Poco a poco. Little by little. Along with “siga no mas,” this seems to be the Ecuadorian knee jerk placatory reaction to most situations. For me, an American, born of a German mother, descended from Prussian generals, it is a source of hair loss. Another thing happens that is un-be-lievable. Poco a poco, says somebody. I smile politely, choking off a rabid scream.
However, I need to be kind. This is not my country; I am a guest here. I will be reasonable and understanding. Poco a poco is actually similar to my mother’s family motto: festina lente. Slowly but well. Festina is a cognate to English fast; not rapid, but secure, as in “hold fast to that which is good.” In general Ecuadorian construction guys work fast, and sometimes well, as in any country. What really drives me mad is the bureacracy. Burrocracia.
However, I don’t need to be a fool. Need to sign off so I can call my lawyer to see if she followed through on the permit for the bodega which was supposed to be included with the permit for the casita for which I paid the $250 bribe two months ago.
Welcome to my life. Or my badass fantasy, where I swagger in and out of Ecuador’s Byzantine municipal rabbit warrens and leave my evil tormentors flummoxed. But recently they beat me. I paid more than an Ecuadorian. A fat gringo bribe. I’m not sure whom to blame.
The government is hurting for money, either because of the earthquake, or some economic crisis, or general inefficiency. Or perhaps they have gotten clever, since this past year has seen an explosion of permits and fines. Building permits were once unknown, but now you need a permit to build a chicken house. Some people still refuse to believe it, and plow ahead without permits. Years later your neighbor files a denuncio and the inspectors arrive with their clipboards, fanged and salivating. My husband felt I was a bootlicker for being so compliant, but I just wanted to save money and stress. Ha! However my friend is facing three to six thousand in fines, depending on how clever her lawyer is, for having built a permaculture farm without permits. She asked about seven people before proceeding and they all told her there was no problem because she was out in the country. They told us the same thing, but it isn’t true.
Here goes the saga. There is obra menor and obra mayor. Obra menor is 36 sq m or less and requires a photo of the site, a sketch, a letter of request with certain information about yourself and about the materials, and of course a copy of your identification and your deed. And $30. Obra mayor needs a pile of diagrams, architect’s signature, water statement, etc. I don’t know the cost of that yet but I was told about $300 to city hall alone. I did go and get some of the foundational documents for that, which was about 4 trips to the municipio and two weeks, but very little money. Everyone is free with advice- first I went to the junta parochial in San Pedro, and the clerk told me to go to the administration at the Vilcabamba town hall. There Milton gave me a list of requirements, which I checked off and put in a file, which has to be blue, and I rode the mountain highways to Loja again. At the municipio I went to window 12 and paid my $2.50 to get my request letter validated, and then I went off to file it at the archivo general. The lady in front of me and the man behind me both got the rubber stamp, but I got sent to Centro Historico on the fourth floor of Bloque B. There a large lady in a pants suit told me that would be $250. And if it were obra mayor it would be $1000. So each of my obra menor permits, one for my toolshed and one for my tiny house, would be $250. She was ready to take $500 from me then and there. I thanked her and went right over to my lawyer, a tough little Ecuadorian woman who talks rapid Spanish legalese but generally in the past has taken care of things cheaply, occasionally under the table. “Is it because of my little white face?” I asked her.
“Si, mija, no te preoccupe. ” She said she would take care of it for ten bucks. I left triumphant. Many people I told about it said I should file a denuncio. Even stealing one dollar is cause for dismissal from a government job. But when I called the next week, all was not well. I was indeed supposed to pay the $250, and it was for an architect to make a sketch, which I had already made on Sketchup and printed out neatly. I explained this, but she said that honestly if I didn’t pay it, they would get all kinds of pretexts together and make me do a soil study or a topographical plan, so it was faster and cheaper to just pay up. When I picked up the paperwork a week later, there was no receipt for the $250 and no new sketch. Has she betrayed me? Pilsener time.