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.


Anonymous said...


As an Ecuadorian born but NYC raised guy, I am enjoying your blog. And I would appreciate it even more if it was more about your personal growth and adaptation than about pointing the finger at the "taboos and inefficiencies".

For me, it seems silly to move all the way somewhere to just compare your new home condescendingly to your old. But if you must, you need to be reflective and fair.

Do you know the way most latin americans are treated at US embassies is equally bad or worse than your experiences to get a Censo? That people who make a minimum wage of US$150 a month are expected to pay US$100 to gain admittance into a visa appointment? Not go GET a visa. To see IF they can get a visa. Do you know that people line up in front of the US embassies starting at 2 am so they can get a ticket for the process? That you then have to take the ticket to the bank and pay the US$100? That then you have to wait for weeks, not days, to get an appointment. That then you have to get a CRAZY amount of paperwork together to see IF they want to give you a visa? That you have no recourse if a visa is denied, nor an explanation?

Now to be fair, you might say, visas are hard to get because a lot of ppl on 3 month visas stay in the US illegally, forever. That's true. So let's take applications for green cards. Do you know that you need a US citizen to sponsor you? That the process can take between 4 and 8 years????????? No joke. Sometimes it takes even longer. So yea, I know how annoying it can be to wait for a cedula in ecuador, I have had to do it many times when I have visited. But waiting for a week or two is not bad when you see people that have to wait for US bureaucrats to process their green card application. Which apparently takes 8 years???. Mmmmhhhhh. What I am saying is that it's easy to say oh, south america = inefficiency, here are my sad/amusing tales, the US is so perfect. But at least take into consideration that you were let in the country to begin with and that no matter how painful this is, you will have your censo in a few weeks and you will be done. Compare that with the people who are putting their life savings into getting a visa or a green card or even borrowing money to try to come to the US legally and who for 6-8 or more years are struggling every day to put food on their tables and feed their children. That is real, everyday human drama.

Lastly, I think it is important to mentally adapt to your new environment. Why is it such a big deal to wait somewhere for 5 or 8 hours? Like you said, it is time that can be used to study your spanish class notes, it is time that you can use to talk to your wife (don't ppl complain in the US that they have no time for anything?) and enjoy the little things your new life has to offer. Misery is not just outside influences ruining your day, it is also a state of mind.


Umi said...

I've been thinking about your comment for the last hour or so. Sincerely, I do not want to offend anyone with these stories. I am simply reflecting the most interesting events from our time here. I try to tell them with humor to deter the development or reinforcement of people's prejudices. These are stories about how human beings behave. As you know, the process of cultural exchange only punctuates the nature of those experiences. I am well aware of the hardships Ecuadorians, other Latin Americans and people from most parts of the world face in trying to obtain a U.S. visa or green card. Close friends and family members of mine have faced these hardships. This story is not an attempt to counterbalance that reality or make America seem perfect. By no stretch is the latter the case. Anyway, if you decide to follow this blog, you will find other stories in the future not about inefficient bureacracy. You will, I hope, find stories that shed light on the wonderful people here and this beautiful country: the reasons my wife and I decided to move here in the first place. These stories are more about my learning this new place and adjusting to it, then any statement that this place should change. We are here because of the way it is, bureacratic idiocy and all.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your response. I certainly was not offended by anything you said. And, like I said, I am reading your blog with great interest. I just wanted to share some of the negative feelings that these entries stirred up inside me. I am an avid traveler and I honestly believe that I am a better human being because of the growth that travel has allowed me. And for that reason I feel strongly against people that are just pointing fingers. So my comment was only hoping that you do not go down that path, but rather learn to enjoy the good and the bad. It is one of the hardest things to learn and I keep trying everyday. I wish you all the best and look forward to keep reading your entries. I also will get a real account here sometime so I don't have to post anonymously :)


Umi said...


Thanks for your message. Once this story is done (5 parts) I will share some others that I hope will round out the perspective. I love it here. And this blog really is all about taking the good with the bad, and not just pointing fingers. Once our website is up, you will see an unbribled look at all the positives this place has to offer.

Umi said...

check that. six parts.