On Tuesday we got a call from our local moving agents saying that customs officials were refusing to release our air shipment because the bill of lading said (a) it was one piece and (b) weighed 273 kilos. However, what arrived was two pieces weighing 284 kilos. Each piece had our airway bill number on it and was clearly ours but how to explain the discrepancy?
After a flurry of calls we discovered that the U.S. moving company had banded together a large box with a small box on top on one pallet and wrote “1 piece” on the airway bill. In London someone cut the bands, opened the smaller box (we know this because the security tapes were all broken), and then left the shipment as two pieces. Regarding the difference in weight, no one could explain this other than suggesting scale differences. Or perhaps the boxes were weighed with a pallet in Africa and without a pallet in the U.S.? The weight discrepancy was odd.
Then yesterday the Lusaka moving agents said we should come down to customs and talk with them ourselves. At 9 am I met Aggie, the local moving agent, and we went and talked with a customs agent, who said we had to talk to security. We talked to security who said we had to talk with the head customs clearance official. We joined several other people in the restricted cargo zone area with real tractors as fork lifts (like John Deere type tractors), workers sweeping/emptying trash cans/serving tea/washing dishes. The other people who were waiting (I came to know after sitting there for three hours) were from various airlines and needed the customs official’s sign-off on their cargo.
Finally, we were summoned to the official’s office (after everyone else was done, they had airlines to run after all) and we explained how the pieces were separated. The mistake the local agent made was that they picked up the larger piece and signed for it and now they were back saying, oops, we want this too. He would not be swayed by the fact that both boxes had the same airway bill number on them, that I could identify the box, and that we had a clear explanation from the shipping agent about the 1 vs. 2 pieces. Our explanation for the weight difference was pretty lame (“scale differences”) and we all knew it.
Finally in exasperation he said that if we went to the super head honcho, the person in charge of customs for the whole airport, and got permission to take the box, then he would release it. So, we traipsed across parking lots, through a narrow path on a waist-high weed field, and found the head honcho, who turned out to be a woman with gold and black striped painted nails. After we explained what happened she rolled her eyes and signed the form. It was obvious to her, as to us, that both boxes were ours and it was also obvious that she thought the official we were dealing with was an ass.
Sooooo, we got our air shipment! I held my breath until we got it in the moving vehicle and drove away. Because I didn’t know my way back to town I followed him.
And enjoyed the African scenery along the way.
Now normally people aren’t too excited about getting their air shipments because they’re only 500 lbs max and contain the bare minimum to get you through 2-3 months until your sea freight comes. It sure doesn’t look like much, does it?
Think of going to a minimally outfitted cottage and that’s what an air shipment is like. But, for us, it was like winning the lottery! One reason for this is that I packed a ton of “consumables” that I knew we couldn’t get here. When we lived in Rome we would beg/borrow/almost steal things like chocolate chips. So, I came prepared.
And those who know me know I always engage in safe eating with plenty of condiments. 🙂
I think I went a little overboard.
p.s. For those visitors expecting my famous cinnamon/orange ice tea never fear! I brought 10 lbs.