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It’s Post Office Box Payment Time in The City

by Sandra Snyder

It is that time of year again! Between January 2 and February 28 Apartados Postales rentals are due. We have had the same post office box for eleven years. Even when we moved from one side of Panama to the other, we kept the same post office box. It means a little more driving to collect the mail once a week but it is somehow easier than notifying all our friends, relatives and sources of monthly bills of a change of address. Not that I did not think of changing last year when everyone got a new number as part of the proposed new, improved and computerized postal system. But, there were no boxes available at the correo closer to home so we kept the same box.

I headed out early this morning. I was on the road by 9:30 a.m. planning to miss the last minute rush, as well as pay-day lines, and check off one more errand on my to do list. I was in deed first in line – the Jubilado line to pay for my Apartado. I knew from last year that, even through we also have the box in the name of our company, we still get the Jubilado discount on the portion charged for individuals. I also thought how quickly this process would go this year compared to last when the correo required a whole new paperwork system in anticipation of the planned computerization of the post office. Last year I had to have a copy of the Registro Comercial Tipo “A” for my company, copies of a Cedula or Carnet or passport for each person on the post office box, plus fill out form F1-089-SPT from the post office in triplicate. Of course, this form is not on NCR paper and there were no carbons, so everyone was standing in line filling out three copies individually. “This year will be so easy,” I thought. I received a reminder in my post office box from the Ministerio de Gobierno y Justica back in December. It was indeed computerized and told me exactly what I needed to pay for my box and reminded me of the payment dates. I had this form in hand, filled out with the additional information required, it was signed and I had cash to pay for the box.

As I stood at the head of the line in front of the window marked for Jubiolados I thought this couldn’t take more than ten minutes including the usual delay for receiving a receipt. Little did I know? The clerk assigned to this window arrived shortly to say, this actually was not the line. I and everyone else would have to move over one to the unoccupied window where someone would first have to verify the information for the account before I could actually pay my box rent. I moved over, still at the head of the line, but with no one in sight to assist me. Shortly, another employee arrived in the area where we were standing in line, similar to the system last year. This Supervisor (number one) asked everyone in line for his or her forms. She placed each newly collected form on top of the previous one, thus mine was now on the bottom. When she returned behind the glass to the inner office, I watched her search for the post office box records starting with the form on top of her pile. I was still first in line, but last in the search for my records. However, within ten or fifteen minutes my name was called.

“Senora, this is a company account so you need to fill out these three forms, bring us copies of the cedulas of everyone on the account and a copy of your Registro Comercial.”

“You have all that; I did it last year.”, I said.

“No, this is the new system for the computer. You just need to take these papers and fill them out and bring back the copies.”

“Where is my paperwork from last year? I did that already. This isn’t a new box. I have had the same box for ten years,” I said.

“This is the new system for the computer….”

“But, I already did that…”

With this she said “just a minute” and disappeared into the depth of the inner post office. She returned with a man who I assumed was a higher supervisor. Supervisor number two started out: “Now, you just need to fill out these papers and bring in copies…”

“You already have copies of both Cedulas, and the Registro Comercial and copies of this form. Nothing has changed since last year.” I replied.

“This is the new system for the computerization of the post office. Don’t worry, Senora, it is no problem.”

No problem for him. He did not just drive twenty minutes to get here and now face driving home in the traffic to make copies and return. “Where are my papers I submitted last year? Do I have to do this again every year?”

“No, no, tranquila Senora, it is no problem. Just fill out these papers, bring the copies and then you can pay for the box.”, he assured me.

“If I have to drive home and get the papers and come back, I want to be in the front of the line again.”

“No, problem, senora, just complete the form and bring the copies.”

An hour later I returned to the post office not only with the completed three copies of the post office box rental form, a new copy of my Registro Comercial and both Cedulas, but with the copy of last year’s receipt and copy of the same post office form completed the previous year. I spotted Supervisor number two right away and headed for his window. He spent another five minutes on the telephone while simultaneously assuring me with head nods that he would soon be with me. Eventually, I was actually ushered into the intersanctum of the post office and the office of yet a higher supervisor. Supervisor number three was working away at making little cards that would eventually get pasted to the inside of the individual post office box identifying the owners of that box as well as indicating that this year’s rental had been paid. I had ample time to figure this out while the supervisor shuffled papers, answered the phone, passed out new box keys, was interrupted with numerous questions from a variety of workers, and eventually disappeared for a while to complete some other paperwork before addressing my situation.

However, once I had his attention Supervisor number three got right to work checking my new documents and confirming, that “yes, indeed, I did have a receipt and copy of last year’s documents”. How handy. Therefore, these new documents could be labeled “Duplicate”. This was done one copy at a time and in red ink. The red ink might help them from disappearing this year. Once he was sure he had checked everything twice, he took the papers to someone else for verification. This took another ten or fifteen minutes during which time I continued checking out my surroundings. I could actually see my box from where I sat. I could see the box from the view the postal worker sees it. It was empty, as I had already picked up my mail. This side of the glass that separates the customers from the workers in the post office was incredibly quiet. Outside, one woman was yelling her frustration at the system for paying post office boxes, children were playing on the floor at the feet of their mothers and everyone was trying to gain an advantage in his or her particular line. Behind the glass, workers moved from location to location in air-conditioned comfort, chatted with co-workers, and performed in the relative tranquility.

This time when Supervisor number three returned he asked for the box rental fee of $55, which covered the $40 for the company and $15 for two jubilados. The other thing I did while waiting, besides looking at the interworkings or nonworkings of the post office, was get out my money. I decided it would be faster if I paid with exact change. Despite the lines of people paying at the post office, they always seemed perplexed at the possibility of having to make change. No problem. I had two new twenties, a ten and a five. This would speed things up especially as I was now approaching the third hour of the pay-the post-office-box- rent saga. Once again I waited. Naively I expected Supervisor number three to return with my receipt and let me be on my way. No, he returned empty handed. The Clerk at one of the windows would finish the transaction he assured me.

Meanwhile, I waited. I sat on the little stenographer’s chair provided for waiting customers who were fortunate enough to be allowed into this area. The Supervisor resumed making little cards with the box numbers in large blue digits. He graciously accepted numerous interruptions for keys, questions or phone calls. I waited. Supervisor number two came by the outside window to wave and mouth “all finished”. To which, I replied, “just waiting for a receipt”. I waited. After about fifteen minutes Supervisor number three left with some papers “for the computer.” He returned a little while later, empty handed, looked at me as if to say, “Oops, factura!”, turned and left again. He returned shortly still empty handed but assured me someone was coming. After another ten minutes he left to go check on the Clerk and this time he did return with the papers. As he handed me my copy of the completed, duly signed and stamped form F1-089-SPT for post office boxes and the receipt, he said “now guard these carefully and keep them with the ones from last year.”

In my very best Spanish, I could not help replying, “Yes, but then I am not the one who lost her copies.” He wished me “un Buen Dia” to which I replied “Igualmente.”

As I left the inter workings of the post office, securely closing the double locking doors behind me, I checked my watch. Three hours and fifteen minutes and my post office box is renewed for another year!

© Sandra T. Snyder
Author of Living in Panama and other books.


The International Book Fair 2009
Sandra will be available to autograph books and answer questions
August 19
through August 23, 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Info

Gran Morrison will inaugurate Book Week with Panama Authors: Sandra Snyder, Rose Marie Tapia, Rafael Candanedo and Rosita Cordoba.
September 19, 2008, 4:00 p.m. at Gran Morrison El Dorado, El Dorado Mall.

Tuesday Morning Meeting
Sandra will share some of her experiences and provide some helpful hints for better living in Panama. Info
March 11, 2008

P.B.C. Person2Person
Sandra & David on the radio. Podcast
January, 2008



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