Government! Three fourths parasitic and the other fourth stupid fumbling. ~ Robert A. Heinlein
I needed to renew my ID and the prospect of this filled me with a profound sense of dread, 100 times more dread than filling my taxes.
Whenever we have anything to do at the start of the day I have to mentally prepare myself. I repeat a mantra that goes goes something like, everything will be fine, be patient, try to remain calm, and limit your swearing. But when we have to go downtown I need a little something extra, like donning a super hero type invisible shield.
I’ve written before about the parking lot effect of commuting in Caracas. I can not clearly express the insanity of it all, so when we have to go downtown we usually opt for public transit. I wouldn’t say that it’s the better option, but it’s less stressful for Juan to have to concentrate so hard while listening to my colorful commentary while trying to take over the horn.
After hopping a mini bus (I think I need to write about these soon) and riding the subway we arrive in the center of the city. Downtown is a world of its own. Juan’s mom tells me that it used to be beautiful and people would go out of their way to walk in the plazas, shop and have coffee on the terraces. Now, it’s skid row. People are loud, shifty, untrustworthy, and always trying to hustle their wares. The threat of violence is always present and palpable. I’m quickly learning to look without watching. The grime is thick and the smell of piss is sharp. It’s a very poor area of the city. People wear years of sorrow and struggle on their faces and show their pride of Chavismo on their shirts. The irony of this is not lost on me. This is where the government office is. I call it the 7th Circle of Hell after Dante’s 7th Circle.
I would really like to say that government offices here are organized chaos, but sadly I cannot. They are absolute chaos. The process went something like this:
Join the already super long line outside of the building. Listen to the people on both sides of us complain.
Wait around an hour to get to the front of the line, only to be told which line I need to go through once inside.
Argue with the “doorman/bouncer” to allow Juan to escort me and be my translator. His answer, no! Juan explains I don’t have a bank account to pay my fees and that he needs to pay on my behalf.
Doorman tells Juan he cannot pay for my fees and I that need a voucher that can only be paid for at a bank. Juan heads to the bank to purchase said voucher.
I go inside and try and find the line that I’m supposed to be in. It’s beyond confusing because there are 3 separate lines that occupy almost all available floor space. My line is making a perimeter around 100 sitting people. The line is almost a complete rectangle, reaching back to the entrance.
I don’t want to generalize about all Latinos, but my experience with Venezuelans is that they’re a very loud bunch. The cacophony of raised voices was deafening.
I ask (yell at) the woman in front of me if the seated people are the people ahead of us. Yes, was her response. I let out a low sigh and mumble dios mio (my god) knowing the day was going to be a long one.
Juan apparently demands to be let through the door (to give me my voucher) and finds me in the immobile queue. Once we start moving we discover that my line is actually two, one for foreigners and the other for Venezuelans. Another hour later, I have my ticket.
My paperwork is whisked away (being checked for something) and returned. I get to keep my ticket. I only had to wait for 35 more people to take their turns before mine. I was slightly hopeful that time would pass quickly, but my hopes weren’t high.
The queue moves slowly rotating between foreigners and Venezuelans. By 11:30 we noticed that the foreigner’s numbers are no longer being called. So for an hour we waited while a skeleton staff dealt with the Venezuelans. Don’t misunderstand me, there was staff milling about, texting on their phones, talking to each other in small groups, but not working. For some unknown reason, I wasn’t the least bit fazed. I totally expected this. Ha! Maybe my mantra worked.
Juan took the opportunity to go out and find a snack. Work “resumes” and I have about 15 numbers ahead of me. At 1:45 my number is called and I go to the assigned booth. I sit down and say good afternoon and the guy looks at me like I have 3 heads. I think he was offended. Whatever, I maintained my smile. The guy spoke so fast that I understood about 3 words. Thankfully Juan translated. That done, I get shuffled to another line.
This department was called Supervision. I laughed out loud. Juan says it’s a make shift job. She essentially printed out a slip telling me the date I was to pick up my ID. The last guy could have done this. Anyway, the date? The following day! I couldn’t believe it. I thought, wow, it’s all worth the wait if I can have it tomorrow. We leave a little after 2pm. Not bad, almost 6 hours.
The following morning we decided to drive downtown. We know that picking up my ID should take less than an hour. Traffic? Beyond horrible. We have no idea what happened, but whatever it was affected the entire city. Gridlock like you wouldn’t believe. Sigh. We got close enough that I could walk to the building while Juan searched for parking. We met, I pushed my way past the “bouncer” (I knew from the previous day that I could get away with it if I asserted myself), entered a new lineup, and waited. While waiting all I could think about was, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Not 10 minutes later I leave empty-handed. No ID.
The bottom line is that I have to return in 20 days. I guess the woman at the “Supervision” desk had it all wrong. Not surprising. We chalked it up to another day of trying to get stuff done in this city of madness.
Efficiency is doing better what is already being done. ~ Peter F Drucker
Living in a country that is not your own really puts the magnifying glass on one’s character. You get to discover if you’re a Type A or B personality? I’m on the obsessive A side. What brings you joy? Nature and food. Are you an understanding or compassionate person? Yes, I am. What annoys you? The list is long. And what would truly push you over the edge? Not much. There are times when I think I should go over to a wall and bang my head, but of course, in the end, the only person I’d be hurting would be myself. What is this magnifying glass showing? It’s glaringly obvious that I’m impatient. It’s my Achilles heel. I really appreciate and need efficiency. I crave it like chocolate. Maybe I was Swedish or Japanese in another life.
People here complain about inefficiency all the time. It’s a topic of conversation, much like the weather is for Canadians.
We really got dumped on last night, didn’t we?
Yea, another 30 cm of the white stuff’s coming.
God, when will winter end?
I don’t know; yesterday was the first day of spring.
Sound familiar? You can always insert rain for snow if you’re living in Vancouver.
In Caracas the conversation goes something like this:
Aarrgghhh, an audible sigh, immediate look of despair, eye rolling commences. Turn to the guy that just came up behind you. The line up for the bank/check out/pharmacy counter is horrendous.
It’s always like this. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you come.
Yea, I know. Hey, hold my place in line. I’m going to see if the other line is moving faster.
Sure. If your line is moving faster, I’ll come over.
20 minutes later……… you’ve moved up 3 spots, but look on the bright side, you just made a new friend.
So yesterday Juan had to go to deposit 2 checks at one bank. We take our place in line and within seconds, 15 people were standing behind us. There is one teller open and every 30 seconds someone is going up to the teller to ask for a deposit slip while a client is trying to do their banking. Yes, you read that right. It’s 2013 and they’re still using deposit slips. Here is one of the problems, the bank won’t leave any on the counter because people take them. Really?! Well of course they take them!!!! They don’t want to waste their time. Your banking takes twice as long because of the constant interruptions and of course after you picked up your slip, you have to go to the back of the line to fill the damn thing out. Head banging commences.
We waited our 25 minutes, I go ahead of Juan to ask for deposit slips (you know for next time). I leave so the guy doesn’t see through our thinly disguised plan. A couple minutes later I see Juan standing in line for the bank machine. He tells me the teller will only deposit one check and not the other because it was under a certain amount. WTH? My second bout of head banging is in full swing. Our turn comes up and the machine is temporarily out of service!! Of course it is. Now I know you’re asking, why didn’t he just use the machine in the first place? People don’t trust them. If a check goes missing, the bank has a “it’s not our responsibility” attitude. It’s risky.
There was another branch on the other side of the mall so we decided to walk over. Guess what? That side of the mall was closed and wouldn’t be open for another hour and a half. This head banging session is coming to a close and the head shaking in disbelief starts.
Of course, I always having a running commentary with Juan about using bank cards instead of deposit slips, streamlining procedures at the teller, efficiency, etc. And although he concurs, I think he’s tired of me pointing out the glaringly obvious.
Here’s a perfect example of inefficiency, if you deposit a check you have to have your photo taken and you need to give your thumb print. The teller to camera ratio is about 2 to 1, and it’s required for ALL checks. So if you deposit 10 checks, that means 10 photos and 10 thumb prints are taken. All of that takes time. Can you feel the pain? Oh and talk about Big Brother! But that’s a whole other post.
Anyway, that was the first of three banks we had to go to yesterday; they went just as smoothly.
I have a very sharp tongue, I’m very impatient, and it’s a lifelong struggle. ~ Karen Armstrong
Line up, queue, cola, whatever you call it, it still equates to time wasted.
Life is funny. It seems like I’m constantly challenged to work on one of my worst qualities, impatience. It rears its ugly head at certain things like waiting for summer to arrive, being super excited to go somewhere (I’m not the road trip kind of gal), or waiting for Juan to find his keys and put on his shoes when we have someplace to be and I’ve been ready for 10 minutes. So isn’t it a bit ironic that I move to a place where I think they invented line ups?
I understand that I’m living in South America and they have different ways of doing things; and I get that Caracas is a very large, somewhat disorganized city, but people here dislike line ups just as much as I do. Some days are filled with dread because you have more than one thing to do. You constantly have to consider how much time will be spent waiting.
It goes something like this: I have to go to the doctor’s office. Um it’ll take me 45 minutes to an hour to drive there, try to find parking (always a challenge) wait a minimum of 3 hours for a 10 minute appointment, go to the bank, but try to find parking again, which can be around 20 minutes depending on where the bank is located, wait up to an hour in the bank. There is no swiping of the debit card here. Everything is still pretty much paper driven; you know, how it was 20 years ago when you had to fill out the withdrawal or deposit slip, plus your photo is taken and you have to ink your thumb print if you’re cashing cheques. People are very weary of bank machines and won’t really use them if they’re situated outside of the bank. No matter, there are line ups for those too. Next, get some gas and pick up groceries on the way home. Four seemingly small errands can take up to 6 hours, not very efficient and incredibly frustrating. Of course the time will vary slightly depending on the order and the time of day you do your errands.
Can see my problem? There are even line ups for line ups! You think I’m joking, but it’s very common for government offices to employ this. You stand in line for 45 minutes to an hour (seems like the magical number) to get the information of where you’re supposed to go, only to find the right place and wait another hour for less than five minutes with the person you need to speak with. Ah, bureaucracy, you got to love it. Not!
Of course all of my Latino students laugh at me. They employ the “Silly Kim, you should know better” conversation. I’m glad to know that my frustrations are their amusements. They give me tips like bring a book or magazine; pack some water and something to snack on. These are good, but wouldn’t it be easier if things were just a tiny bit more efficient?
I know complaining doesn’t solve anything, but some days it sure helps to vent a little. I’m learning to deal with it, but trust me when I say it’s challenging.
Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead. ~Mac McCleary
You’ve heard me talk about it before, so it’s not the first and probably won’t be the last time I mention traffic. It’s a monster. It’s a being all of its own. I’ve tried describing the cars like marching ants, but most times they’re like the snakes on Medusa’s head. Everybody is going in every imaginable direction, including the wrong one. It really is a form of anarchy.
Although the horns blare, mostly as a form of warning from approaching motorcycles, people here really just go with the flow. There isn’t road rage like you’d expect. Tempers flare, mine included and I don’t even drive here, but drivers have learned not to take things personally and they let whatever has offended them pass. This is a lesson I need to apply to my life.
There is never a great time to run errands here. Pretty much every hour is rush hour. I normally have to mentally prepare myself if I know we’ll be in the car all day. It took us 1/2 an hour to get through 3 traffic lights on Monday. Are you starting to understand my pain?
Today Juan and I went to try to look for a car to buy. It’s a next to impossible feat. Buying a used car is very expensive, almost 3 times the price of what you’d pay in Canada. There is no rhyme or reason. Can you imagine paying $14 000 for a 15 year old Chevy? I think not. Crazy, isn’t it? There are two main reasons for this: the price of gas is practically free (we pay about $0.26 for a tank) and there is a mafia that controls the market. People list cars, the mafia buys it, repairs it (they have their own mechanics) and then they inflate the price. It’s frustrating as hell.
I know what you’re thinking, just go to a dealership and buy a new or used one there. Here’s the thing: if you can find a dealership that actually has cars in it (hard to picture isn’t it, but we went by 5 or 6 today and not one had a car in it), you order a car (which takes up to a year to arrive), only to find out that what they have for you isn’t at all what you’ve ordered. In this most common scenario you have one of two choices to make: buy the car or walk away and wait another year. 10 times out of 10, people buy a car they don’t even want. It’s a serious problem on many, many levels.
Although it felt like it, we didn’t spend our entire day in the car. We stopped by a fruit and veggie market to pick up some fresh herbs (which cost pennies) for tomorrow night’s pasta and then we went to a fruit stand to have some juice. There I tried a fruit I have never heard of; it’s called nispero. Nispero has the same skin color as a kiwi, without the fuzz. The favor was sweet; almost like a pear and the texture was a bit grainy. I liked it. Juan tells me that people here make ice cream with it, now that I’d like to try.
I’m pretty big on giving myself rewards if I’ve had a great day (meaning my swearing wasn’t at full capacity). Today’s reward was a plant. We stopped by a florist and picked up the cutest little fern (not entirely sure that’s what it is) and some flowers for Juan’s mom. Plants make me happy. Once we move to the island, our place will look like a jungle!
My other reward for being patient today? A Campari! Salud