My Visit to the First Level of Hell

My Visit to the First Level of Hell

I don’t know that I can properly describe what I experienced this week in one blog. But I’m going to try. You will probably stop in the middle and say, “There is no way this actually happened like this.”

But with my right hand raised as I type with my left – I swear this actually happened. (It’s actually worse than the short version I’m sharing.)

It happened in Peru.

My friend Elizabeth and I walk into the offices of the Ministry of Culture. After explaining that I am an American for ten minutes and don’t have a Peruvian DNI Identification card we are both finally allowed to enter and instructed to go to the fourth floor.

We enter a 15ft by 15ft room. There are three people in the tiny room. One woman at a desk, a man behind her at a desk, then another woman behind him at a desk. The woman closest to the door lifts her head to acknowledge we are there, but says nothing. (Ironically a sheet of paper talking about courtesy hangs on the wall behind her.)

We explain what we are there asking permission to do.

Approximately 0.9 seconds into our explanation she begins shaking her head. The head shaking continues through the entire explanation and then she chants the mantra of most government institutions.

“No se puede.” It can’t be done.

“Surely there must be a way.” I make the statement in ten different ways. Hoping to get through to her.

“No se puede.”

She finally admits that the Director could give us permission, but he is too busy to talk to anyone.

We beg.

She finally relents and directs us to two dirty cloth chairs about three feet from her.

“Wait there.”

We sit patiently for ten minutes, all the while whispering back and forth to not upset the austere tone in the room as we discuss our plan of how to approach this. I get impatient so I finally stand up.

I beg her to let me speak to the Director. She reiterates that he is too busy.

After five more minutes of begging she relents.

“I’ll ask him.”

She turns to the man sitting five feet behind her. “Señor Director, this man would like to speak with you.” (No joke. This actually happened.)

The man looks up and asks me. “What are you trying to do?” He makes me re-explain everything that I just explained ten times, five feet from him, but this time he has decided to acknowledge my presence in the room.

His head begins shaking 0.4 seconds into the conversation. “No se puede.”

“But you are the Director. I was told you can approve this. Please, help me.”

“No, only the Director can approve this.”

“Wait, I thought you were the Director.”

In a denigrating tone he explains. “I’m the Director of Cultural Patrimony. You need the Director of Cultural Intangibles Preservation.” (rough translation)

“Cultural Intangibles? What is that?”

“It’s what you need permission for. But I will have to sign off on a tramite before he will even meet with you. It will take a week.”

“There is no way I can meet with the Director today?”

“No se puede. Not without the tramite.

“Can I take the tramite to the Director?”

“No, a certified courier has to do it.”

“Oh. Where is the office of the Director?”

“Across the hall.” (Again, no joke.)

“You mean it’s that person over there?” I ask, pointing to the lady I see in the office across the hall.

“Yes, that’s his secretary.”

Forty minutes have now passed.

I beg and continuing standing over him.

“The only person that can speed up the tramite is Señora Maritza. She is a government nombrado (appointee). But she is very busy.”

I continue to beg. Finally, sick of me, the man turns to the third lady in the office. “There is a man here who needs to speak with you Señora Maritza.” (Again, no kidding)

The woman looks up. She asks me to explain what I need. She begins shaking her head. “No se puede.”

I’m going to speed up the story and skip some things for all our sanity.

The following day after about two more hours of begging and kicking I got a meeting with the Director of Cultural Intangibles Preservation. Same process. Same answer. “No se puede.”

“Sir, there must be a way. I’ve been told you can give us permission.”

“I can, but not without permission from the Director.”

“Wait? Aren’t you the Director?”

“I am the blah, blah, blah… what you need is permission from the Director of the Ministry of Culture.”

I start looking around the room assuming the man I need is probably in the corner somewhere acting like I don’t exist.

“Where is he?”

“Across town.”

Fast forward. Elizabeth and I go to the other offices. The Director has agreed to meet with us.

We wait an hour. Then his secretary comes out. “The Director says, No se puede. He won’t meet with you.”

I’m fed up by now. Six hours have passed in my visit to the first level of hell. “Where is his office?”

“Back there. But you can’t go in there.”

“When does he leave for the day?”

“At 6:00pm.”

I wait for another hour until he is leaving for the day and corner him and his cronies. He has a deep voice, something that gets you far in Peru. So I make my voice deep and all official sounding too.

He won’t listen. In broken English he growls. “I’m very sorry. No se puede.” (We say in unison.)

I plead. I present options. I tell him the other Directors will listen if he will just sign my paper.

He tells me he is the King, but he has to use the bureaucracy. Finally, after holding him up for ten minutes he tells me to come back at exactly 7:30am the next day and he will review my case.

Fast forward to next day.

I arrive at 7:20am. I wait until 8:20am.

The Director walks out. “I’m sorry. No se puede.”

I went to the airport and flew home.

That was the shortest, simplest explanation I could give for what I just experienced.

But here’s the interesting thing. I went into this prepared for exactly what I experienced. I expected it to be ridiculous and pure insanity. So, I actually found the process entertaining. Watching just how messed up something can become can be a source of fun.

Niels Bohr once said, “There are some things so serious you have to laugh at them.”

I had no power to change the bureacracy, so instead I just laughed. I enjoyed the experience.

The most extraordinary people I know don’t take things too seriously. They change what they can and just relax about stuff they can’t change.

I’m learning to come prepared for challenges in life. I’m not surprised when nothing is as easy as it could be. I’m learning to just smile and enjoy it all.

It makes for quite an adventure. And that means I win in every situation. I like adventure.