Appointments in the Land without Watches

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this past Tuesday morning, I had an orthodontist appointment.

Keep in mind one of my curious third-world quirks. This is Bolivia, yet somehow even though I’m surrounded by Latina Barbies with extremely glittery layers of makeup, I only usually bother with ironing and makeup for business meetings and special events. I’ve used starch perhaps twice in the past year… when I was an intern/PA/student in the States I could easily go through a can or two of spray starch each month. I did my nails (bitten as they were) even when I knew I was going to work just to soak my fingers in mud to wash and register artifacts at the archaeology lab. On this sunny Tuesday in Bolivia, though, I actually decided to dress up my face a tad since I usually go in and they are looking down at my untouched skin. I was even up an extra hour or two earlier than necessary. I was having a good morning.

I appeared at the office at 9:30am and found the reception area packed. Stuffed with people. No seating available. Hardly any standing room.

The receptionist let me in with, “The doctor isn’t in here yet.”

Ah. That’s not unusual, but the crowd in waiting was. “How long do you think it will take for her to arrive?”, I asked.

Pause. “Half hour?” The uncertainty was clear. In Cochabamba, the default wait time when something isn’t certain is 15 minutes. To be told that it might be another half hour is… well, that’s the day planner’s kiss of death.

“Is there a better day instead?”

“You’d like a new appointment?”

“Yes, please.” My mood was too pleasant to waste on a cramped reception area where I could wait for an hour or three.

We rescheduled for Thursday morning, 9:00am, the first appointment of the day.

Thursday morning was far less perky. I settled for the bare minimum of effort. Clean clothes, brushed hair, non-stinky showered self… a dentist who is late really doesn’t deserve makeup, I reasoned. Even so, she was late again! She arrived at 9:10 and our appointment began at 9:20. Dental work didn’t begin for minutes after that. First, she had to bicker.

“You weren’t here on Tuesday!”

“No, Doctor, I was here on Tuesday. You weren’t.”

“But you left!”

“Yes… I left because you were not here for our appointment!”

“I was here!”

“Not at 9:30!”

“When I arrived they said your car had just left!”

“Yes… your receptionist said you might be another half hour. So I made a new appointment.”

“You left! We had an appointment! Why did you leave?”

“Because you weren’t here for the appointment! I don’t have enough free time to wait that long!”

“You should not leave when we have an appointment.”

I was completely baffled by why this was a problem. She wasn’t there! There wasn’t even room to wait! Then, for the new appointment, she was late again! I couldn’t even begin to wrap my brain around this failure of logic, and my Spanish certainly wasn’t able to cope. I just stared up at her. She evidently understood that I wasn’t getting it, so she repeated:

“You left!”

“You WERE NOT HERE!”

Culture clash. Perhaps when our sessions are over in October or November I’ll gift her with an alarm clock. Only when I needn’t see her again, mind you. She settled her frustration with me on Thursday by yanking my teeth more forcefully than ever for a solid fifteen minutes.

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