Little house in Guatemala: A normal day at the council

I am sitting inside the public works office of the council as I write this. Scorpions is singing Wind of Change on the radio, a little too loud for anyone to concentrate properly on a basic task. Two guys are checking FB, one of them casually seated on the other one’s desk, two ladies decided it was too hot to hang in the office and are enjoying the breeze on the balcony, overlooking the lake.

Today, I have been there for one hour. I don’t mind, I brought my laptop, my internet modem, and my charger to plug in and charge my battery. I am ready to spend the whole day if that is what it takes. What am I waiting for? A letter. One small piece of paper, that I was told I would get 10 days ago.

Flash back 10 days, I take the director of works to my 90 acres development to show him around. I had to pick him up, drive him around and drop him off back at the council because “it is hard to get the council to lend us cars”. There are two options, I say. Either we benefit the whole village by giving you guys land for a football field, access to our roads that are a shortcut to the other half of the village, the water from our well and space to build a school or a health center, and in return you administrate all those infrastructures and take care of maintenance.

The second option is that we take care of it all ourselves, and only our residents will get access to those service, that they will pay for via a service charge. There will be an entrance gate and only residents will get in and out.

The guy nods and sweats a little too much as we visit the land. I need his blessing to go ahead with the development in order to split my land in 250 parcels and get a deed for each of them. He says he wants to estimate how much this will cost the village, and how much they will get in extra property taxes. Fair enough. Can you give me the green light to split my PRIVATE property into 250 plots if we go private and it doesn’t cost you a dime? “Sure” He says. We go back to his office, he makes me sit at his desk and I type my application requesting approval to cut my land into 250 on his computer.

“I will make a letter on behalf of the council to ask cadaster to split the land, and give it to cadaster together with your application” he says.

When? “This afternoon. And I will take it to cadaster”.

A week later, I drop by at the cadaster’s office, no letter has been received. I go back to my council guy, he says he gave it to cadaster.

“Oh, funny, to whom exactly? Because there are two guys working there and I talked to both of them, they have nothing”.

“Errrr….” blank look, you can’t blame him or he will do nothing more. You have to gently pat him in the back and ask once more.

“OK, will you send it again?”

“Yes, I will”.

“Will you send me a copy by email?”

“Yes, I will”.

“Are you sure?”



“This afternoon”.

I believed the guy and went away. I would have seated him right down at his office to type the letter, but the power was out and all the overheated public servants were outside taking some fresh air.

He promised he would do it the same day, once the power returns, and he didn’t. Nor did he email me. He did NOTHING. I know I am no center of the universe and I get that people are busy, I don’t get when they are not true to their word twice and lie to my face. So now, two days later, I am back in his office, waiting for him. He probably went out for a walk. Five workers are now gossiping and laughing around the one who was checking FB earlier. I pay taxes to support them all. And I am pretty sure I am not getting my letter, there will be something wrong, another paper I need to bring, another obstacle. Maybe he didn’t appreciate my clearly saying we would not pay a dime in bribes. A couple of minutes after I said that, he said “so you are probably better off doing your private project”. Sure I am, but if you give me the go ahead to walk, why to you grab my feet to slow me down??

Man, I get it. You are there because your corrupt political friend gave you a job and no one can fire you, no matter how bad people complain against you, your job is safe. So tell me the letter will take 2 weeks with your half awake eyes and your sneaky smile, I will wait patiently. Don’t tell me you’ll do it today, or I will be over you every single day until you do. Don’t look me in the eyes and tell me you did it already or I will go ridicule you at the other office when they see you are not a man or your word. Come on, think twice. You are about to multiply my taxes per 30 or 50 once the land is split, why aren’t you in a hurry to do so?

A friend of mine works closely with councils on government projects. There was an earthquake last year and he had some NGOs willing to give tools and construction materials to the councils to rebuild their village. All they had to do was a letter stating what was needed and what for. Out of four mayors he visited, only one send a letter 3 months later basically requesting cash. Easier than having to sell the NGO’s tools at a heavy discount to get his hands on the money, that would have been so much work.

But that guy lying to my face is a whole different level of fucked up. It is just a silly game of hide and seek, as soon as I turn my back, he would dismiss my case and do nothing on purpose. Depressing. I am planning on exhausting him first.

Once I was stopped with another foreign friend, on his motorbike. We had the bike’s papers in photocopies, not originals, which is not legal, but knowing you get mugged easily in Guatemala, and anyone with the bike’s paper can go change them to his name, you can understand why we would not carry them. The guy didn’t want to give us a fine, just to get a little money for him. I explained over and over that it was too dangerous to carry the bike’s papers around and that I would be happy to bring the papers later that day to a nearby police station. It took a good half hour but seeing we wouldn’t budge, they stopped another car as a potential target. Quicker, easier. That is my strategy with that guy, but boy, do I want to scream at their blatant incompetence. It has been one hour since I started this post. Like I said, it is hard to concentrate with the music and the gossip.The five guys who grouped around FB are now only three, talking about betting on sports and how much they drank on their last night out. Another one is whistling to Radiohead’s creep. I wonder how the village ever got streets and electric power.


Update: after about two hours of sitting in the office, a guy tells me the boss isn’t going to be there until tomorrow. I manage to call him (after realizing he had given me a wrong number, his colleague gives me the real stuff) and book an appointment for the next day. He invites the cadaster guy to sit with us to confirm he really has to sign my letter. I tell him he lied to me about 5 times, he pretends the internet was down so he couldn’t email the letter. So why were his colleagues on FB all day yesterday? He may not have been able to send it but should have it ready on his computer then? Pointing fingers won’t help progress so I have redacted the letter for him to copy paste on headed paperand after confirmation, not a real confirmation, but a kind of “yeah” from the other guy who I kept interrupting every time I thought he was about to make the boss doubt, HE SIGNED!!! Now my architect tells me the letter has to be signed by the mayor as well… sigh.


This post was featured on the Eyes on the Dollar, Young Adult Money, Solving the Money Puzzle, Lifestyle Carnival, Lifestyle Carnival Edition, thank you!

A 30 something French girl embarking on a journey towards Financial Independence. I blog about money, travel, simple and deliberate living, freedom and choices. You can find me on Twitter, Google+, or Reach Financial Independence's Facebook Page

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  1. The Tortoise Banker says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing. Glad you were able to get this done! Must be a wild place to live

  2. Ugh. That’s just a whole other level of insanity.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Homeownership and Happiness?My Profile

  3. What an ordeal! As I was reading this, I was thinking that this is one of the downsides of living in a less-developed country. But I thought about it and we deal with problems like this here too, so I guess it’s universal. I hope it all works out for you soon.
    Matt Becker recently posted..When Does it Make Sense to Shop for Insurance?My Profile

  4. This is a lot of hassle and I don’t know if I have the patience that you have Pauline. It will all work out in the end and I like the idea of the private community. Of the 250 plots how many will have the beautiful like views? Some people are just in it to cause people misery.
    Thomas recently posted..When Is the Right Time to Change JobsMy Profile

    • There are smaller plots in the back that will be an extension to the actual village, they have views to a nice cattle ranch and hills to the back but don’t see the lake. About half the land has lake views.

  5. Geez! That sounds like a giant hassle! I hope that everything works out the way you want it to.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Stop Complaining:How to Stop Being a Workplace NuisanceMy Profile

  6. Wow, what a freaking hassle! I guess it just goes to show you that inept politicians are everywhere.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Saving Money at Amusement ParksMy Profile

  7. These rats could delay your project for years if they want to.

    I read Under The Tuscan Sun (wonderful book but don’t see the movie) and couldn’t believe the corrupt inefficiencies of the Italian bureaucracy. Guatemala is so much worse. Perhaps this will be a good book when it is all over. There has to be some reward for your wasted time and frustration.
    Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle recently posted..A Very Expensive Vacation Without A Tan Or Beach Photos To Show For ItMy Profile

  8. Oi!! Good for you for persevering. It always seems the countries with the most inefficient bureaucracy have the most layers of it, too.
    Can you write the newspaper to tell the people about all the great amenities you’re willing to provide if the city pays for their upkeep or do they not trust the council either?
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Wedding Thank You Gifts for Parents – Part IIMy Profile

    • I could do that and make a dozen more enemies in the village so that will be a last resort. My neighbor is about to dig a well for free with a solar pump so the village would only have to pay for the plastic tubes as a token to involve them. She has offered it about 6 months ago and they still haven’t replied…

  9. I guess the good news is you don’t have a desk job that you had to take time off of to sit and wait.

    I think you are right, it is a miracle the town has electricity!

  10. Don’t give up! Dealing with people can be the most frustrating things in the world, but it seems like you’re going about it with the right attitude.
    CF recently posted..I think my LG refridgerator broke?My Profile

  11. Nick @ says:

    People who commit to something and then don’t follow through are my biggest pet peeve!
    Nick @ recently posted..Millennial Speak – What is a Side Hustle?My Profile

  12. Wow that sounds so frustrating – and I thought that it was hard to get city officials to do things here in the US! Probably the worst part is that you are correct, you have to waste a ton of time “not budging” and pressing the issue to get anything done. It really is amazing they got electricity to their village.

    • they have been waiting for the road to be asphalted for 8 years. Last time it took 15 years. The money has already been granted twice and disappeared twice. Maybe in another 8 years we’ll see it.

  13. Jake @ Common Cents Wealth says:

    Wow, that sounds more painful than our local DMVs and I thought that they were bad. It’s crazy how inconsiderate some people can be. Hopefully you can do what you want with your land once the Mayor signs the sheet. Good luck!
    Jake @ Common Cents Wealth recently posted..I’m Joining the Yakezie Challenge!My Profile

  14. Sound familiar to me Pauline. This is the reason why poor get poorer in the third world country due to corruption. This kind of government cannot attract foreign investors due to red tape and bunch of liars sitting the office.
    My Wealth Desire recently posted..Tips on How to be a MillionaireMy Profile

    • Guatemala has so much to offer for tourists it is really sad to see their touristic campaigns. Mexico attracts way more people when Guatemala could get just as many.

  15. Wow… that sounds like a real nightmare. Hopefully the planets will align and you’ll get all your signatures!
    Derek @ recently posted..Teaching Your Kids How to Make MoneyMy Profile

  16. Ugh what a jerk! That’s awful that everyone is giving you the run around and lying. I really admire your dedication, I definitely wouldn’t have the patience to deal with these idiots. I hope the mayor isn’t as big of an obstacle…
    E.M. recently posted..Student Loan Debt: Update #2My Profile

    • The mayor is the nephew of the old mayor who stayed in office for 20 years and stole so much his house looks like a ( new money bad taste) castle. So this is not over!

  17. Tammy R says:

    Crossing my fingers that the mayor is not related to this guy!!! You are made of tough stuff, Pauline. I will not complain about sitting on a service call in my house with A/C ever again! (Ok, maybe not ever again, but I’ll be good for the next few.)
    Tammy R recently posted..I Like Eating OutMy Profile

    • they are all related. My village is formed of 3 families so it is like playing chess with crystal set, you have to be strategic AND careful because if you offend one, a third of the village turns against you.

  18. Holy crap, Pauline! I thought it was hard to teach a six year old Hot Cross Buns on the guitar. I suppose I should just shut up and move on to Twinkle, Twinkle.

    Certainly the Council is no less than the 8th gate of hell if not the fabled 9th.
    cj recently posted..I Like Eating OutMy Profile

    • There are upper levels now that we have moved by the council monsters. It will end, some day. And the six year old will know twinkle twinkle with his eyes closed!

  19. Welcome to an area where corruption is the order of the day. It’s absolutely ridiculous how some things operate in places like this. I hope anyone reading this no longer wonders why things are so bad in some other countries, how could you make any progress in this type of a climate? When the people who live in a country don’t want to put in any time or effort to see it prosper, you will get no gain. It’s so unfortunate that the few in power ruin it for the many.

    • They are not used to power, so with power comes greed unfortunately. If they were trained a bit more and there were less inequalities it would be easier.

  20. Wow mate what a load of bollox. That would just piss me off and I don’t know how you put up with it. You want to build your dreams plus help others and everyone around you wants a cut of the pie. Tell him to get his arse in gear and figure this shite out. I think they are going to unleash the lion in Pauline and that’s the only time we are going to see something happen. Don’t back down. Cheers mate
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..How to budget as a coupleMy Profile

  21. Wow that really sucks! I can’t imagine having to deal with that kind of frustration, the Canadian government is slow enough! Your patience and perseverance amazes me, good luck with the major!
    Jordann @ My Alternate Life recently posted..Travel Like a Minimalist: SouvenirsMy Profile

  22. I certainly won’t pretend that I’ve dealt with issues like that, but I do know that all governments seem to make things much harder than they need to be. When I got credentialed to work for the Indian Health Service, it took 7 months, even though I worked for them in the past and all my information was in the system. They were desperate for an optometrist also. They were halfway through the process with another doctor when he died. I think it might have been the process that killed him!

    It was one thing after another, and then they would lose the whole application and I’d have to start over. One guy worked in one office in another town who did this, one worked somewhere else who did that. It seems they never communicated. I honestly gave up and sent the director an email thanking him for his time, but assuming a contract wasn’t going to happen. He replied back that there was a contract, but I needed to be fingerprinted. I told him I was fingerprinted before when I worked there, but guess what, your fingerprints expire after a certain amount of time! So just in case I had chopped off my fingertips and grew new ones, I had to get fingerprinted again, and I was finally good to go. No wonder the care system gets so backed up!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..We Cancelled Our Satellite TV!My Profile

    • Incredible! Here we systematically take two copies of anything we bring to the council. The second one they stamp and sign as received with the date received. Now things don’t get lost anymore…

  23. Rita P @ Digital Spikes says:

    Pauline you are doing a great job and have all my respect and attention. I pray all goes well and you get what you want. I read the post and it is scary to live in a Guatemala village. I read last week on some other blog about moving to Guatemala for benefits of cheap cost. But after reading your post it puts a big question mark
    Rita P @ Digital Spikes recently posted..Effective ways to improve your credit score fastMy Profile

    • Thank you for your good wishes Rita! Was it a guest post of mine that you read or someone else who lives in Guatemala? I have to say I love it here, life would be boring without all the little drama haha.


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