It’s always the simple things in life that you take for granted. And luckily (or unluckily) for me, I get a constant reminder of that in my day-to-day life here.
A few days ago I found myself in need of labels. Nothing fancy, just a few names and addresses printed out on sticky labels to then put onto some envelopes.
In my previous life this would be a simple task – either I would print them out at my office or I could pop over to Kinkos and have it done in five minutes. This, clearly, was not in the cards for me with these labels.
I started by asking Daniel. That should have solved it – he has an assistant and everything! But, lo and behold, Daniel’s Indian assistant has actually been outsourced to Chennai and therefore couldn’t print anything personal for him. The world is indeed a strange place.
So I began calling printing companies. My conversations went mostly like this:
Me: Hello, I’m calling because I want to print out some labels. Can you do that?
Them: Hold on
(wait for ten minutes and then a new person arrives)
Them: Hello? Why you calling?
Me: I want to print labels.
Them: What is label?
Me: A sticky thing with an address printed on it.
Them: Called a what?
Me: A label.
Them:What is a label?
Me: Like I said, it’s a sticky piece of paper with an address printed on it.
Them: Who are you?
Me: My name is Ali
Them: Where you calling from?
Them: Why you are calling?
Me: Again, I’m calling about labels. LABELS
Them: Hold on
You then wait another ten minutes, have the same conversation again with a different person (who is equally confused by the concept of labels) until finally someone says:
Them: We don’t do
Me: Is there anyone you know of who can?
Them: Yes, call this number
Of course, the cycle then continues because the next person I called did the same thing, and the subsequent ten places all were equally as non-committal on the subject of labels. Finally I was put in touch with a man named Mr. Desai who said I should just come to his office.
I went with a friend of mine who was in town and we walked around a parking lot and pile of trash with goats surrounding it until we found Mr. Desai’s office.
It was like we were transported back in time. The roof of the office consisted of sheets of metal with patches of light streaming through the various holes and cracks. The room was dark and dingy with floors so coated in dust our shoes made small footprints when we walked. Mr. Desai sat at a desk with piles of dusty old ledgers, like an Indian Ebeneezer Scrooge staring into his calculator. And in the corner stood a printer that looked closer to Johann Gutenberg’s era than Kinkos. It was absurd.
“You have emailed to me your file?” Mr Desai said slowly, unsure of his English.
“Yes,” I replied, indicating that I’d sent it to the email address he’d given me on the phone. But, of course, there was no computer in sight, so I wasn’t quite sure how this was all going to be accomplished.
“Excellent. It will only be a minute. You sure you want it sticky?” he said, as though I might be confused by the concept of what I needed.
“Yes, it needs to be sticky,” I responded simply.
“Acha, Okay,” he said, and then went back to his ledgers.
We sat and waited. I was so grateful I had someone with me because as the minutes ticked on it seemed like we might be there for hours.
Forty-five minutes after arriving, a man walked in the store, triumphantly holding papers above his head. They weren’t quite labels, but they were addresses printed on paper that would stick, and that was all I needed.
They were labels, India-style.