Kiva- Laguna de Apoyo
I felt good about leaving for my Kiva Fellowship in Nicaragua. Well until my computer crashed the day before I was leaving. Oh no! My lifeline to Kiva, to my fellows class, and the vehicle for the majority of my work in the field. So I spoke to HP in India and they said they would send me a new hard drive. It would arrive at my parent’s house four days after my departure. There was nothing they could do, blah blah blah.
The wet heavy heat filled my nostrils as I descended the plane to the tarmac. My brain registered I’d arrived, made it to Managua. I wiped the tired out of my eyes and put my game face on. Next stop the hostel. Address:
Managua Backpackers Inn
Colonial Los Robles
Monte Los Olivos
1c. Norte 1c. Oeste ½ c. Norte Casa #55
For further clarification I had written down, ‘Half a block south of the old bar ‘Chaman’.’ Luckily all taxi drivers at the airport knew ‘Backpackers’. I have since heard that the old bar was indeed quite a wonderful place. I also learned that the Restaurant Monte Los Olivos I was telling taxi drivers to turn at is not an Italian restaurant at all. It’s a funeral home. Learning this unorthodox system takes some time but how on earth would you get a package delivered?
FEDEX didn’t have my package. They didn’t have the new hard drive my parents had sent from San Francisco. I wasn’t surprised. The delivery guy obviously gave up looking for the address at 1 block towards the lake, 2 blocks up, and 20 steps to the South from the BDF bank in the Altamira Neighborhood. No, No the FEDEX lady said, your package arrived but Customs has it. Oh nooooo cuusstoomms, I am screwed! Fees, taxes, the government! I wasn’t too angry, I had prepared to be disappointed, confused, or told my hard drive had been lost forever. FEDEX lady softened up and lead me through a laundry list of specific and contradictory directions on what to do. Customs was out by the airport.
I got out to customs at 8:00, unspeakably early for Saturday morning. I had stayed out waaay too late last night to be dealing with the situation. But sleep or no sleep, I knew it would be a brutal morning. Armed with the letter from FEDEX and the air waybill I attacked customs. Five and a half hours later and 15 minutes after their official closing time I walked out with the miniscule 4 by 3 inch hard drive. The little machine that was going to save me, save my kiva fellowship from utter ruin. Most people were scowling at me as I left. I had really been fussy. It was do or die! Every day customs kept the hard drive it incurred storage costs, increased the chance it would be lost, and kept me making slow progress on my Kiva deliverables.
I am running between the customs administration office, the customs office and the FEDEX warehouse, back and forth innumerable times. Employees keep changing and I have to start the explanation over again about my hard drive and complications over the wrong address. Both hands are filled with papers now. Copies of my passport, air waybill, the letter, what appears to be a correction of a correction of the FEDEX letter, forms upon forms. No end it site. I had to use all the tricks and shenanigans I could to get that package.
The Stare Down
So here it is. 10 Tips for dealing with customs:
1.) No is Not an Answer. Simply said, when you hear a ‘No’ pretend not to hear, or not to understand, or better yet go behind that persons back. Obviously try to convince them otherwise but these hardened bureaucrats, these cogs in a wheel have heard all your pleas before. They are machines who only respond to the threat of a higher power. So go above their head, circumnavigate this impediment.
2.) Be Gringo. Use ignorance to your advantage. Knowing what is truly going on will be impossible. You will stand in the wrong line for an hour, say things that make little sense, hand the wrong employee (or even another client) a worthless piece of paper, etc. Being confused and ignorant is a great way to cut in line and get people (even if it’s not their job) to help you.
3.) Feign Knowing the Drill: Make short statements that you know are true. That way people know you know what is going on and you mean business. Practice making a face that says, ‘I know the drill. I’ve done it a million times, I laugh at its inefficiencies’.
4.) Cut in Line. Seriously just do it. You have probably already stood in that line twice before so you are allowed to cut. Helps if you have a slight glint in your eye telling people you are imbalanced and crazy. Also helps to use your allies.
5.) Make Allies: Pick someone to make a connection with. Preferably an employee that is powerful. Power will be wearing a collar or is a few pounds heavier than everyone else. Remember, they don’t have to like you they just need to remember who you are. Ask their name. Call them by their name. It will go a long way. A fellow customer if rich and/or pushy also makes a fine ally. Choose wisely. Get them to put some time in with you, get them to have a vested interest in seeing you get what you want. Whether their effort is to get rid of you, or feel the fulfillment or camaraderie of helping somebody, who cares?
6.) Stand Around a Lot. No sitting! Make sure you are kind of in the way and this will get them to pay attention to you. Getting negative attention is still attention, even children know that. When the lady says ‘I’ll see what I can do. Please take a seat over there.’ The LAST thing you do is leave this woman. Sitting spells the end.
7.) Disregard Signs and Language. Oh I didn’t see it. I didn’t understand what you said. These are okay excuses to make when you are somewhere new and are speaking a foreign language. I didn’t understand that sign that read ‘Do not Enter! Employees Only’. Entering this area gets you the attention you deserve. It’s also probably where the powerful people sit so while saying sorry try and make an ally.
8.) Give the Larry David Look. Powerfully lock eyes with your enemy and search their soul for the truth. Threateningly leave with your eyes saying, ‘this aint over… it’s just begun.’ If that doesn’t get them try #9, 10, or 1.
9.) Start Pacing. Tap your foot in obvious impatience. Pace back and forth. Let everybody know your struggle and how you have been there all day. Appear at your wits end like you are about to crumble. You are seeking pity. Helps if you are hung-over, your blood sugar is extremely low and you really are about to crumble.
10.) Be Sympathetic. Know people’s needs and fears. Agree with people as much as you can. ‘I know this is ridiculous…’ ‘Oh, these people!’ etc. This puts you on their side and makes you NOT the problem. Tell the FEDEX guy, ‘oh I know you want to go home! So we can both get out of here, can you come with me and tell the customs officer to serve me? You know I wouldn’t want to make you stay LATE!’
All said and done I probably could have just given a bribe.