Friday, February 27, 2015

You Might be a Gringo if. . .

Time again for another installment of the quite popular episode of "You Might be a Gringo if. . . ".  I received more hits for this subject than anything else lately, so maybe I've struck a nerve or something! 

Once again, in the spirit of comedian Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might be a Redneck if. . .".  So here goes!

You Might be a Gringo if. . .

You tip the taxi driver $5 like you do in the States.  (Pssst. . . don't do that. . . taxi drivers here in Ecuador don't get tipped.  If you are really happy with their service, 10 to 20 cents will do, though for the typical Cuenca fare of $1.39 to $2.00.)

You think the waiter is supposed to bring you the check for your food.  Here in Ecuador, you get up from the table and get the check at the cashier's counter.  If you stay at the table, the wait staff won't take the hint, even at the Gringo restaurant hangouts. . . trust me on this.  I've seen it happen too many times!

You don't bring your passport when you spend money.  Yup. . . let the grimacing begin. . . you walk out of your hotel, hostel or vacation condo and only bring money. . . you'll be in for a big surprise!  "?Tienes su pasaporte, Senor?" they will say.  If you can't produce it, you will have to get it. . . or get bailed out by a more astute and assimilated extranjero like myself who lets them use my passport number to get them out of a jam - I've bailed out more than one lately!

You don't bring a book to read when you are at an appointment.  Say that the appointment with the lawyer, doctor, or whoever it may be is at 3:00 PM.  They have an emergency to attend to, so your appointment ends up to be 5:30 PM.  It happened to us yesterday!  The lawyer's office has magazines and newspapers to look at, but the doctor's office sure doesn't!  Wise to bring along a good book. . . or even The Good Book.  I've seen a few Ecuadorians with their Bibles reading while waiting for their appointments, and they are evangelicos - evangelicals - every time. 

You think the women here wear tight pants to get your attention.  Nah. . . sorry.  It's merely the fashion here among the Fairer Sex.  Cultural difference between here and the States. 

You wonder why people have their umbrellas up in bright sunshine.  Here in Cuenca, at 2560 meters high (8300 feet) you are closer to the sun than you were previously in the US.  It's to ward off skin cancer, silly!

You knock yourself silly walking under a two poled street sign on the sidewalk.  Ecuador has no uniform height, width, or length requirements on public works such as sidewalks - watch out for that old metal pole remnant embedded in the sidewalk! - curbs - watch your step leaving the sidewalk to the street . . . the first one is a doozie! - or signs - the previously cited instance.  Yup, that sign can bang your head if you are a gringo - Gringos are taller.  The average Ecuadorian would never be concerned.

You look for things in the store with pounds, ounces and feet and inches on the label.  Sorry!  Ecuador is on the metric system.  Kilograms, grams, meters are used instead.  Sure is different. . . but you'll get used to it in time. 

You think milk comes in a plastic gallon jug or paper cardboard half gallon container.  Surprise!  Milk - the liquid stuff - comes in plastic bags.  Yogurt hardly exists - too expensive for many.  Oatmeal!?!  Fat chance of finding the stuff!  Finally found bread crumbs at Coral Mall del Rio, though. . . in the bread section tucked away in a bottom shelf corner.  Who'd a thunk that?

You are at the restroom at the mall and you wonder why there is no toilet paper in the stall with you.  Silly gringo!  It was on the back wall dispenser full of paper for you to tear off first before you went in to do your business!  and remember to put it in the sanitary bucket. . . and not flush it down the toilet!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Farmacias, Doctores y Abogados (Pharmacies, Doctors and Lawyers)

Here at the new location of Pilgrim's Rest, we have this week - and next week - been quite occupied with some important short term goals in living here on a permanent basis: getting our prescription drugs refilled at the pharmacy (pharmacies, actually) and getting our indefinite stay visas and Cedula cards - kinda like a "green card" for extranjeros  (Gringos) - that we carry around with us like a driver's license. 

Oh, yes, we can apply for an Ecuadorian Driver's License too, which is given by the national government, not the different provinces - same with license plates here - but it's given in Spanish only.  Since we don't drive here and take a taxi when necessary - and it has been really necessary this last week, especially - we are deferring that task for the indefinite future.  But not the pharmaceuticals and Visa(s)/Cedula(s). . . not at all!

In the US, getting a prescription drug refilled is rather straightforward: you see the doctor, they write a prescription, and you get it filled at the pharmacy of your choice, which nearly always has the drug in question in stock.  Here in Ecuador, you don't usually have to see the doctor, unless the drug isn't on the standard list of approved medications or it is a pain relieving drug that involves cocaine - thanks to neighboring Columbia for that situation - and you simply walk up to the pharmacist to ask for the drug.  That would never happen in the United States. . . too easy, and a measure of freedom here in Ecuador.    

A wrinkle worth noting on getting your prescriptions refilled: different pharmacies and pharmacy chains charge different prices for the exact same drug (same dosage, same number of capsules/pills)!  So I made a price comparison chart for my different prescriptions from three pharmacy chains popular in Ecuador and in Cuenca: Fybeca, Farmasol, and Cruz Azul.  Fybeca consistently had the highest price, sometimes significantly so on the higher priced name brand newer medications.  Farmasol had much more reasonable prices, and the lowest price on two of my meds, and Cruz Azul had the lowest price on all but two of my prescriptions.  So I could just go to Cruz Azul and be done with the decision, right? 

Wrong!  By going to the pharmacy that has the lowest price for the particular drug, you end up saving even more money per month (per use, per dose).  So in my case for my prescriptions I currently take, that means I split up my purchases between Farmasol - the two drugs I found cheapest there - and Cruz Azul.  Both are within walking distance of our condo here (Farmasol a longer but still doable walk), and so eliminating the need for a taxi ride, while getting some exercise in the process. . . as we had planned before we came here.  (We may be taking a taxi back from Farmasol for a while until we get better in walking longer distances, as it is about nine blocks give or take, going on a slight uphill direction back to the condo.) 

Savings by going to two pharmacies: about $65 a month on a total outlay of about $150 + a month (cash payment only, no insurance coverage as yet).  I'd say that is significant, and will continue to do this until we see that future health insurance coverage changes that situation.

Carolyn Anne for her part took the advice of our landlady, going only to Farmasol, avoiding the friendly, helpful, yet pricey Fybeca.  For this one time, that was OK, but we will examine her drug list more closely next time and do a similar thing to how I decided on where to buy my particular drug refills.

Yet another wrinkle: there are a few drugs the pharmacies don't have here, and they send you to a hospital pharmacy for them.  Different system here in Ecuador, to be sure!  So we have taxied our way to Hospital Monte Sinai south of El Centro, near the futbol Estadio Aguilar (and Supermaxi El Vergel for certain groceries and the neat two story mall that is one story underground with the parking garage. . . found a great electronic weight scale in one of those shops for just $19 including IVA - tax)!  We have already made friends with the staff there, and they know I am a Gringo that can help them translate when they have an English language only customer, as happens sometimes in such a business.  We obtained our additional drugs with a doctor's prescription (me) and without one (Carolyn Anne) with no hassles.  They employ a ticket waiting system there, as does the Farmasol Los Nogales location we visit.  Clean, large, modern pharmacies all except Cruz Azul, which uses much smaller storefront locations which are significantly older looking.  Maybe that's how they offer lower prices. . . dunno for sure.

By the end of this week, Carolyn Anne had obtained all of her medications - although one refill is for about ten days, and we still need to get more of it - and I had obtained all but one.  One I got from Hospital Monte Sinai pharmacy after seeing an Internist at that hospital, Dr. Pablo Parra, who is also fluent in English and has an excellent manner. 

The last medication, Flecainide, is simply not available in Ecuador and not on any dispensary lists here in the central pharmaceutical centers in Ecuador, according to Dr. Parra after some inquiring on my behalf.  He referred me to Dr. Ricardo Quizhpe, a cardiologist at Hospital Santa Inez, not too far away - but not very close either - to Hospital Monte Sinai.  I was able to get an "appointment" - more on that in a bit - the same day I called, Friday.  Dr. Quizhpe has office visit appointment days on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday afternoons/evenings, btw.

To see a doctor, you call or visit to find out when their office visiting hours are.  Then, you come to the hospital reception area for that floor/area near the particular doctor's office.  You pay her $30 in a typical hospital in Cuenca, a bargain compared to the USA - and get a numbered slip.  The number determines who gets to be seen first, second, third. . . and so forth.  So you end up waiting longer here than in the US for a doctor's consultation.  Come early - you wait and get an early number like I did once and see the doctor sooner than the rest; come later - you wait and see the doctor after they have seen the patients ahead of you in number.  Fair but less exact system than in the States.   

After a friendly but focused office visit with the young cardiologist, he will be able to supply the necessary drug similar to what I have been taking - and likely will make some small adjustments to my two other heart rate controlling drugs - after getting my EKG and ECG records, as well as my medical history.  *Thank God* I have all this available through the forethought of Dr. Sameh Gadallah and staff back in Lancaster, California where I had been a longtime contented patient (I'd recommend Dr. Gadallah in a heartbeat!).  I need to download my US medical records - available to me unlike the practice of most doctor's offices in the United States - from Dr. Gadallah's website, and either make paper copies of them, or put them on a flash drive.  Another task to do - and soon, as my remaining supply of Flecainide is only seven days remaining - but I am confident I can find someone (like my landlady's grandson Adolfo) to get it done. 

Last Wednesday, we saw our lawyer, Dr. Galo Cardenas, who is the founder of the Coloaustro law firm in Cuenca.  As mentioned in my last post, we are in the process of getting our Visas and Cedula cards.  Yesterday, Friday, we saw his office again. We were seen by Merci, the bilingual assistant/receptionist, and Javier, one of the staff members of the firm.  We paid the $750 payment to the law firm for services rendered (will render) and an extra $80 - $40 plus $40 - for notary services regarding our USA passports.  They don't spell it all out at the beginning, and so you have to come prepared for additional charges like that.  So $830 paid in all Friday.  

Thursday afternoon, after me not finding our USA passport photos from Costco in Lancaster, we visited a hole in the wall photo shop next to Hotel Milan in El Centro where we stayed last Spring several days.  The proprietor there took our color photos for the Ecuadorian Visa - not passport, we assured him - and I got a typical Latin American photo taken in one shot, with me in a slight frown.  I guess that made me look tough or something. . . it's the culture here.  Carolyn Anne's photo had a slight smile with teeth showing just a bit.  Cost: $2 a photo, $10 total.  We also delivered these to Merci and Javier while at Coloaustro Friday.  

All that remained to do was to sign the application documents.  Javier, who spoke some English, misspelled my first name not once but twice!  David is on my USA Passport, and David it shall be on my Ecuador Visa application papers, *not* Dave.  There!  Gotta watch all the details when taking care of business with a law firm.  After retyping the document *twice,* I signed my signature to the application in blue ink (black is not allowed in Ecuador for legal documents for some reason).  Carolyn Anne did the same to hers.  Her name was not misspelled.  I checked!

In a month to a month and a half, we need to travel to Quito to go to the Ministry of Immigration to sign our documents there in person.  Don't ask me why. . . it's undoubtably the Latin American way to duplicate and "red tape" things such as this, imho.  So we will need a dogsitter then.  Don't know who would do that for us just yet. . . please pray.  Monday we need to get what is termed (in English language) a Migratory Movement Certificate from the Immigration Ministry office here in Cuenca on Ordenez Lasso (west end of town by Hotel Oro Verde) that shows how many days we have been in Ecuador.  We will hotfoot that Monday to the Coloaustro law firm so they can hotfoot it to Quito and get the proverbial ball rolling with the government officials there.  

So, as you can see, we have several tasks to do in the air, so to speak.  Please pray with us for my medication change situation, as well as the Visa/Cedula application process detailed above.  Thanks again, everyone for your kind support of us ordinary people living for an extraordinary God!   


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Applying for Our Indefinite Stay Visas (Cedulas)

Skipping ahead of the timeline narrative - will come back later and fill in some more details - to discuss the all important issue of obtaining our indefinite stay visas, called Cedulas here in Ecuador. 

Yesterday the day finally came - after so much preparation of the necessary documents beforehand while still in the United States -  when we could see the lawyer who would see our applications and documents for our Cedulas through to completion, and likely approval from the Ecuadorian government.  I gathered our documents together - already done, actually - and ensured from newly installed Internet service here at the condo to this laptop computer that we had the correct address for our law firm, Coloaustro.  Off to the front of our building here to get a taxi for our appointment at 4:00 PM.  

We arrived at the new, gleaming six story office building near the modern Millenium Plaza office complex ahead of time and learned that we had to take the elevator up to the fifth floor, then walk up the stairs to the sixth floor, which is the top floor.  The receptionist, Merci, greeted us and let us know that Dr. Galo Cardenas, our abogado - lawyer, and principal partner in the firm, as it turns out - would be informed of our presence in the reception area.  

Dr. Cardenas welcomed us a bit earlier than the scheduled time, and gave the traditional Latin American warm greetings to us.  He let us know he had recently temporarily taken on some new cases/clients, and was working some longer hours - 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM weekdays, but that in a short time that would return to normal and he would not be as hard pressed for time, especially with his wife and children.  Here in Ecuador, family is more important than working long hours at a professional job week after week, year after year.  A refreshing attitude if you ask me.

The business at hand of obtaining a Cedula for my wife and I was discussed.  Dr. Cardenas looked over the documents, and after he realized that my wife qualified us for the pensionado pensioner's visa, he pronounced all of our documents good for submission.  Looking at the dates of the various documents, with dates from September to November 2014 on them, he realized these documents would need to be hotfooted to the Ecuadorian government authorities this month - and in a few short days in fact - in order to not come so close to the expiration deadline(s).  So translations of the documents into Spanish would get our lawyer's personal and immediate attention in the next 48 hours, he assured us.

All of these papers would result in success in the granting of our Cedulas, according to the counsel of our legal Counselor,  However, due to the pickiness of the Cuenca office of the Ministry of Immigration on how they have been processing Cedula applications of late - perhaps since mid November according to one source - he advised us he will have the papers filed in Quito instead, where there is a satellite office of his law firm to assist in the process in the Ecuadorian capital city.  "You will have to go to Quito in a month to a month and a half to appear before the office there," informed our knowledgeable and experienced legal professional.  

"If necessary, I and my team will - how would you put it - do some things to make the papers work to get you your Visas and Cedulas," Dr. Cardenas allowed.  

"You mean, 'fudge' the documents?" I asked.

"In a word, yes," he grinned.  I could see he knew English well enough that he knew that in this case, "fudge" was not referring to food. . . it was referring to something Latin Americans know all too well. . . grease that makes things get done in social and in this case legal/governmental circles!  That's all I'm gonna say about that!

Costs: $2200 total, which is $1850 to the law firm for their services, and $350 Ecuadorian government tax (not the IVA sales tax) on the transaction.  $750 to pony up to start by Friday, when we come in and sign the application(s) at the law office.  We also need to supply five copied color photos of ourselves apiece - the ones we had made for our USA Passports that were with the white borders we had made at Costco in Lancaster will do nicely, Dr. Cardenas told us - and that will get the process in motion.  Waiting time for processing from start to finish: two months, we were told.  The Visa(s) comes first, and then the Cedula card(s) five days afterwards.  We pick them up at the law office in Cuenca.  That's it!

Finally, this parting thought: we were recommended to Coloaustro abogados by some friends we met at our church.  One of them we learned was related to one of the firm's employees, and I figured that was a rather good endorsement for their services, since they could back up their accounts of having successfully provided the visa and Cedula to previous applicants.  You get what you pay for.  In a climate of lawyers, facilitators, and document translators not always delivering what is expected of them in an honest and timely manner, we thought it was best to go with what we knew.  I know there are people out there with lesser priced and "better mouse trap" deals. . . but again, we are staying with what we believe to be reputable people doing a fair, timely, and professional task on our behalf.  Our future in Cuenca and Ecuador depends on it.  

By the way, Dr. Cardenas has by his own account successfully assisted 300 or so clients with getting their Visas/Cedulas.  Only one he knows of failed in the attempt.  

I'd have to say that's an outstanding scoring average, to use a basketball sporting metaphor.  Lord, we are grateful for Dr. Cardenas and his staff.  We are in his hands. . . and Yours!                     

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

You Might be a Gringo if. . .

Many people in North America are aware and perhaps familiar with comedian and game show host Jeff Foxworthy's standup comedy routine "You Might be a Redneck if. . . ".  Well, in that spirit - what fun! - I would like to perform, at least here in print form its South American cousin.  Sit back, relax and please enjoy the ensuing laughter!

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You Might be a Gringo if. . .

you flush toilet paper down the toilet.  You know, those South American sewer systems are hundreds of years old and not made for the stuff, right?  When the pipes overflow, the natives know who to blame. . . the Gringo!

you drink water right from the tap.  Now in most of South America, you need to boil your water, or get bottled water.  Places like Cuenca, Ecuador are a blessed exception to this, however. . . but in Ecuador, Salinas and the Amazon are decidedly not!  Great way to get yourself "on the porcelain throne" so to speak. . . drink water straight from the tap.  Now ya know!

you expect continuously hot water to flow from your shower when taking a shower.  You might be in for a shivery surprise when you turn on the tap!  You might get hot water at first, like has happened to me, and then the hot water runs out.  Brrr!  It will eventually get back on after 10 to 15 minutes, however, and then stay that way for the rest of the day.  There may not be water rationing like in California currently, but taking a "navy shower" to conserve *hot* water is the best on some days. . . no way to be able to predict which ones in advance, of course!

you don't know how to give the proper macho handshake to a fellow male individual.  In the US, we know it as the "La Raza secret gang member handshake."  Here in South America (S.A.), there are no race or gang connotations to it.  If you want to be buddies with guys here, learn the handshake!  You know. . . regular handshake, then the hooking of the fingers, then the pairing of the opposing thumbs in succession.  

you don't hug and kiss the cheek of a female friend (if you are male) and vice versa if you are female.  Strangers get hugs in a first greeting, but not the kiss.  That comes after you've already met!

you tip baggage carriers, drivers, shoe shiners, laundry deliverers, and pizza deliverers the same amount of money as in the US.  You don't. . . and you are a fool if you do.  You *DO* tip airport and taxi baggage delivers, but not as much as in the US,  The rest of them - with the exception of a long distance tour driver - you *do not* tip at all. . . their earnings are already included in the service.  

you don't look down while you are walking.  Scanning for obstacles is necessary due to the uneven sidewalks and pavement and terrain found here.  You look ahead like most people here, and you look down from time to time to ensure you don't find your left foot wedged in a hole in the sidewalk or something!  True story.  And watch out for the morning dog doo doo too!

you don't have and show patience.  Impatience and arguing to get your way gets you nowhere, and leaves you with a overheated head, while the cultural offense you have brought makes the S.A. person wince in disgust.  You have now lived up to the stereotype of the  "Bad Gringo" . . .  The one to whom natives say, "Gringo Go Home!"  Just. Don't. Do. It.