Saturday, March 31, 2007

Baptism by Egg

I question if I am ready to have the life of a child in my hands. Sylvie and I took absolutely no precautions to prepare our cat Marguerite for the stresses of life in the subtropical countryside of Ecuador. The first week or so after arriving on the coast Marguerite seemed to be in heaven. A lazy, lethargic heaven, but heaven nonetheless. She laid on the deck of our rented house spread eagle on her back and lapped up the sun. One night she wandered out into the fields behind the house. She reappeared an hour or two later. No doubt she was chasing mice or butterflies. Personally, I’m convinced that she was having the time of her life. She is an animal inside all that domestication, with a taste for adventures that are wild. This place has bugs and spiders and all kinds of living stuff for her to track, pursue, and occasionally capture.

Then, one morning Marguerite didn’t come out for breakfast. I mean usually, when we get up, she’s right there ready to eat. We go searching and find her underneath the bed in the guestroom. We have to coax her out to come eat. Later in the day we (Sylvie) notices she’s particularly lazy. For me this is a hard thing to tell since she barely moves during the day. Did you know cats sleep 16 hours out of the day? I always say this to Sylvie and my friends, but I believe that cats are higher in the chain of reincarnation than humans. How many notches higher I don’t know, but all they do is sleep, eat, poop for people to clean it up, get brushed, petted and be given catnip. Only kings, back in the day when being a king really meant something, got this type of pampering. Anyway, Sylvie thinks she’s hot, maybe has a fever. “She’s fine”, I say ignoring Sylvie’s maternal instincts. Next day, we’re at the “vet”. I use the term loosely here because, for example, the next day, when asked, he didn’t remember the name of the medication in the shot he gave Marguerite. During our visit he sticks a thermometer up her butt, and we pin her down so he can give her an injection. Marguerite’s not one of those cats that willingly submits to inspection, and definitely not probing or needles. She’s got a fever, and she’s been violated. She’s not happy.

That night, Manuel, the guy who we’ve befriended who tends the chickens of our landlord put on the cap of spiritual guide in order to perform an ancient shamanic ritual. Before I know what’s happening I walk into the bathroom and find everyone standing around watching as Manuel rubs an egg (in the shell) on Marguerite's back and head as she walks around in circles. She’s wet. I ask why, and as I do I see the bottle of Zhumir (an Ecuadorian liquor made from sugar cane) sitting by his foot. In shamanic practice eggs are used to help absorb evil spirits and bad energy that can make us sick from time to time. As Fanny, Manuel’s wife, noted, cats are very sensitive to the negative and positive energies of a place. There is thought to be some bad vibes in our current abode due to the sketchiness and general crabbiness of its owner. Manuel and Fanny have a bit of grudge here. It’s deserved. Anyway, Marguerite is now licking herself. If nothing else the Zhumir may help lift her spirits. Afterwards, Manuel cracks the egg open into a glass. The yolk is floating in the middle of the white and the white appears cloudy. That’s the bad energy in there. He shows us a regular egg in a glass. Yolk at the bottom; less cloudy. Hmmm….. He then steps outside and flings the egg from the treatment away from the house. This is the last important step in discarding the bad spirits.

A couple days later Marguerite is better. The real vet we went to see the next day probably had something to do with that. But you know, I liked the egg treatment. Science would tell me it’s static electricity that made the egg float. However, not often enough do we acknowledge the spiritual realm of our world. Western medicine’s shot for the virus carried by the ticks that bit Marguerite was key, but the egg treatment galvanized the positive spiritual force of all those who wished her to be better. If prayer is said to have a positive impact on the healing process, then Marguerite’s spiritual cleansing is probably no different. The next time I feel weighed down, I'll probably get one myself.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A treatise on the lust for efficiency, bureacratic idiocy, psychological torture and questioning your last, greatest major life decision (Part 6)

Day 8 (Tuesday: God performs his Miracle in 8 days this time)

We show up around 9:00 am. We go to our guy, Officer Mendez, and show him our ticket from the other day. He looks in the system and finds us there. The brilliant rookie did not let us down. However, he says with a smile that he can’t help us because we didn’t get a ticket. We say the ticket in his hand is our ticket. It says we can come any time of day. He says that was true yesterday. Today, we need a new ticket. Violent thoughts I won’t share were now flashing through my mind. Sylvie’s on the verge of tears again. We see his supervisor. Supervisor’s supervisor. After 15 minutes of begging the beta supervisor she decides to give us two of the tickets she's holding in her pocket, like candy for good little boys and girls. It’s numbers 58 and 59. That’s 1:00 pm on a good day. But today is special. Remember, I told you about 6 de Diciembre. Well, Tuesday is the day before 6 de Diciembre. So, the workers are now actively lobbying their supervisors for a half day ending at 12pm. The supervisor who gave us the ticket is not sure if they’ll get it. Of course, we can wait and see. What else can we do? We wait. If we don’t get it today, we most likely won’t get it until the following week.

We talk to Denise from Pittsburgh who’s lived in Ecuadorfor 30 years. She assures us this is par for the course. In between regaling us with her stories, she talks to her husband about getting him to bribe someone so she can get her censo more quickly. She’s got number 93. Around noon (about 10 turns before ours), an officer announces that “the system is not working”. You think I’m making this up. How in the world could I make all this up? “The system’s not working”. We can wait if we want. Maybe it will start working again. Now, if this doesn’t sound like a reason for a half day of work, I’ve never heard one. Despite this, we wait. Some others leave. After a few minutes, numbers start getting called again (the numbers of people who have left because, unlike us, they have no faith in the system). Before we know it they’re at 46, 47. And then our number gets called. We go, this time to a different officer in the booth next to Officer Mendez. We hand over our stuff. He checks the system. We’re there. Sylvie says something about Officer Mendez having told us everything was in order. He says “why don’t you have him help you?” Sylvie answers, “because you seem nice and like you want to help us.” He answers, “and so you punish me for being nice.” This moment confirms for me that these guys are just looking for a reason not to help us. Not like a needed that, but I mean it really drives home the “$%@ you” point being made over the past week. I tell Sylvie “stop talking, he’s doing it”. We’re silent. He snaps our pictures. Some Japanese guy is all up on our necks trying to get in next, busting line. I tell him to back up. And then, Officer whatever-his-name-was does IT; something we didn’t believe could actually happen. He hands us our censos. I’m sorry there’s not a better, funnier ending to this long, long story. But the truth is that, that was it. The anticlimax here is the same that we felt at that moment. There was no jubilation; no sense of victory. Just disbelief and heavy pondering to fill the rest of the afternoon. How in the green earth did we just waste so much time for a poorly laminated photo id? I still don’t quite know. I hoped telling the story might help me figure it out. It’s not something I could even do for the first few weeks after it happened. But now, after a few month’s separation from the pain and frustration and rage I can at least talk about it. I don’t think there’s a moral to this story. I don’t know that we handled it the right way. In fact, any insight or advice is welcome. If anything, we learned something about ourselves and a little word called persistence. I think we tell kids something about character building when things like this happen. For us, we can only view it as some sort of national hazing or cosmic test. Could it be that, in the end, our toughest test in Ecuador will have come in the first two weeks? We won’t bank on it, but we can always hope.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A treatise on the lust for efficiency, bureacratic idiocy, psychological torture and questioning your last, greatest major life decision (Part 5)

Day 7 (The following following Monday: we’ve had another weekend to stew)

We return to the office with our ticket from last Friday in the late morning. We make eye contact with Officer Mendez from the waiting area. We watch like hawks for 10 minutes as he serves the current foreigner. We bolt for his booth when she steps to the side to organize her papers. He takes our papers and checks the system. Guess what?!?!? Nothing. We are still not entered into the system. We go talk to his supervisor. Amazingly, she’s more rude than she was the day before. I’m baffled. We go back to Officer Mendez. Sylvie is getting worked up again. I’m frustrated cus I can’t properly cuss anybody out. My Spanish is just not strong enough after 2 weeks. Mendez tells us we what we can do is go to another immigration office (Jefatura de Migración) and have them put us in the system. Friday, we were told by him that they would be doing this at this same office. That’s why we were supposed to come back, cus it was gonna be done. Now, this other office is doing it. Ok, whatever. “Where is it?” We find out. We catch a cab to the other office. We talk to the unfriendly officer there. She tells us we can’t be entered into their system without proof from our airline of our proper arrival. She says we need a letter from the office of the airline we flew. We get in a cab and head for the airport. By the way, it’s raining heavily at this point. We’re getting wet. We’re spending money. We’re like rats in a maze at this point and we don’t care. We’re ready to do whatever it takes to get out. We arrive at the airport, ask around and finally find the office for Continental in the bowels of Quito International. It’s 2:00 pm by this point, so what’s the situation? Come on. You’ve been reading for a while now. It’s closed. The Continental office closes at 1:00 pm at the airport. Who does business after 1:00 pm? I mean, come on. Sylvie’s freaking. I look at the posted sign for a number, anything, and find the address of another office. It’s like the Amazing Race at this point. We get in another cab and head to the other office. If we were thinking, we would have went to this other office, which is much more central, before the airport. It’s raining harder than it was, and the traffic is stiflingly slow. We’re behind a bus. Did I mention the pollution in Quito is off the charts. Buses emit huge plumes of smoke whenever they move from a standstill. Don’t worry though, the Coast has none of this type of pollution. It’s perfect. Quito, on the hand, is in a valley. And the buses are from 1965. I love Quito, just not the pollution. And not, when I’m in a cab, behind a bus, in the rain, bursting with frustration because no cars in front of us are moving.

We get to the Continental office and there’s only one guy in front of us. Beautiful. Of course, there’s only one attendant so we have to wait. It’s 3:30ish at this point. I can’t properly describe this next part, but suffice it to say for all that you’ve read, this was actually the most ridiculous part. This guy, who’s clearly been there for a while, is in the middle of this plodding, ridiculous conversation with the woman behind the counter who’s being way too patient. He’s asking her question after question in some thick German or Dutch accent. I mean literally this was the kind of conversation: “So, how much to go from Quito to Panama?” “Panama City?” “Yes, Panama City. I don’t want to go anywhere else in Panama.” “When do you want to go?” “Tomorrow.” She types on the computer for a while, then tells him the price, time of flight, airline. “No wait, which is cheaper: Tomorrow or Wednesday?” “Tomorrow is Wednesday.” “It is. Oh yes. I mean Thursday.” She types for a minute or so. “No I mean Wednesday. I want to leave Wednesday. What’s the best time to leave Wednesday.” She repeats the information she told him four minutes ago. “So what’s cheaper, if I leave Wednesday or Friday?” She looks up Friday. Mind you, each of these pauses for her takes about 2 or 3 minutes. By this point, I can’t even talk. I can’t focus on anything for too long. I’m bubbling over with emotion. I’m speechless.

Wednesday’s cheaper. “So, tell me how much would it be to go to Columbia first. I want to go through Bogota.” “Well sir, let me check”. Pause. “It’s blah blah blah to go Quito, Bogota, Panama City, Panama City, Quito.” “Oh no, I want a one way. I want to spend some time in Bogota. Is it nice this time of year?” “Well sir, it’s always more expensive to fly one way then round trip.” Ya, so the Wednesday flight is best?” “Yes sir, it’s the best flight.” “Ok ya, I’ll take the Wednesday flight from Quito to Panama City.” As she’s printing his ticket (another five minutes) he says “ya, I have a ticket around the world.” She hands him his ticket. And he starts asking about where he can catch the taxi for his hotel. And which direction is his hotel. And how much is his taxi. By this point, I’m standing behind him. When he turned around, mind you for the first time in this entire 30 minute episode, he jumped back when he saw my face. I don’t know what I looked like, but he stopped asking questions and walked backwards out of the office. I’m not that guy who scares people on the street, so I guess he saw something unusually dark in my twisted expression.

We go up to the counter and tell the woman our plight. She asks us for our boarding passes. Does anyone keep their boarding passes two weeks after they arrive somewhere? From now on you may want to consider it. “We don’t have our boarding passes.” “Well I’m sorry I’m not sure I can help you.” “What do you mean? Are you crazy? Is this a joke? Look in your flippin’ system. We flew on your plane.” Sylvie’s losing it at this point. The woman asks a question Sylvie didn’t hear. “Are you returning to the States?” I answer “yes, we have a return ticket”. She says “oh, well then you should be in the system”. After some trouble with the printer we get our letters from Continental confirming that yes we did actually arrive in this country. Cab back to the third immigration office, and we’re sitting in front of a very sweet officer (the first of her kind) who is an absolute green rookie. Of course, she is the one entering us into “the system”. She’s calling her supervisor every 15 seconds to ask him questions. Our getting into the system is riding on this woman and she’s joking and laughing and getting the spelling of our names wrong and clearing our entries to do it over again repeatedly. We couldn’t be mad at her cus at least she was trying to help, but damn, why the trainee entering us in the system at 4:45 pm on the 7th day. God is not only cruel, but he’s a comedian. At 5:00 pm we’re finally entered into the system. We hope…….

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A treatise on the lust for efficiency, bureacratic idiocy, psychological torture and questioning your last, greatest major life decision (Part 4)

Day 6 (Friday)

Before I begin here, let me point out that Sylvie and I are feeling pretty confident about our chances at this point. We’ve just jumped through the 3-day hoop of registering our visas. We also know we have all the paperwork required because were told so by the officer at the Registro Migratorio on Day 1.

More determined than ever, we wake up at 5:15am to ensure an even earlier arrival, and that we receive a younger ticket number. By 5:50am we’re on line. Numbers 19 and 20 are handed out. We go to a café for some strong coffee. We read magazines and joke a bit about the ridiculousness of this entire episode. We make tentative plans for opening our bank account and maybe even buying a cell phone with the extra time we have between receiving our Censos and me leaving for class.

Around 11:00 am we get called (We reminded the same man as before that he said he would help us if he remembered us, and he actually agreed – amazing really). He looks over our paperwork, which is beyond reproach, and starts to enter our info into the computer system. Then, he then tells us with a slight smile that “it’s funny but for some reason you’re not in the system”. Why does he like this so much? He’s sick, as my mother would say. Sylvie says “what do you mean?”. “I don’t know, you’re just not here.” “Well did you try the other passport?” He tries my passport. “He’s not in here either. According to this, you’re not in the country. How did you arrive?” “By plane…at the airport!” “Did the immigration officer slide your passport through the scanner?” “Yes!” “Well, I’m not sure what’s going on. Let me check with my boss”. Officer Carlos Mendez comes back after a few minutes and informs us that the company that had been contracted by the Ecuadorian government to enter data into the immigration database has messed up. We were never entered into the system when we entered the country. He/we have no proof that we entered legally. Furthermore, this problem went on for a while. So, everyone who entered the country between certain dates last month has the same problem. And….since it’s after 1:00 pm on a Friday, and the office of this company has already closed (perfectly logical, right?). He can’t call them to get them to help. We should come back Monday early when they’re in the office and can help.

Two sidenotes here: anyone who’s spent significant time outside the Western world is probably thinking to themselves, why didn’t these rank amateurs just bribe somebody. Well, that thought came to me back on Monday, but when we inquired about if I should or how to go about it, our Ecuadorian friends warned us that this is an “Ecuadorian thing”. Hence, we were advised not to make attempts at bribing an Immigration officer. It made sense, so we didn’t push it. No need in complicating our plight with an arrest and potential deportation. Besides, after waiting 5 days to get this thing done, we weren’t bribing any of these pig cops. Point two: 6 de Deciembre is approaching. Quito was founded on 6 de Deciembre in 1534. Every year in early December Quito essentially shuts down for a week of partying (Las Fiestas de Quito). In the week leading up to 6 de Deciembre it is nearly impossible to get anything done. At the office, staff play cuarenta (40) a popluar card game and drink shots of liquor. At this point in the saga, 6 de Diciembre is 3 work days away. For us, this could be the proverbial kiss of death.

By now, Sylvie is crying, pleading with Officer Mendez to help us. I’m so pissed off I’m considering pulling Officer Mendez by his ears over his desk. He says we can talk to the woman in Computacion. We go to this a very unhelpful woman who tells us she can’t help us. We go to her supervisor and are told to come back tomorrow. We go back to the woman in Computacion. She tells us Officer Mendez can authorize the Censo, but we need him to give the ok. We ask him to do so, but he refuses due to the suspicion that would be raised during an internal audit. The assumption would be that he was bribed if he didn’t have the necessary paperwork. He did not want to be the answer to the question “who authorized this censo”? As a parting victory Officer Mendez tells us we can come to him directly the following business day and that don’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn to wait for a ticket.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A treatise on the lust for efficiency, bureacratic idiocy, psychological torture and questioning your last, greatest major life decision (Part 3)

Day 2 (the Following Monday)

We arrive at the Dirección de Extranjería at 8:30 in the morning. This is where we’ve been told to go in order to register our visas. We wait in line outside for a few minutes, and then are let inside. It’s a small waiting room filled with maybe 25 people. Not bad in comparison to the hundred or so at the Registro Migratorio. We wait patiently for a couple hours until it’s our turn: We’re called, and go sit at the desk. Behind it, is an unfriendly civilian administrator. He takes our information and says it’s correct. He tells us to go to the Banco Internacional, several blocks away, to pay $20 for the process, and then come back to submit them to the man who collects the proof of payment. Unfortunately, the official who collects the deposit receipts is not in yet. He worked the presidential election on the day before and hadn’t yet shown up to work. According to policy, he was permitted to take the day off since he had worked Sunday, but they weren’t sure if he was coming or not. So far, they hadn’t heard from him. (Note: when a government worker in Ecuador is able to take the day off, don’t expect him to show up for work). So, even though we had our stuff in order, we were going to have to come back the next day. We paid for the pending service and received a receipt we were going to have to bring back and give to the guy who collects these things.

Day 3 (Tuesday)

We show up at 8:30 in the morning at the Direccion de Extranjería. We sit. We wait. At this point, I‘ve begun bringing my homework from my Spanish class. It helps pass the time. Sylvie’s got a book. Humans are highly evolved in their ability to adapt to harsh environments. We get called. We go up. We give our receipt and leave our passports so that the guy can give the Director our passports to sign later in the day. You may have thought it would be signed right there and then. You’d be wrong. Things don’t work like that here. If you’re not waiting, it ain’t right. We are given a slip telling us to come back in 2 days to pick up the passports. We leave.

Day 4 (Day of rest)

Day 5 (Thursday)

We return at the time indicated on our slip of paper. We are told when we enter the now familiar waiting room that the person who signs the passports never showed up yesterday and is not there now. And furthermore, they don’t know when she’s gonna show up. At some point, the person who signs the passports turned from a man into a woman. Maybe they were away from the office for several days getting their sex change. I have no idea since I never saw the person. Dealing with this latest frustration, Sylvie and I retreat to the mall. Over the past couple days we have made other failed attempts to complete other “tramites” (tramites are errands like the one chronicled here that involve waiting and bureaucracy). The biggest obstacle, of course, being our no having a censo. We go back to the office. People who are waiting there are sitting on steps, standing, buzzing with chit chat and indignation. The “woman” still has not shown her face. I have to leave for class since it’s damn near 1:00pm (my class starts at 1:30…). Sylvie is a soldier, and since she has no choice, she waits. A Cuban woman is talking ceaselessly about her son, her family, his life and other stories that have no impact on anyone there except to help pass the time. Sylvie waits until 3:30. At that time, the “woman” shows up and is met by the angry mob. She announces abruptly that she can not help everyone and that people are going to have to come back tomorrow. The crowd begins to howl and boo and pull out pieces of rope. Sylvie, according to herself, begins to demand service for everyone saying that they were all promised that they would be helped, and have waited the entire day based on this promise. The woman backs down saying “she’ll do what she can”. People get helped, including Sylvie.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A treatise on the lust for efficiency, bureacratic idiocy, psychological torture and questioning your last, greatest major life decision (Part 2)

Day 1 (Friday)

Sylvie and I arrive at 6:15 am at the Registro Migratorio. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m tired right about now. As we pull up in the cab we see a line running down the block. By the time we get our ticket they've reached numbers 89 and 90. Mind you, we arrived 15 minutes earlier than we were told by the woman behind the desk (15 minutes before the office even opens) because we just thought we’d be good and get their early so we could be sure to get a good ticket. So Sylvie asks the guard giving out tickets exactly what time we can expect to get served. He says that they serve roughly 20 people an hour. So, by 11ish we should be sure to be there so we don’t miss our turn. 11:00, and it’s 6:30 when we’re hearing this. Well, all I can think about is eating breakfast. So, we try to find a place that’s open and eventually head into a spot that has “American breakfast”. Smart idea on their part, being so close to the Registro Migratorio. I had buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, juice and coffee. Fans of IHOP will feel me on this one. I was trying to eat myself into a coma for the next 3 hours to reduce the pain of the 5 hour wait. By the way, I’m not the type of guy who demands ketchup when traveling abroad, but sometimes you just need the comforts of home. After breakfast, we head over to the mall to find out about buying cell phones, and to the bank to see if we can open an account. Not surprisingly, we need our censo to make these things happen. So, around 11:00 we head back to the office for our Censo. We excitedly look to see what number they’re on. 39. We wait for another four and a half hours until we’re called at 3:45 in the afternoon. We excitedly head up to the awaiting officer behind the desk with all our papers. However, I notice as we’re waiting for him to finish with the preceding extranjera that he was being rude and kind of yelling. By the way, these officers are not doughnut cops. They’re more in the military mold: government’s taskmasters of the street, if you will. They wear pressed, olive-colored uniforms and the whole nine. The ones working in these types of administrative offices are pissed because they’re on desk duty; perfect for dealing with unwanted foreigners. So yeah, we head up there. Sylvie’s smiling. I hit him with an “hola señor” just to show respect. Cops like that. He responds with a slight head nod and puts his hand out for our papers. Clearly, this man is a hard time waiting to happen. We hand over our papers. He tersely reviews them. When he looks at our passports, he tells us that we haven’t registered our visas yet. Sylvie says in Spanish “yeah, that’s why we’re here”. He says with a sly smile that we have to register our visas at another office, then come back to this one for our Censo. Sylvie protests to no avail. Eventually, we are left asking questions such as “where is this office?” We find out. We ask if we can/should come back to him? He says he’ll help us if he remembers us. This should have been our first clue. Sylvie writes his name down. She’s quick. We leave feeling somewhat defeated. That’s an entire day shot.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A treatise on the lust for efficiency, bureacratic idiocy, psychological torture and questioning your last, greatest major life decision (Part I)

The Censo fiasco was so degrading and soul crushing that I almost had the thought that maybe we had made the wrong decision to come here to Ecuador. Part of the problem was that it was very early in our time here, within the first two weeks. All the vim and vigor we arrived with was slowly drained over the 8 day ordeal. All the idealism about how wonderful things would be was promptly balanced with a healthy dose of reality. Some things like say governmental bureaucracy, move excruciatingly slow. This is just one account. We know there are hundreds if not thousands like it because we saw a lot of the same tired, sad faces everyday. Sylvie, after living here for four years until 2001, knows something about how things work Ecuador. And even she was stunned and pushed to the point of tears by the events that I am about to recount.

Pre Game Warm Up:

A few days after arriving in Quito, Sylvie and I decide it's time to do our civic duty and register for the Censo. The Censo, in it’s physical form, is a glorified fake ID that could be made at any check cashing place in the time it takes you to buy a pack of bus tokens. However, it represents a very important process for the Ecuadorian government, the registration of foreigners on beloved Ecuadorian soil. It is, literally, the Census of “extranjeros” or foreigners. The relevance of this process has dramatically increased since Sylvie’s time in Ecuador due to the influx of Columbians coming to the country over the past few years. Columbians are considered dangerous by many Ecuadorians. They drain the resources of the country according to some. And, of course, they are seen as criminals by many citizens. For me, it’s comforting to know that I can apply the xenophobic arguments I learned at home here in Ecuador. Nationalistic attitudes regarding foreigners translate perfectly here, as in the most of the world. Well, poor foreigners anyway. Ecuador also has 110 voltage. It’s like hand in glove over here.

So, being the responsible people we are, Sylvie and I find out about the process for getting a Censo. First we talk to our friends Martha and Ramiro who advise us to go over to the office one afternoon to get the list of requirements. On this brilliant, time-saving suggestion, we act. The next afternoon, a Friday, we head over to the office and grab the list of requirements for the Censo provided to us at the Information Desk on cut up scraps of paper. Sylvie inquires, since I can’t, with one of the ladies behind the desk to make sure there is nothing else we need. She likes to double check things like this. She is assured that that is it. Apparently, all we have to do is bring copies of our passports, 2 pictures each, 2 envelopes for their record keeping, a letter from our hosts Martha and Ramiro verifying that we live with them and copies of their national ID cards (also known as the cedula). Follow these few simple steps and show up at 6:30 in the morning to get the ticket which will determine the order in which we are served on that day. Simple.

Monday, March 5, 2007

If You Want My Body

I hate Rod Stewart. There are people we just hate for some inexplicable reason. They never did anything to us. They never did anything generally offensive as far as we know. Yet and still, they rub us the wrong way. I think that we are genetically predisposed to not liking certain people, like the uni-brow baby and Maggie on the Simpsons. Maybe, when man first walked the earth it served as a biochemical form of population control. You cross paths with someone whose scent makes you want hit them on the head with your club, and that’s one less person eating food. In modern times, it serves no greater cause, just our petty preoccupations.

When I was a boy, I once asked my Aunt Stell if she liked Diana Ross. We were talking about music; she used to be a deejay back in New York City; I didn’t think it was a dumb question. She never told me “no Umi I don’t like Diana Ross”. Instead, her eyes glazed over like she was remembering the POW camp. My cousin quickly stepped between us, said “he didn’t know Mom”, pulled me out of striking distance and directly outside the house to go play. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what Diana Ross did that made my Aunt Stell black out like that. From the way she responded I’m guessing she must have stolen a boyfriend. All I know is, no one, even her mother when she was living, is allowed to mention even the initials DR around my Aunt Stell. Forget the joke gifts at Christmas. Nothing.

I’ve never liked Rod Stewart. To me, he’s like scraping chalk on a blackboard. You know the feeling. You would break the teacher’s hand to make it stop. On Fridays, I work with the guys who are digging/building the well on our property. Last Friday, while I was working inside the well with one of the guys, Eloy, I kept hearing him whistle the same tune over and over. At first I couldn’t place it. Then, I remembered the lyrics “if you want my body dah dah dah dah dah dah”. And I asked, are you whistling “if you want my body”. Excitedly, he said “yes, you know it” in Spanish. At first, I thought it was Olivia Newton John who sang it. I had a flashback of her in that aerobics outfit with the headband: funny stuff. Then I sang it a little bit and remembered. This is damn Rod Stewart!!!!, I thought. Mind you, I’m in the boondocks of rural Ecuador, 15 feet in the bottom of a well with one other guy. I don’t need to listen to Rod Stewart being whistled (whistling is even worse than singing, because it ensures that the song will stick in your head the rest of the day). Despite what I said earlier about population control, I never got the urge to drown Eloy in the cement we were using. In fact, quite honestly, hearing the little ditty whistled innocently by this really nice guy who’s helping us build our well, put that particular song in a new light. The guys above us heard the conversation and started singing the song badly, mumbling the words. I asked did they know the lyrics. They didn’t. I then sang the chorus and explained what it means in Spanish. Long story short, I now have to print and translate the lyrics, and teach them how to sing the song. They want do sexy serenades for their wives. There might even be a little dance involved. I can’t handle it all right now. I’ve been procrastinating on googling “Rod Stewart lyrics” for a week.