Tuesday, August 07, 2012

And to think I thought it was about the money

Everyone who has lived in a foreign country warns you of the challenges of adjusting to a different culture. I'm living that right now, stuck in the incomprehensible process of looking for someone to do repairs at the children's home I'm involved with.
I know things get done here in Honduras, because I see them happening. But how you make them happen - ah, now there's the question.
At least a dozen men have been occupied for weeks building a massive and intricate rock wall around a house near my workplace. They look like they know what they're doing. Every day I see a constant flurry of construction activity in the centre of Copan Ruinas - buildings coming down, new ones going up, renovations all over the place. And virtually any male Copaneco I've met in my six months here knows how to do basic home repairs or even fix his own vehicle.
So yes, this place has skilled workers. But can I get any of them to call me? Can I get anyone even just to tell me the name of someone who knows how to renovate a bathroom or hang a new door? Nope.
Silly me, I thought the challenge was going to be finding the money for a few badly needed fixups at the Angelitos Felices guardaria . That turned out to be the easy part. What's much, much harder is identifying who will do the work.
Back in Canada, I'd be flipping through the Yellow Pages or talking to friends who'd had work done. Make a couple phone calls, agree on a price, off we'd go. But there's no handy listing of qualified contractors anywhere here in Copan, and nobody in my small circle of acquaintances who appears to be in any hurry to share the secrets of securing a contractor.
Sure, they all tell me they know somebody. But that's part of the culture, too - say what you need to say in the moment to get the person asking you questions to go away. I've learned that in Honduras, just because a person tells you they know somebody who can help doesn't mean they actually do, and it definitely doesn't mean they're going to get that person to call you anytime soon.
So far I've tried my boss, a co-worker, my otherwise-helpful neighbour, my landlord, a Texan who has lived here for 15 years, and a local who the Texan recommended as a trustworthy, get-'er-done kind of guy. Every one of them said they knew somebody, and that they'd get the person to call me.
But the days and weeks pass, and nobody ever calls.
Today, I went to the hardware store and in desperation asked the woman who owns the place - another neighbour of mine - if she knew of anyone who does plumbing work or can hang a door. No, she said. Nothing more than that, just "no." I heard the clerk beside her whisper something into her ear about somebody named Eddie being a possibility, but my neighbour just turned away to serve another customer.
I mean, every day they must have tradespeople coming into that store for supplies. Why can't I have one? How can it be this hard, in a poor country with scary unemployment rates, to find somebody who wants a job?
I remember visiting the zocalo in Mexico City years ago and spotting a huge line of  day labourers along one of the fences, each with a big sign saying what type of work they were good at. I have a new appreciation for such a system. I fear I'm heading for a repeat of how it went when we needed a place to live in Copan, a process that turned out to involve wandering through small convenience stores asking random strangers if they knew of any houses for rent.
And this is just to get somebody to go to the children's home and give me a quote for the work. I shudder to think what challenges might await once the work is actually underway. Another Texan who has been in Copan for 15 years (there appears to be a few of those here) cautioned me to not only get everything in writing but to make the contractor repeat aloud, at least twice, all my instructions for the project. And not to pay for anything in advance.
But I've always said I like a challenge, so best to quit whinging and just get on with it. Flow like water, I keep telling myself: Hit a barrier, flow around it. Maybe I'll stop by the rock-wall project tomorrow and see if anyone knows a plumber. 

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