The Adventure

My employer was supposed to take my contract to the Ministry of Work this past Monday. They said it would be delivered on Monday and then would take three days to be processed. Last night, Alvaro’s mom said, “Today is Wednesday, day three. Tomorrow, we are going to inquire about your contract.” Thank goodness for this woman and her attitude, I wouldn’t be able to survive Peru without it.

We arrived at the school at 10am and of course, were told to wait. We were told that our friend from HR, Ms. Mashed Potatoes was in a meeting, so another woman came out to answer our questions. After an overly polite hello, Alvaro’s mom asked if my papers had been delivered. “Oh yes, of course. We delivered them Monday.” What terrific and unexpected news! Upon hearing such a surprise, his mom then asked to see a copy of the submission verification form. The woman disappeared and about five minutes later Ms. Mashed Potatoes came out and so did the “truth”.

My papers had in fact, not been submitted (for some excuse that I didn’t care to listen to) but she assured us they would be delivered the next day. His mom said that it would not be a problem, we would take the papers and deliver them ourselves that morning. We left the office and went to pick up Cecilia to accompany us to to the Ministry of Work. She looked at the papers and noticed a mistake on the first page. The school has to show the total number of employees (74) and then figure out how many of those employees can be foreigners. The maximum amount of foreigners that each company can hire is 20% of their total work force. In this case, that number is 14.8, however, they chose to round the number to 15. Though it is true that you can’t actually have 14.8 foreign employees, it appears that the the Ministry of Work isn’t concerned with such logical trivialities.

We went back to the school to have the correction made. This would have been simple, except the General Manager was on vacation and his signature was on the page. After some significant convincing, our HR friend magically erased the old number and somehow reprinted the page with the original signature and new number.

We set off for the Ministry of Work. parked the car in a gravel lot, traded identifications for visitor badges and went to the third floor. Cecilia took my papers into the office and came out a few minutes later to inform us that the General Manager (who is currently on vacation) forgot to sign one of the three copies of my contract. Her mom told her not to worry about it and then ordered her to practice his signature and forge it on the blank contract. With the forged signature we took the contract in for the last hurdle, a thorough check to ensure that all necessary lines and clauses are present. It was at this point that a Peruvian governmental employee who looked no older than my younger brother, told me that my contract was incomplete. When stating the address of the school in which I will be working, Ms. Mashed Potatoes simply wrote the street address, choosing to omit the district. In such a sprawling city like Lima, where each district is its own entity, leaving out the district is a crucial mistake. We were sent away all because she forgot two words.

We drove back to the school and tried to meet with our contact, “she’s at lunch” was the general attitude. We were hurried out the door and told to come back at 2pm. We dropped off Cecilia and then drove back to the school (that’s for the fourth time, in case you’re keeping track). Alvaro called as we pulled in and I spent ten minutes complaining about the inefficiencies, inaccuracies and frustrations of his country. After venting, I met his mom in the office only to find out that our friend still wasn’t back from lunch. At 2:20. Another employee graciously made the correction to our contract, but wouldn’t give them to us because she “doesn’t work in HR and someone else should sign off on it.” We waited and waited and waited. A little after 2:30 his mom declared that we had to leave, with the papers, because the Ministry closes at 3:30. Magic happened and we were out the door.

She wanted to take a taxi this time, to avoid having to park in the gravel lot. Part of the art of choosing a taxi in Lima, is learning to judge the quality of the car before it stops in front of you. After nearly four and a half hours of running all around Lima, we were both exhausted. His mom hailed a taxi and before it even stopped she sighed and said, “oh no”.

Oh no is right! As I opened the door, I thought, “I would have thought that Alvaro’s mom would choose a taxi nicer than this.”

The fabric on the ceiling was beginning to crumble and large chunks of it were missing. I looked to the front seat and saw an assortment of electrical wiring hanging from the dashboard on the passenger side. The passenger door panel was missing, leaving an exposed inner door as well as an exposed speaker. Somehow, the skeleton of a radio was still present, though the main screens had been removed and the buttons were worn from use. Within minutes, I realized our driver’s love for speed and Alvaro’s mom joked about how he drives faster than her. “Which is quite an accomplishment,” I thought as he sped up and swerved in and out of three different lanes. I glanced in the back to see how many cars we had passed and saw that all of the truck panels were covered in rust. An assortment of tools laid scattered in the trunk, bouncing around near the spare tire. I sat behind the driver and noticed that the handle typically used to hoist oneself out of the car was broken and now hanging vertical instead of horizontal. The plastic edging was worn and coarse, from too many years of oily fingers grabbing hold to get out of the car. He had an obsession with the horn of his car which unfortunately sounded like a hoarse goose. Candy wrappers, a coke bottle and maps littered the front floorboards. The last detail I noticed was a small image of the Virgin Mary, placed right underneath the broken/missing/worn radio. I chuckled under my breath and thought, “I need the Virgin Mary if I’m going to survive a ride like this.”

We made it alive and I had never been so happy to arrive at a governmental building. I nearly jumped out of the car and ran to the safety of the sidewalk. After receiving our visitors passes (round two) we went upstairs and Alvaro’s mom went straight to the young man who helped us the first time. He told us to wait in line but somehow his mom jumped the 10 person line and we were in and out in the matter of minutes. All that commotion for two simple words, unbelievable. We walked out of the Ministry and I prayed that we would find a better taxi for the ride home. Unfortunately, I didn’t pray fast enough because there was already a taxi idling by the curb, waiting for his newest customers. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought when I saw the cream colored station wagon that might as well have had wood paneling on the back half. I opened the door and was greeted by an ugly combination of 1970’s shag like carpets and a musty smell that can only come from 40 year old carpets. I sat on the seat and consciously tried to touch nothing but the seat underneath of me.

We finally made it back to the school (for the fifth time) and informed our friend, Ms. Mashed Potatoes, of the small trumph at the Ministry of Work. My papers have to be picked up on Monday, but they must be picked up by the employer. His mom told the woman in HR, “Please have your messager call me Monday morning, I will be accompanying him to pick up her papers.”

After 6 hours, five trips to the school, two trips to the Ministry of Work and two rides in the oldest taxis in Lima, I amfinally one small step closer to my magical work visa.