The only thing good about waiting in line while the Brazilian bureaucracy badly attends to its citizens who pay for it to function, is meeting people. Bahia is one of the places in the world where every time you go out and have interaction with strangers, you will have a laugh, a pleasurable or at least interesting experience. So cheerful and friendly are baianos that even wasting hours of your life trying to resolve bureaucratic shit does not damper their humor.
This is not the case with me. I glower and sulk and dry-heave indignation as the cogs of the machinery grind at an abominably slow rate. As a result, I try and minimize any contact with the bureaucracy, which in Brazil you can do by hiring a professional called a ‘dispatcher’, whose expertise is working the bureaucracy. Besides taking care of your paper work, his other function is greasing the palms of state employees who magically transform the one- month waiting time for many documents into ten minutes.
But this time I could not avoid contact with the beast. Having bought a car I had to have my signature ‘recognized’ as they say here. A normal signature is worthless without the stamp of the notary for anything official; everyone agrees this is a totally pointless procedure that takes millions of hours of labor away from the market. But it continues.
The previous owner of the car was a rather mousy American woman long resident in Brazil. Americans who stay here for a long time adopt a kind of sing-song English, where emphasis is put as it would be in a Portuguese phrase that sounds strange in English though it’s being delivered by a native speaker. She lived in a nice house and like many of her status had a couple of house servants, one which she rather obscenely referred to as her house boy. The young man was 25 and looked surly, maybe being addressed as a boy didn’t agree with him. The car was practically new and a good deal, so all was well.
To guarantee service at the Notary Public (at least mine), you have to get there way before opening hours. In my case, I arrived at 6:30 a.m. and still found twenty people in front of me. I calculated two hours as a wait, which was stupid since if your wait exceeds that, you really get fucking mad.
There was a young man in front of me who was reading a paper. As he looked at the picture of an unfortunate French tourist who had almost had his ear sliced off, he turned to me and said of the gang who perpetrated this barbarity and had been caught.
“They need to be beaten badly. A lot of hits. For me, the cops should have killed them then and there.”
I had not uttered a word to this guy and sort of said something completely non-committal, burying my head in my book trying not to get drawn into a conversation on the rights and wrongs of extra-judicial killing.
There was a child running about going up to people in the line and being cute in front of them. This being Brazil, of course everyone smiled and cooed at him, a couple of people actually held his hand and took him for a little walk. His mother looked on from afar, not more than 18, one of her front teeth already missing and the kind of clothes that give away the fact that the person wearing them is extremely poor. Her skirt was frayed, her flip-flops worn; her tee-shirt featured a smiling politician known for his brazen corruption. Little John, despite being cute, was probably condemned to a life of material squalor. He’d better enjoy it since people will pay fond attention to poor children but not at all to poor adults.
Eight o’clock passed and it had not opened yet. The guy in front of me, he who wanted to exterminate criminals, had switched his cellular to become a radio and the tinny sound of carnival music piped out. The woman behind me started dancing and singing; she knew all the words to the songs. Not dancing exaggeratedly, but moving and letting the music be with her. Here I was stewing in resentment, saturated with the American ‘time is money’ theory, and she was dancing and smiling. I think her attitude is probably more correct.
Finally, the doors were opened by a middle aged woman, who sighed as she said, “I almost didn’t open this morning, you know. Two of my workers called in sick, it’s going to be a terrible time for me today.”
I hated this woman immediately. She made us, some of whom had waited for two hours, feel she was doing us a favor. And she had an earnest smile. ‘You should be apologizing to us for our inconvenience, you bitch,’ was the way I saw it.
We ambled in, my number 19, seemed years off being serviced. The woman, after ushering the lucky ones in, began turning away others who would have to wait until 12 to get a number for service starting at 14:00. She locked the doors with a crude chain. She was perpetuating an outrageous affront to a long suffering public and she still had that matronly fucking smile on her face. Hellish thoughts were jumping around my head, such as going up and seizing her and shaking her and…..
After ten minutes the first person was still being served, a guy stood up and started to complain.
“What are all those people doing back there?” he asked as he pointed to people who seemed to be scurrying around doing nothing.
He was confronted by a stern looking supervisor, a young woman with short hair who explained with great rigor how their repeated requests for more staff had been ignored by authorities higher than her.
“That’s a disgrace,” the man said, his voice rising to a level that started to cause some concern. “Brazil doesn’t advance because of this shit.”
Some people have charisma, others don’t. This guy did not, was unattractive and rude and people were starting to get sick of him.
“Sit down, sit down,” a couple of the people said aggressively. Eventually he left, but all his points were valid, everyone knew this. I have witnessed many similar instances, in bank queues, and other place where you are required to wait. The strangling bureaucracy thwarts progress and gets a few people indignant enough to shout about it. If the majority did, there’d be a revolution but, let’s face it, most people do not want to get caught up in a revolution.
As the clock began to show an hour, then an hour and a half had passed, ire ate at me like some corrosive acid, no wonder they call it one of the Capital Sins. I watched the woman working, as a hawk watches its prey. She seemed to work in slow motion and insisted on making chit chat to each customer. Seconds were wasted on these meaningless banters, and I resented them.
Some compensation was acquired from complaining with the people sitting next to me, in this case two attractive and friendly women.
“It’s absolutely absurd, one employee to serve fifty people. A lack of respect, a shame.”
We all agreed. Later, I felt betrayed by my former allies when their transaction, one ahead of mine, was taking ages mainly due to some fucking chit chat they insisted on engaging with the hated employee. Those last ten minutes were agony. It’s lucky that in Brazil I can’t go to Walmart and pick up a gun and start shooting people. If Americans had to go through this, there’d be even more mass shootings than there are now.
It was nine-forty in the morning when I finally managed to escape with what I wanted. I called my fix-it man, Goofy. That’s what it says on his card, Papeta, ‘the good dispatcher’. We had gone to get the car inspected together so had a certain intimacy; attainable here between complete strangers in good moods.
On the way to the inspection place, he told me about some poor bastard he had seen, trying to get a free ride by hanging onto the back of a truck, who had fallen off and been run over. I felt stupid when I asked if the guy had died, which Papeta replied with an ‘isn’t it fucking obvious’ look on his face. He was cool.
The inspection process is surprisingly efficient. The first car I bought in Brazil had a cracked windshield and was missing a bumper. Employing a guy like Goofy, I managed to get it through and legitimized without a single authority having a look at the car. It was magical, corruption benefiting the small guy, in this case me and the fix-it man.
That was 14 years ago. This time they inspected the car, well sort of, they forgot a couple of things but the guy knows Papeta so well and money may have changed hands. But not enough, apparently, as the inspector insisted he couldn’t get the chassis number off the engine and this required a form with my recognized signature. And hence the nightmare.
Goofy just called to say all was well. The new document is ready. It does work out in the end, but the system certainly does not make it easy. And as my wife says, I ‘should grow some patience.’
Just don't look like a tourist as you will be a target for sure. I also liked Bahia very much. especially the elevador to get down to cidade baixa. Oh and mercado modelo. Very good food indeed. Did you take a trip to the island off the ferry. You have to swim to shore as they anchor it in the ocean. Now swimming back to the boat was a challenge for me.
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