Sunday, June 1, 2014

This Box

Ahhh, this box.

This.  Box.

This @#$%, %^&*, ^%#@* box.

This not-terribly-impressive-looking and rather-out-of-focus box is pictured at the end of a journey that took it from Leverett, Massachusetts, USA, to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil and almost back again.  This journey lasted six months and one day.  At several points along the way I was sure I would never see this box.  Or rather: see it again, as it was I who so lovingly prepared it for its journey.

But it made it.

I have been waiting to write this post for a long time, and now that I finally am, I find myself so emotionally drained from recent events, including what happened to my car and trying to get our house painted in time for the World Cup, that I lack the incredulous indignation I expected to infuse this post with.

But so be it.  If I don't write this now it will never get written, like so many other would-be posts.

I'm not sure this is a really interesting story, and just in case, I'll spare you most of the details so you won't get bored and stop reading.

Brazil, which has a very protectionist economy and an immense bureaucracy... scratch that - I think it actually has many immense bureaucracies... makes it extremely difficult and expensive to import things.  This is unfortunate for me, as most of what I sell at my store is imported.  Generally I let other people do the importing and then buy the stuff from them, but they don't necessarily have everything I want and it would be great to import stuff on my own.  It would be even greater if it was easy to do.

Enter 'Importa Fácil,' or 'Easy Import,' a service of the Brazilian Post Office which in this context is one of the most absurd oxymorons ever devised.   It is not 'Easy' in any sense of the word, unless it is easy in the traditional Brazilian sense, which means you know someone who works at Easy Import and they grease the wheels for you.  For schmucks like me, who want to do the right thing and actually try to follow the rules, you get... bad results.

To use Importa Fácil, you generally spend several hours preparing documentation. I have only used it in an experimental capacity, testing to see how it works and what they will let me get away with.  You have to detail every item in a shipment: what it is, where it came from, what type of object it is, how much it costs, etc, and you also need to include a commercial invoice and bill of lading.  All of this information needs to be logged on the Importa Fácil website, which has a tendency to time out for no apparent reason, resulting in lost data entry and much invective directed at the computer.

Then you mail it.  Or in my case, you have your mother mail it, because you couldn't get all the documentation finished before you went back to Brazil.  I don't expect she will repeat the favor, but then again, I'm not sure I'll ever use this blasted service ever again.  My box was mailed Priority Mail if I remember correctly, which means you pay extra so it will arrive in a week or so (hahahahahahhahaaaaaaa).  The US Postal Service used to offer cheaper, slower, options but apparently they aren't available anymore.  Slow being a given, a cheaper, slower option would have been my preference.

Next, be prepared to wait.  In my case, the wait lasted several months as the box sat doing absolutely nothing in the Importa Fácil facility.

Then, providing they get around to your box (I have another one shipped in December that they haven't gotten around to, probably gone for good), be prepared to pay a lot of money.  They tax you 60% of everything in the box, as well as the shipping and the insurance.  Then they charge you a value added tax that for my state is 17%, making it clear that they don't shy away from double taxation - I paid 17% of the 60% that had already been levied.  Then they smack you with a fee that amounts to about 70 US dollars.  My final calculation was that, all told, with shipping and the rest, I paid an additional 168% of the value of every item in the box.

After I paid up the box was finally released and sent on its way to Salvador.  And that's when things really started to go wrong.

I was pretty excited at this point, back at the end of March - I had about 2000 reais (900 dollars) invested in this small box by now, and I was eager to get selling and recoup my investment.  The box got shipped to Salvador, and then it got stuck again.  According to the online tracking, one attempt at delivery was made, and nobody was home.  Then it languished for another two weeks, after which two more attempts at delivery were made, and it was then determined that the address was wrong, and the box was marked 'Return to Sender.'

I.E. back to the U.S.

After five months of waiting.

And they wasted no time hustling my box out of Salvador, in spite of all the work I'd invested in getting it here.  In less than two days it was on its way back to São Paulo.  I figure that after traveling thousands of miles, it probably got within a hundred yards of its destination.  I found out later that the guy who regularly delivers packages in my neighborhood, who knows my name and will deliver things at my store if no-one is at my house and vice-versa, was on vacation at this time, otherwise this most likely never would have happened.

I went pretty much ballistic at this point, although it's hard to recall the depth of my emotion in my current lethargic state.  I had made several complaints to the postal service already and I made one more, asking such pertinent questions as: What the hell is going on?  Why didn't anyone try to contact me before returning this box?  What was the address you tried to ship it to?  Do you have any idea how much time and energy I've invested in this box?  Do you realize how absurd it is to call your service 'Easy Import'?  The person who took my call was quite sympathetic and I think he may be the real reason the box is now in my possession.  I tracked the box online as it went to São Paulo, then to Rio, in preparation to return to the U.S.A.

And then,





it turned around

and came back

towards Salvador.

Then for no good reason it took a detour through Belo Horizonte, a city in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, but no worries: still more or less in the right direction.

And then it was back in Salvador.

And then it got shipped to another location in Salvador.

And then another.

At about this time a 70 pound ball of concrete fell from the sky onto my car, and my world got turned around a bit.  Painters had been making what should have been a relatively straightforward job of painting my house into an immense time-consuming nightmare, one of our sources of income had seasonally dried up, and my kid brought home an abysmally lousy report card.  I needed some good news.  Badly.

So I checked the online tracking

and it told me the package had been delivered




at least not to me.

I arrived at a state approaching despair at this point, which is pretty silly, all things considered.  I couldn't believe this was actually happening to me.  Who had signed for my box?  Where the hell was it?  Was I going to have any recourse in case the box was gone for good?  After all, the post office was telling me it had been delivered to the person it was addressed to.

The next day I bugged all my neighbors in the galeria where I have my store to see if they'd received my box.  I made another complaint to the postal service, and I questioned the local mailwoman.  I began casting a wider net, asking at neighboring buildings if they'd signed for my box.  "No," was the answer.  "No, we have not."

And then I saw the yellow mail van.  The same one I had already pestered regarding my Holy-Grail-box-from-the-United-States.  They listened to my oft-repeated inquiry.

And they ushered me around to the side of the van.

And they opened the door.

And there

on the floor

of the van

was the box.

I imagine I clutched it to my chest and scurried off, Gollum style, although I don't quite remember.  I do remember that when I got it back to the store and began unpacking it that I was amazed at how little was actually in there - in my mind it had blown up into a much larger, more substantial quantity of merchandise.  Attached to the outside was perhaps the most important item: the documentation stating that I'd dotted my I's and crossed my T's: 32 cents of this tax and 27 cents of this tax paid for this item, 84 cents tax and 1.23 paid for this item.  It amounted to a packet as thick as my finger: probably fifty pages.

And they insist on calling it Easy Import.

And now, I'm happy to say, I have already sold some of the contents - working towards the goal of paying off my investment.

Here's what I got:

And here is the tracking information for the infernal thing, note that right at the top it says it was delivered twice (entrega efetuada):