Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Doing business in another world

A knock on my hotel room door early this morning. The manager said a woman from "Daci" had stopped by the hotel to say the tire was not available and she returned my deposit. After clearing my head, the first thought, "well that sucks."

"Well, you didn't think it was going to be easy, did you?"

The hotel manager offered to help by calling Jaime Medina, a shop owner in Sucre. He had responded to an e-mail saying that there were three options available, and he could have a tire to me in two or three days.

She accompanied me to a call center across the street and placed the call, but there was no answer. (Call centers are virtually everywhere throughout Latin America. Most people don't have phones, so they rely on these businesses that provide a bank of phone booths, and track your call, charging you after the call is completed.)

Since the phone call didn't work, she and her son helped me craft an e-mail to Jaime. I went to “Hotel Rosario” to send the message, but found the bar and internet café locked. Asking at the front desk, I was told it wouldn’t open until 1:00.

Walked to an internet café. They wouldn’t allow me to hook up my laptop to their network. (I’ve run into this in several spots here in La Paz.)

Returned to “Rosario” and asked if I could pay to connect. The manager gave me the key to the café, telling me to lock the door behind me and not let anyone else in.

Sent the message to Jaime, and, since I had the connection, just settled in to work on other things until Jaime replied. When Abel arrived at 1:00 to open the café, I still had not heard from Jaime. Lunch time. Abel recommended “Restaurante Lobo” down the street, but they were closed. Ended up at the simple choice, “Pizzeria Italia.”

After lunch, I tried calling Jaime on my own. A difficult conversation, first with his assistant, then with Jaime, but we got things straightened out: he would order the tire now, and I would go to "Banco de Credito" to make a deposit into his account.

Taxied down to the commercial center and found the "Banco de Credito". In the lobby, there were perhaps 100 people waiting to be served. You take a number and have a seat. (Some take numbers, then run errands.) My number was 630, and they were currently serving number 545.

I’ve passed by banks throughout Latin America and witnessed these crowds inside and never understood what was going on. I only hoped I wouldn't have to deal with one. But here I was. And it's insane. Time (life) is worth so little here.

The lobby has TVs to entertain the customers, and frequent "Banco de Credito" commercials. Big brother taking care of all the little people. (But on the TV, I did get to watch the Eagles’ “Unplugged” performance of “Hotel California”. Outstanding. It makes me wish I had studied music instead of...whatever it was I studied.)

One unruly customer sitting next to me, shouted out whenever he saw what appeared to be an idle teller. (When a number is called, the teller allows a certain time - a minute or two - to pass, for the customer to make their way to the window. After that, if no one has appeared, they move on to the next number. The man didn't like these long intervals between numbers.)

With 18 service windows in operation, it took between 30 and 45 minutes before my number was called. I made a $65 deposit in Jaime Medina's account. Next, I went to a copy center to make a copy of the deposit receipt. Then to a phone center to fax a confirmation of the deposit to Jaime.

What a strange world this is, and what a cumbersome way to transact business! What should be a simple transaction can take a half day. But for much of the population, it is a cash economy, and credit cards or lines of credit are meaningless. There is little trust. For good reason, I guess.

Even in this cash economy, when you hand over currency, it is usually held up to the light to inspect for counterfeits, as they are so commonplace. (A 50-Boliviano note I handed a street vendor the other day was handed back to me. "Malo." Bad. I thought I had lost $7, but later was able to hand it off to someone else without incident. Such is life here.)

So, once again I taxied back to the hotel, hoping that "the wheels were turning" and I would soon have a tire.

Heavy rains this afternoon. My bathroom leaks in about four places, but it's a bathroom. It's supposed to get wet.



This tire with the roughest details, will probably provide some of the smoothest miles of the journey.......

Drew Kampion said...

Very tiring, indeed! But what goes around will come around ... or so they say at roundup time.


Remember Timbo---it's not another world, it's the "third world" where many things are "manana"....more than one gringo has lost his mind for failure to adapt to this mentality/

timtraveler said...

I'm one who loves to say "mañana", but here, I've learned a new meaning for the word.