It is my second visit to this office in eight days. Today, as the last time, there are not many people waiting. I say good morning as I enter and the words bounce against the faded institutional posters that decorate the walls, one listing the documents one needs to present to contract service, another reminding customers of their rights, and a third one depicting the achievements of the company, always working to improve service to the customer, in the last several years.
When my turn arrives, I approach one of the two ladies sitting behind twin desks, each with her eyes set on the computer screen in front of her. I say hello before I sit down, finally catching her attention. Noticing she is not the same person that took care of me the last time, I explain the purpose of my visit. I need to request additional service, but the last time I was here it was explained to me that, for that, I need to fill out a form, which was not available at the time, so I was invited to come back in a week or so.
She does not know if the forms are available now, but I can check myself, with the person that handles that area. I find that person sitting behind another desk in an office with a closed unmarked door. She hands me the form and a list of the paperwork I need to submit before they can consider my request. Copies, not originals, of passport, proof of address, property taxes receipt, and the deed, along with a croquis (a rough sketch of a map) to our house and a list of the appliances we have. I can bring back the paperwork anytime, Monday through Friday, between seven and ten AM.
Two days later I return with all my paperwork in hand. The service I am applying for is two new electric meters, and the company I am dealing with is Mexico’s one and only electric company. The person who handles the requests for new and additional service receives my paperwork. Once it is checked and stamped with the date, she hands me a copy of the request form and tells me to come back in a month.
A month? She explains to me that presently they are out of meters and that a month is the timeline for the main office to review and respond to this kind of request. “Will I be contacted if you receive the response any quicker than a month?” I ask, knowing in advance what the answer will be: “No, that’s the timeline.”
To most of our friends we lead a life of leisure, with no stress and no worries. My husband and I did what every other man or woman dream of, the true realization of the American Dream: we sold everything we owned in the States and moved to Cozumel, Mexico.
My life is a vacation, I often joke. I no longer live for Fridays, my lunch break can run into dinner, and the only permanent things on my agenda are yoga practice, belly dance classes, and writing. I take care of our home and garden, let my creativity run amok in our spacious airy kitchen, and spend endless hours at the grocery store, where one can run into dozens of acquaintances in a single trip. A self-proclaimed domestic diva, I do not miss the stress of my former life at all, but that does not mean we lead stress-less lives. It is just a different kind of stress.
Far from retired, we own and run a business down here, and that is no walk in the park; it is more like an adventure on Mars! If that is the paperwork and the time of response to get two new meters, imagine what it entails to open bank accounts, import products, file taxes, and apply for and renew licenses. This is a place where if the bank teller cashing a check decides that the signature on it does not match what they have on file, he or she can and will turn it down; a place where I cannot file a request to set up banking online because the main name on our personal account is my husband’s, even though my name is on the account and the bank customer service representative who helped us open it is the same person who would help us through the setup.
But things have improved. It used to be that going to the bank, paying your phone bill, and paying your electric bill had to be done on separate days because it took that long to stand in line. Nowadays, there are more banks, and both the phone and the electric companies have 24-hour service machines where you can pay your bills.
Grocery shopping used to take another day, and planning a menu ahead of time was out of the question since one had to go supermarket-hopping to find the basics. With four big-chain supermarkets on the Island, we now have an array of choices and one can find almost anything, from peanut butter to arugula and smoked salmon to low-sodium soy sauce.
Progress may be catching up with our little piece of paradise, but some transactions can still take over 30 days to be resolved. When I get home I put a note on my calendar, on a date a month from now. Between now and then I will continue riding my bicycle to run errands and juggling domestic diva-ness, business co-owner responsibilities, and writing aspirations with long walks by the beach and periodic visits to the electric company to follow up on the status of our request—just in case!
Yes, it is a different kind of stress—the kind that strengthens your spirit.