You’d have thought that I may have had enough of renovating houses, colonial mansions and trying to make a home for me and my family here in Colombia.
As if, after dealing with the 38 heirs to the two houses which now make up our Casa Amarilla Hotel in Mompos, besting the legal complexities surrounding a subsequent property in that town which was then in the hands of two law-firms and then the purchase and total renovation of another colonial building weren’t enough, we bought an apartment in Bogotá late last year and set about remodeling the property this year.
And it has not been the folklore of the coast nor the perceived flojera or viveza of the costeños that has proven to be the most challenging. No Señor. Buying and renovating in Bogotá may well be our most exhausting venture.
This has been a battle of wits, a legal minefield, a performance in ignorance and a gross display of hauteur and snobbery.
If someone had informed me that prior to contracting an architect, signing a rudimentary contract for work to be done and embarking on this whitewater journey in the vain attempt at establishing a modicum of stability for my infant son, wife and myself in Bogotá, would have required an intensive course in the Colombian legal system, I would have laughed them off.
How hard could it all be?
What we are presently facing is a nothing short of a legal knife fight or riña as they say here in Colombia. Due to negligence, a lack of professionalism and even slander, we are suing our architect. I expect a long and ultimately ineffectual process.
But, short of the folkloric and vile solution of to mandar una moto, what is there available to the consumer? Being British and in my condition as a foreigner, my overwhelming feeling is that the legal course is the only one to pursue as it may, at the very least, result in a dishonest person receiving a warning and/or understanding of their error. Basically, one cannot behave as our architect did.
But, our woes do not end here.
Over the course of 45 days – more or less – we have achieved in completely alienating both sets of neighbors. Not that they were jewels to begin with.
But once all their bleating abates – having successfully forgotten that they too effected major transformations to their properties – how will they react to the arrival of a one-year-old child complete with an infant drum set (thank you godmother!) and a rambunctious weimaraner?
There’s no amount of decorative pastries from Cascabel or chintzy floral arrangements with which we can smooth over this enmity.
Personally, I think our future neighbors would have protested less were we to have presented plans to frack beneath our floorboards. At least then they would be sweetened with the prospect of subsequent regalías coming their way.
As this is not the case, our next-door neighbor – duly dubbed with the moniker “con necesidad de un novio” for her condition of soltera, by the builders – has alerted both the Tenants’ Committee and the legal officer assigned by the Administración to our on-going renovations.
In fact, the electricians were physically denied entry to the building under some premise or another and we lost another day of work, thus prolonging the neighbors’ misery even more.
Again our lawyer was summoned to pen a furious letter as if written by “outraged in Emaus” and reprimand the dictatorial yet spineless suits in the Administración for caving into pressure from our most beloved and cherished next-door NIMBYs.
Why does something so straightforward, such as the renovation of an apartment, require us to be experts in the Colombian legal system?
But, something more unpleasant has surfaced during the conflict in our conjunto. Our neighbors, well-informed of our plans to continue with the renovations (by further printed correspondence of course) and aware that various previously “completed” works now need to be redone due to complacency (slovenliness) from the first set of builders in our employ, greet us with smiles and cordiality should, heaven forbid our paths cross in the communal areas, but treat our builders with the contemptible pestilence so associated with the prevalent classist attitude found here.
Since when would living in Estrato 5 give you the right to behave as if hailing from Estrato 21 towards professionals doing their job?
Sure, rewiring an apartment and fixing the drains takes time and can result in some ear-splitting moments of drilling, but hardly warrants a slew of class-related groserías. I’d venture that our builders earn a greater income than either of the homebodies alongside or upstairs from us.
Perhaps they are not frequenting the Feria del Libro or the latest event at the Teatro Julio Santo Domingo preferring to echar pola in the tienda del barrio. But that’s their thing.
So, another week passes and delivers another adventure in our lives in Colombia and further revelations about what it means to live in a Colombia far-removed from the folksy and affable image being sold abroad.
I believe challenges to be good and keep me on my toes as well as thinking outside the box and ahead, but I have found myself wondering where or with what event my limit will be reached.