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  • Writer's pictureKrista

Just another day in paradise…

working on the car

It’s been one of those days. Nothing big has happened, but it’s just the little details that seem to be beating me to a slow state of unintelligible existence.

We’ve been working for nearly 9 months on this year’s counseling classes, with the culmination of all work coming down to a final exam due last night at midnight. For a week, we carried the notecards with us everywhere, quizzing each other as we drove, waited for the mechanic, and stood in line. But, when we went to take the exam, Joel couldn’t log in to the exam site. We called to the States, trying to reach the Computer Services department of the university, but they had just closed 20 minutes before. We frantically tried different combinations of user names and passwords, realizing that if we failed this exam, we would have to re-take this course, representing a good deal of time and money (it’s amazing the perspective you have with grad vs. undergrad courses!). And just when we thought it couldn’t get more hopeless, we lost internet completely!

Complete panic set in.

Well, for me. Joel will tell you he was calm the whole time, which really seemed to be true, but I’ve always closely tied my identity with my academic endeavors and I saw myself melting into mush.

For whatever reason, I could log into my account, and we somehow decided that the best use of the 120 minute timed exam would for me to copy and paste the test and email it to my husband. This actually worked and it wasn’t until a misguided click 20 seconds after the results were submitted that we lost his answers completely. So, as things go around here, we consider it a successful test-taking endeavor.

Dogs barking the next morning reminded me that such a great task was behind me. But, I didn’t have a chance to enjoy the solitude since the “to do” list began unraveling in my head before I opened my eyes.

The North Africa video was supposed to go in the mail yesterday! They’re trying to show it at a conference in 9 days and our postal options are, well, limited, making 9 days quite the courier accomplishment.

With that, I hustled out of bed and made my way to the bathroom….to discover we had been blessed with the opportunity to persevere without water today. When I said last night, “I’m going to fill up the pitcher, in case we don’t have water in the morning,” I wasn’t really serious. And I certainly hadn’t had plans of bathing with it.

In our country, no water is as legitimate of an excuse for missing work as a car accident or death in the family. One is not expected, actually he is expected not to venture out in public without the highest hygienic standards. It is comparable to swine flu for the body. You just stay home and wait until your water comes back on. Just so you know, I did consider this briefly before heading for the door.

Scribbling a note to the Americans to whom we were sending the video, I asked Joel, “Do you still have that padded envelope you pulled out of the trash at the post office last week?” He told me to look in the back of the car.

I headed outside, looked around, and then remembered that the car is at the shop!

The funny thing was neither of us had remembered. I guess it’s become such a part of our existence that it’s become “non-memorable.” Nonetheless, we decided this would be a good time to call the mechanic and check the status of the repairs. This is always fun to do in Spanish. Words like “suspension rod” and “wheel bearing” are hard to recall in my list of mental vocabulary. I talked to the secretary on the phone, who tried her best (well, I would like to assume it was her best, but she sure seemed to be inconvenienced [and perhaps, rightly so] with my desire to understand every detail of the mechanical failures of our 22 year old car and then relay them to my husband while he pensively considered our repair options and responded with more questions).

We finally came to an understanding that the car needed 4 suspension rods, and the shop estimated that the cost would be $160-$200, though they admitted they really had no idea where the parts could be found and how much they would be and perhaps I could find them myself and just bring them to the shop for them and would I mind calling back later because the mechanic really doesn’t feel well just now and is going home for the rest of the day.

Of course, that is not a problem. Being the industrious Americans that we are, ingrained to get second opinions on our second opinions and compare prices until black Friday, we took the ailing mechanic’s self-proclaimed day off as an opportunity to do a little research of our own. We called our old mechanic in San José, explained the issue to him and asked him if he could get the parts for us. Why of course! And he thought he could get the parts for $36!!! What a bargain!

So, a little swipe of the credit card and we were off?

Oh, foolish one, San José is 3 hours from here! And there’s no swipy-swiping of credit cards over the phone, silly. So, what do we do? Well, he gives us his bank number. Well, he starts to, then decides he needs to take another call and he says he’ll text message us.

So, we wait for his text message with his bank account number. Then, when we get the secret mission code, we go to his particular bank chain, past the guard with the sawed off shot gun, remove our hats, sunglasses, and cell phones, through the scanner guy with the wand, and wait in the snaking line for the teller. We then pass her the account information and the money, get the receipt and then text message (when you’re OUTSIDE the bank….no one wants to get shot by an over-eager guard here!) the mechanic and say, “The green frog flies at midnight.” (He didn’t really understand the part about the frog, but I mentioned something about James Bond and he went along with it.)

So then, Joel informs our friend that the “drop has been made.” They make arrangements to text message each other information that could be given right then over the phone, and the mechanic commits to put the parts on the bus so that they will arrive just minutes after closing hours tonight. Perfect. One more day.

We’re basking in our ingenuity when the mechanic, having now checked his bank account calls and asks, “Did you only want one part?” ha! So, that’s the good deal….times 4! Of course. Though we thought we had clarified that we would most definitely need 4 parts, somehow that little detail was “lost in translation.” They begin working out the plan to return to the bank, the armed guard, the security pat down, the snaking line and the not-so-chipper teller to deposit the rest of the money, when Joel nonchalantly asks, “Is there a parts store where I can buy the parts directly for my car?” To which the mechanic responds, “Yes.” Thinking we may be in a California saloon in 1848, overhearing the location of the next big goldrush, we scrambled for a pen, just as he said those sweet words, “Here is their number….”

Curiosity would not let us leave well enough alone. We just had to make one itsy bitsy phone call, just to see……

How much are 4 suspension rods? clickety click, hold, (hand over the phone mumbling), um, $72. Are you kidding me? We just got ourselves a half-price sale, folks!

So, can you put them on the bus to get to us before the end of the day?

“Well, that depends on how fast you can get me the money,” he says, as though testing us.

And another MI:3 mission begins.

Go to the bank (a different bank, of course), past the sawed off shotgun, through the automatic glass beam-me-up-scottie scanner thing (one at a time, please), past the guard who wants to see into my purse and for Joel to take off his baseball cap, into the snaking line, with the account number and the funds, into an account under the name of “Gato del perro Finca something blah blah.”

The teller is mildly amused at how overwhelmed we seem by such a simple transaction, but I fear she has no idea what goes on outside the walls of this bank. She pulls up the account from the number I give her and then she reads the name, which is nothing at all like the one I have written down from my garbled phone conversation with the parts store employee. I decide against being a benevolent philanthropist and just randomly depositing money in various foreign accounts and ask her to show me the name on the account, “G. P. Silto something blah blah.” No, that is nothing at all like the account I was given because that has nothing at all to do with dogs and cats (which really made no sense for a parts store account name in the first place, but it really didn’t seem like my place to question). And then, a tiny little spark of sense was gifted upon me…..”gato” (cat) maybe stands for “G” and “perro” (dog) for “P,” like we would say, “Alpha Bravo Charlie” for “ABC.” Here he was, trying to be all hip with the Mission Impossible lingo and I was treating this mission like it was just another Barney Fife day in Mayberry. “Yes, that is the account,” I tried to answer slyly yet confidently, as though she had just played into my brilliantly laid trap of feigned confusion to cause her to show me the bank’s computer screen. We finished our time at the window by answering questions like, “Under whose name would you like to make the transaction?” with dumbfounded answers like “Yes.” By this time, it’s been a rough day for all involved.

When the money had been deposited in the now 3rd mechanic’s account, we took the deposit receipt, hunted down a fax machine in a nearby neighborhood and sent him the record of our transaction. Upon receipt of this, he was supposed to immediately put the parts on the bus so that we could pick them up this evening and deliver them to the mechanic, who had hopefully found that a day off and a bowl of chicken soup has revived him enough to consider working on our car tomorrow.

In the midst of this little all-day episode, we’ve been stranded for over a week now in the city, staying at our friends’ house while waiting for our car. Our visas are expiring next week, so we have a mandatory (don’t do it and get deported for 10 years kind of imperative) trip to Panama that needs to happen in the next 7 days, made only slightly more difficult by not having transportation.

And we do a few things to complicate our own lives. Over a week ago, I sent all the books I had with Joel back to our house, thinking we were headed home the next day. Then, on our way to the house, we got stopped by police (another story) and 2 minutes after that, our car broke down, and we never made it home. So, I’m leading a women’s Bible study next week and I’m an hour away from the book!

And then, at the end of the day, our landlord’s son sent us a message to call his father “regarding your living situation.” Based on today’s events, I’m guessing it’s not to upgrade us to the penthouse suite (as we say in Spanish, “No hay” which today roughly translates, “There ain’t one.”).

Of course, when we called the shop to check on the progress, no one had yet seen our fax. After some time, the said paper was brought forth and it was confirmed that we had, indeed, paid for car parts. Would they be putting them on the next bus? Well, that would depend. Please call back after 5:00.

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