gulf compare.

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