Our Plans Have Been Approved
Panamanians loves rubber stamps. When I buy a fifty pound sack of dog food, a computerized receipt is printed. But the transaction is not yet complete without the Ritual Of The Rubber Stamps. So the clerk slams a rubber stamp down on the receipt that says, “PAGADO” (paid). Then she slams down another stamp that says, “DESPACHADO” (dispatched, or received by the customer). And finally, a third that says that even though the receipt says 5% sales tax was collected, that in reality the new 7% tax was collected. I suspect that all these stamps could have been written in a note in the programing of the computer receipt. But with the addition of the rubber stamps, the clerk has asserted authority, and I dirty double dog food dare you to argue with this receipt in the future. It is official (!), you witnessed it, and by so doing, you give up all current and future right to complain about anything. Live with it.
And so it is with our building plans and permits. Rudolfo, our architect, came by the house today with a stack of bona fide, official, and duly authorized plans and permits giving us the multi-stamped go ahead approval to construct our house. (Cynthia and I celebrated with a bowl of popcorn.) Here, in no particular order, is a tally of the Ritual Of The Rubber Stamps:
- 2 stamps — Receipt that we paid the construction tax
- 1 stamp — Receipt that we paid the Bomberos (fire department)
- 2 stamps — Document asking permission from the Mayor to construct our house
- 1 stamp — Document giving permission from the Mayor to construct our house
- 2 stamps — Document giving permission from the Bomberos to construct our house
- 1 stamp — Document listing the size of the house, number of rooms, and the materials to be used
- 50 stamps — Not a typo — On the pages of the blueprints
Grand total = 59 Official Rubber Stamps, duly applied. And most of the stamps are initialed or signed by the stampors. I guess that makes Cynthia and me the stampees. Now all that is missing is a stampede, and that could happen down the road in front of our house at any given time, without official notice. And so it is official. Two months total from deposit to final payment to the architect. Panama’s first real house built from shipping containers is approved and set to go.
I visited the building inspector who will be tracking our construction. I had to pay the construction tax (2% of the estimated construction cost) next to his office anyway, so I thought that I would stop in his office and introduce myself. Get off on the right foot, if you will, as it is always better for the inspector to see you as a person and not just a number (unless you are doing your project below the radar and need to hide from the inspector, not a tack my nerves could endure). It has always been my way in construction to appear competent, try to do excellent work, but to acknowledge that the inspector has the authority. I think that they appreciate the respect for their knowledge and authority. When he realized who I was, his eyes brightened and a big smile came across his face. He was visibly excited and said he was anxious to see the progress as he was wondering how it would all go together. We shook hands and I told him that I would let him know about milestones so he could be part of the excitement. As we small talked in my improving but not there yet Spanish, I told him that the house would probably end up in the design magazines and that we would all be famous. You should have seen his smile.