It’s Complicated

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Sometimes I can’t believe how inefficient things are here in Panama. Case in point — getting a new driver’s license. Since I already have a California license, I don’t have to go to driving school or take an exam. Sounds great except that the alternative isn’t much better.

Little did I know when I finally found my way to the DMV equivalent a few weeks ago that I would be g

iven a list of assignments to complete before needing to return. The first step is rather straightforward, albeit a pain — have blood drawn at an approved laboratory to determine blood type. This takes about an hour, costs only $4.00 and is close to the house. Easy. Next, I need to take my license and photocopy of same to the United States Embassy for notarization. This is a bit harder since I need an appointment, have to park off-grounds when I arrive and walk up a long hill, pay $50 and leave my cell phone with security, which I don’t like. But within 30 minutes I am in and out the door on my appointment date. Not so bad.The next task is to take my newly notarized docs to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Actualization and Legalization for certification. This proves to be a bit harder. First, I miss my number being called since I’m messaging a friend on Facebook. Second, after reaching the counter and registering my papers, I’m told to return after 1:00 pm since nothing is signed until then. Third, I’m also required to go to Banco Nacional on the first floor to pay the certification fee of $2.00 For some reason this office doesn’t have a cashier — I guess they don’t trust workers with small amounts of cash — so I make my way downstairs to find a very long line of folks waiting outside. Hoping I don’t have to wait in line, I ask someone what the line is for and realize that waiting is my destiny as well. Unfortunately, I have to pee really badly and go to Spanish class; after 15 minutes I split.About 4 days later, I return to the bank — later in the afternoon than the first time — hoping to find a shorter line. No such luck. There are still about 20 people waiting outside. Again, I form the line but I’m still a bit confused as to what the line is for, why so many folks are there waiting, so I ask the woman in line behind me. She offers various reasons but I don’t really understand her due to my poor Spanish. In my poor Spanish, I explain that I think it’s a bit silly for me to wait in such a long line to pay just $2.00. She agrees and tells me to go up the guard, explain that my papers are for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and that I need to pay before the office closes. He astutely notes the time — 2:00 pm — and tells me that office is open until 4:00 pm. Strike one.

Ten minutes later my line buddy and I are granted access into the bank along with the next wave. This is when I realize there’s another Disneyworld-type queue inside the bank filled with lots of people. Now I’m a bit miffed. Luckily, Line Buddy continues to sympathize with my plight and coaches me to stand in the special line for Senior Citizens, which only has 2 people in it. Willingly, I play dumb and get in line with another person who is also not a senior. After about a minute, I hear someone speaking my way. The guy in front of me is being busted by another person in line. Shortly thereafter, I get busted by the security guard and told to stand in the other line. Strike two.

Not as dejected as I am, and a bit more creative, Line Buddy coaches me again — this time to ask someone at the front of the line if they will do my transaction along with their own. I tell her that that I’m a bit embarrassed to ask for help and explain what I need given my Spanish level. She pumps me up by telling me my Spanish is good! After about a minute, I pick my target and approach a man in the Senior line for help. Strike three. He turns me down without even speaking — he just rolls his eyes a bit and nods his head no. “Egoista!” Line Buddy says when I return to the line in front of her yet again. “He is selfish,” she says in Spanish. “I would have done that for someone else. It’s not a big deal.”

Still committed to saving an hour of my time, Line Buddy goes about searching the queue for a kind face. She spots a short man with a backpack towards the front of the line and asks me for my paper. I give it to her and she makes the request. He agrees! I hand him $4 in coins — $2 for the fee and $2 for his help — and he takes my papers to the cashier with him. I’m so thrilled I forget that I haven’t signed the paper before giving it to him. So even as I try to lay low and stand near the wall behind my helper, I have to make my way to the cashier, ask for the paper back, find a pen — which is I eventually get from the cashier — and sign my paper. Any cover I might have had is blown. Now I am really embarrassed and do everything I can to avoid eye contact with everyone in line. Luckily, Helper doesn’t take long to wrap but and returns my paper to me in jiffy. I’m so thrilled to be out of the line and quietly wave to Line Buddy on the way out. Had it not been for her, I would not have tried every trick in the book — ask for special privileges; play dumb; make a powerful request; pay someone else to do it for you. I’ll have to keep these in mind the next time beaucratic BS threatens to steal my sunshine.

By the way, I still don’t have my driver’s license…

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