In Colombia, Case and I find that often people don’t return our emails, or calls, or call when they say they’re going to, or show up for meetings on time or at all. But we’re here, and we need to talk to people, so we get cara dura – hardheaded. We persist, with a smile, often well beyond the norms of politeness in the U.S. Here are three examples from today:
1. For more than a month now, we’ve been trying to get a meeting with USAID. We’ve networked our way through a couple routes, but have been repeatedly ignored or denied, until today. That’s because today our networking route was through the U.S. contractor that is evaluating the work of USAID here. That’s sort of like having the IRS call someone on your behalf to request a meeting. It works. Today, after all our struggles to get one person to talk to us, we sat down with four members of local staff for USAID.
2. Today we also needed to send a grant application to the States, by mail. This meant going to Office Depot, and asking them to send it for us through their contract with DHL. Not a big deal, right? Well, not until they saw the U.S. address, and then had to figure out which parts of it went in which boxes on the DHL online form. Although they tried to hide it, this was not easy. Even after one guy ran back and forth between the employees-only office and the service counter a couple times to ask questions about the address, he still said that sending the envelope would be no problem and that he would be sure to use the exact address. Then his coworker tried to send us away without a tracking number and with our envelope still sitting on the counter with no mailing label. When the guy came back another time, I offered to help. He didn’t answer, so I just followed him into the employees office, where another guy was sitting at a computer completely screwing up the mailing address. “I don’t want to be a bother,” I said. “But I can help.” I then fixed the address and watched the guy at the computer fill out the rest of the form. Rude? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.
3. One of our contacts is a woman we’ll call Pepita Flabon. But we’ve actually never met Ms. Flabon because, even though friends have put us in touch with her and recommended we talk, she’s turned us down, even when we backpedaled and suggested we just get coffee. Instead, she deflected and gave us the name, number and email address of another person, in another organization, and suggested we talk with him. So we emailed the guy, but the email bounced back. Then we called him, only to find the number was disconnected. When we asked Flabon if she had more current contact info for the guy, she gave us the address of his organization’s headquarters, even though he works remotely. At that point we could have thrown in the towel, but we decided to just keep bulling ahead. We went to the headquarters this afternoon, and said that we’d been sent there by Pepita Flabon. (Maybe that was stretching it, but it was less of a stretch than the alternative we considered – “Hi, Pepita Flabon is our mother, and she asked us to ask for your assistance…”) Soon we were talking to one of the organization’s assistant directors, who called our guy on her cell, and then handed the phone to Casey to talk to him directly. Another victory for caradurisma!