Of all the changes I encountered between a First World country and a
Third World country, the Jamaican Postal System had the biggest differences. Mail is
only delivered in certain safe sections within the larger cities and towns. Instead
of waiting for the postman to deliver my mail through “rain, snow, hail or sleet”, I
have to travel to town through only rain to get my mail.
There are two post offices in Montego Bay. They are named Post Office #1 and Post
Office #2 instead of by zip codes. My mail goes to Post Office #2, which, like many
in the states, has very few parking spaces. These spaces are used mostly by non
postal customers which makes parking difficult at times. The rental post office boxes
are all located on the outside of the building, making access 24/7 rather than
during business hours as in the states. The post office is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM,
Monday through Friday. Well, they are supposed to open at 8:00. It could be 8:05
or 8:10. This isn’t unusual in Jamaica as it is rare that anything opens on time.
Once inside, the lobby looks similar to those in the states. There are windows for
parcels, stamps, money orders, and, oh yes, mail pick-up. Usually there are two
windows open with two lines formed in front of them. When it is your turn, the clerk
will ask your name, first and last. Let me remind you again, most everyone picks up
their own mail. Having said that, you can imagine the amount of mail that can be
seen before you. Immediately behind the clerks are cubby holes stuffed with mail.
Each cubby hole has one name under it indicating whose mail is inside. There are
fewer surnames in Jamaica than anywhere I know. To digress for a moment the standard
size phonebook has 15 pages of Brown’s, thirteen pages of Smith’s, 12 pages of
Campbell’s, but only four pages of Jones’. This will give you an idea of what the postal
service is up against.
Most of the mail is placed on a large table to the left of the clerks. Other than
the mail in the cubby holes, all the rest has been sorted alphabetically by last name
and then again by first name. Each of the first name mail is wrapped with a rubber
band. They are then all tied together in a bow knot with a nylon cord then placed
on the table in alphabetical order, with the overflow put next to the windows. Each
bundle has a piece of torn cardboard indicating a letter of the alphabet written in
a large black block letter. As an example of what the clerk has to do to find mail
for, say, John and Mary Hunter. First she goes to the table and looks for the “H”
bundle. She unties it and thumbs through until she finds names beginning with a “J”
and “M.” Then she removes the rubber band from the “J” bundle and looks at each and
every piece of mail for John Hunter. If there is more than one John Hunter, she
will come back to the window and ask for your address. This procedure is duplicated
for the “M” bundle. Please bear with me, it gets more complicated. Basically, the
only mail in those bundles are legal and letter size envelopes along with postcards.
Let’s say Mary gets a subscription to her favorite magazine. It would not be with
the regular mail. In it’s place is a handwritten note with the customer’s name,
address, description of the item, the location where it can be found, and the date
received. Other items written on these notes, besides magazines, are oversized or bulky
mail. My experience has been the handwritten notes don’t necessarily correspond to
the number of items I received.
After the clerk has completed searching for your mail and returning the “H” bundle
to the table, she takes the handwritten note and disappears to the rear of the post
office to retrieve your item(s). This can take a considerable amount of time. This
area is similar to the front except the size of the cubby holes are much larger. If
she took two notes but only found one item, she searches and searches until she is
satisfied that there is only one item. Meanwhile everyone in that line wishes they
were in the other line.
When new mail has been sorted, it is brought forward and put in the appropriate
bundle. There isn’t any system for this. For example, John Hunter’s mail is put in the
“J” bundle inside the “H” bundle, in no particular order. Human error can and does
affect the mail getting in the correct bundle. A business who mails at post office
#1, sent mail to me that took six weeks for me to receive. There was a date stamped
on the envelope showing it was received shortly after it was mailed. I guess mail
can get lost anywhere, not just in Jamaica.
The final difference comes from the stamp window. Unlike the US where all
transactions are done on a computer with a printed receipt, the cash register used for the
purchase of stamps is a Danish cookie tin! I kid you not!
To summarize, there isn’t anything automated in this whole postal system. All in
all, business is conducted, people do get their mail and all this with nary a
complaint. The clerks are very friendly and helpful. You would be hard pressed to find a
disgruntled postal worker in this facility.