Thomas Hubert - journalist(e)

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Congo's postal service needs you

Mary's employer had us duly warned: "The Congolese postal service is currently not functioning, although some letters have been known to make it through to the office in Kinshasa." In fact, the post does work.

When Mary asked the nearest Irish embassy (in South Africa) for papers for her visa application, she received a scanned copy by email and completely forgot that the originals were being sent by post.

One month later, surprise! A slip landed on her desk announcing that a registered letter was waiting for her at the post office - assuming payment of a FC2,640 tax.

She first went to Kinshasa's central post office, a massive concrete building with sky-high ceilings. To the left, an overcrowded office accommodated the Western Union desk. In the rest of the hall, three employees manned the dozen booths available.

In fact, the letter was sitting in another post office, half an hour's drive from there. The post office lay in the middle of a field and looked abandoned. Mary walked into the unlit hall, populated by empty booths. She knocked on a door, heard a voice, walked down a corridor and finally found a woman sitting behind a desk in a large room.

Together, they found the entry for the letter in a handwritten ledger. It said the mail had arrived three weeks ago. Since then, about thirty letters had been added to the list. While a postman went to fetch the envelope, the woman complained: "Why have you never come to use our service before? We need your business!"