Now the Excitement Begins
Putting everything that one owns into a rusty metal box does bring some sober thinking.
A childhood friend of mine died last Sunday when he took his boat to Lime Cay, jumped off, and hit his head. A close death makes you ponder certain things... like the fact that when you die, you can't take the boat with you, or even your closest friends and family. It's a really sad time for his family, as you could imagine and if the funeral is on Saturday, I'll probably be going.
It also brings into clear relief the reasons why I am moving back to Jamaica, which run counter to the accepted wisdom that one should be looking to leave Jamaica for the US, not move back to it. Moving back to Jamaica represents a commitment to a vision I currently have for my life -- one in which I make a difference to that which matters to me. My friend's death is a timely reminder, that not even tomorrow is assured, and that I'd rather spend today moving in the direction of my commitments and visions, than running away from what scares me in life (and there are some really scary things happening in Jamaica at the moment.)
Well, anyways at this point I still wanted my stuff (even though it will all be inherited by someone else when I die) out of customs and back into my hands. My wife was just beginning to start to worry about "people walking around Kingston in her shoes" and "the TV and the rug -- make sure that those are there because those are the things that they are most likely to steal."
Luckily, for me, I could afford to use a custom broker, a reputable firm that was referred to me by a friend, who immediately put me in touch with the owner by phone from where I was working in Barbados. He promised to take care of everything, and I had to trust him on this one because I only had a day and a half in Jamaica, before leaving to return to Bim (i.e. Barbados.)
On Monday morning, I was at my customs broker offices, and they took us through the paperwork quickly, and assigned someone (a junior clerk) to go with us to the interview at Customs. This was a critical juncture -- the point at which I would be given the status of Returning Resident, and therefore bring in everything tax free, or be left in the pool of "the usual traveller" with a hefty bill to pay running into the US$thousands.
(Incidentally, it would have helped mildly if I had made a list of the contents of each box, and then kept a numbered list of the boxes. I use the word "mildly" because I had over a hundred boxes, and finding "box number 74" would have taken at least a half hour...)
My trusted broker, who pays the role of consultant, trainer, advisor, middleman, confidante, clairvoyant and others, helped me to prepare for the interview by giving me something of a pep talk, and an idea of some of the things that would be BAD to say, like "Oh, NO, I will never, ever again ever travel from Jamaica for the rest of my life." Of course, the customs officer would need to be placated and pampered, and treated as if they had the power to make a big decision... which they certainly did.
In the back of my mind, of course, were all the stories that every Jamaican knows -- how dem customs officer "tief" and "all dem want is a smalls" (bribe.) A friend told me her first hand account of spending 5 hours in customs trying to clear one box, and when the customs officer came she started by opening the box, and upon finding a box of chocolates, ate in right there in front of her... slowly, and deliberately, making her know "who was in charge yahso!"
So, I had my own share of trepidation as I drove down to the customs house on the wharf with my mother and the junior clerk , not knowing what to expect, but expecting at least a long line, a very long wait and hoping that my customs broker had brought the necessary "smalls" they would need to grease the wheels of customs.
Well, it turns out I was way off the mark.
The line was short. The office was professionally run. The officer was polite and friendly.
I was second in line, and was seen in less than half an hour, and would have been seen sooner were it not for the man in front of me who had messed up his shipment, and could not hear that the customs agents were trying to help him... trying their best to help him, in spite of his rudeness.
The only hitch came when I had to redo a form that the customs brokers used, because they had the "old form" and had not updated their supply of forms. Luckily, the our trusted junior clerk seemed to be a friend of everyone in the office, and the relationship, for which I was paying good money, was giving me the advantage I needed.
There was also a minor hitch in the spelling of my name on the bill of lading, and when I began to worry about my flight the following day, they all assured me that no, I didn't even need to come back myself, the broker would take care of all of it for me. My goods would be inspected the following day and then be released by Wednesday or Thursday.
It was such a non-event that my mother fell asleep in the office while waiting for me.
While I understand that it is entirely possible to get the entire process done without the assistance of customs brokers, it would have been much harder to do, much more stressful, take much more time, and also require several payments to different bodies and agencies. In fact, I had a good friend who also cleared a container, and the entire process took 3 solid days of her time, most of which were spent down on the wharves waiting.