How to best ship a package to Gabon?

So, I have a friend who is spending a year in Gabon working at a hospital there. She’s going to be gone for the holidays and requested that people send her care packages. I don’t think this is an unreasonable request, but she gave very specific (and somewhat odd) instructions for successfully shipping a package to Gabon. She included biblical phrases in french that apparently deter interference with one’s package.

My friend isn’t particularly religious, and I have no idea where this idea came from. Is there any truth to this? I’m not Christian, so the entire situation is puzzling. I don’t read French either, so I suppose this could just be some sort of joke, although that’s not really her style.

Also, I was going to try to collect a group package from friends and see if I can get people to chip in on the shipping. I’m just going to ask for donations, rather than try to estimate how much each person would owe. If I get too much money, I was thinking about buying an amazon gift certificate for her. Is there anything I should know about Amazon and Gabon? I imagine the biblical quotes thing might be tough to carry out. Anyone have any experience with this?

Spent two years in Cameroon.

Yes, putting biblical phrases or symbols on a package is prudent. I’d usually ask people to draw some crosses on it and maybe stick some religious stickers on my packages. Other people I know would get their packages addressed to “Brother” X or “Sister” X.

These postal systems are very inefficient. You basically have to figure that a good chunk of the employees aren’t getting paid and take what they need out of packages to make up for it. The majority of packages I received had been opened, and often it was obvious that a lot of package didn’t make it- for example once I received a bundle of DVD sleeves, but no DVDs. Added to that, even if your package doesn’t get pilfered, it may sit in some back room for months and the postal clerks may demand outrageous amounts of money in “customs fees” (bribes).

Many people in this part of Africa are very religious, and also perhaps a bit superstitious, so they are less likely to mess with something that has religious symbols on them. Kind of reminds them that God is watching. They may also work a little harder to make sure the package gets in the right hands than they would if they thought it was going to a businessman or something.

Other advice- package all food products in tupperware. The warehouses packages go through are full of rats and cockroaches and they will eat through anything not packaged tightly, not to mention tupperware is impossible to get there and will be treasured. Also be a bit vague about what you put on the customs sheets. “Educational Materials” is the classic, as is “X for personal use”. Basically don’t write anything that might interest postal workers or encourage them to set high fees.

I can’t imagine that Amazon ships in any affordable way to Gabon, furthermore it is likely that her Internet connection makes browsing Amazon a slow, frustrating project. Better just to send her stuff, even if it ends up costing you more.

If she hasn’t given you an idea of what to send, here are my recommendations:[ul]
[li]Snack food- snack food is generally unavailable and when it does exist it is crazy expensive- a can of pringles cost me $9.00.[/li][li]Anything with cheese- Velveeta ships well, high quality powdered Parmesan, and the cheese packages from mac and cheese (she can provide her own macaroni)[/li][li]Pasta sauce mixes if she is cooking for herself. Pasta is readily available, but sauce isn’t unless you want to start from scratch.[/li][li]Chocolate items- chocolate syrup, cookies (girl scout cookies where always a hit), M&Ms (won’t melt in the package), hot chocolate mix…[/li][li]Books, of course. Also DVDs. Stuff burned from television always made me happy.[/li][li]Small things to give as gifts- watches, pocketknives, small toys for children. Skip the worst quality, since that might be available in-country, but chances are everyday items of even average quality are not available in the country.[/li][/ul]

Huh. Guess I’ll go forward with the biblical quotes thing.

aaannnnddd…tupperware it is. I hate bugs. She’s sent me pictures, and man…I would have a nervous breakdown if I had spiders that big in my bathroom. Thanks for the tip! She didn’t mention that in the e-mail.

I’ll add your suggestions to the list. :slight_smile:

Sounds like Amazon isn’t the best plan. The problem is I won’t know how much shipping is until I have an idea of how many people are participating and what they are donating. I figured I’d ask for a few dollars up front and make up the difference out of my own pocket. I was only going to do Amazon if people donated more money than needed. Eh, maybe her cat needs supplies and I can put it towards that.

Thanks a bunch! I appreciate the help. From your description, it sounds like I should get started on this if I want it to be there by Christmas.

No problem. It’s not often there comes a question on something I’m an expert on, but sketchy central African postal services are a specialty of mine.

Shipping on a shoe-box sized box will probably be $30-$50. A moving-sized box will probably run around $100. There are some flat rate envelopes that I think go for around $30 that you can stuff pretty full, and I think that is the most popular option.

If you get this out soon it’ll get there by Christmas. I’d say two months is about right, though this can vary wildly. For the cat, don’t worry about food or litter- dried fish and sand do a great job. But little pouches of cat treats are fun, as are toys (people think it’s hilarious that we buy toys for our cats.) I don’t know how much eating of household pets they do in Gabon, but in Cameroon more than one of my friend’s animals ended up on a neighbor’s dinner table, and a collar can help keep that from happening.

Other suggestions- those flat pouches of tuna (tuna is available, but expensive), Crystal Light (especially the single-bottle packets), an inflatable globe, pictures of friends and family, those fancy flavored instant mashed potatoes in gold foil packages…if she is going to be there quality underwear is a popular gift.

The simplest solution would be to find someone to carry the package for you. I think Gabon may be one of the few places in the world that isn’t regularly visited by dopers (off the top of my head only Colibri and I have ever actually worked there). If your friend is in Port Gentil, there’s another possibility. She might know someone in the oil industry and they can easily arrange for a package to get delivered (just stick the package in their luggage).

Anywhere else in Gabon, best of luck with the St. Christopher approach. :stuck_out_tongue:

My brother was just out there. Hand delivery is about the only way packages will arrive intact.

Hand delivery? Oh, good grief. I’m in the midwest! I couldn’t even find a flight to Utah that was under ten hours long…finding someone headed to Gabon is probably a very, very long shot.

And…ouch regarding shipping prices. I don’t think I will have to worry about extra money. Her cat in in the US, btw. She left it with a mutual friend, who is probably paying for its food and litter herself. I thought I could chip in the extra money towards that expense.

I think I’ll still take a crack at this, but warn people not to spend more than $10 apiece. At least if this is a bust, no one person will have lost very much.

I used to ship stuff to Tanzania when my parents were living there.
Remember that weight is your enemy. Books, while tempting, are really heavy
by volume. One or two special books might be worth it. A box full of paperback
best sellers might not be. I agree with the pasta sauce spice packages. My folks could get wonder fresh tomatos and garlic. Add one of the cheap spice packets and spaghetti dinners were a big hit. How about Christmas decorations? I once found a set of ornaments that were cardboard ballerinas. Flat, so they travelled very well. We did the inflateable globe thing, and it went over really well. I saw one last year, while I was there, that had ended up in a classroom, hanging from the ceiling. Brownie mix was a big hit. DVDs of TV shows too. My folks would invite people over to watch M.A.S.H.

As for getting it there, other have said most of it.
Plan on it taking a long time.
Plan on it getting opened on the way.
Plan on it sitting in the post office until someone gets around to it.

Maybe addressing it to your friend c/o the hospital (my folks were associated with a college, and that seemed to help). This might keep down the chances of it getting opened, and it might also increase the chance of it being delivered (Hey, you’re from the hospital, can you take this box as well?)

Above all, don’t include cash. Not in a package, not in a card.