Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Start a Business in Dominica Part Deux

Way back when, in April, I wrote a post about starting a business in Dominica. As Island Thrift inches towards the finish line, I thought I'd update on our progress. So where are we now?

"I'm going to need you to poop into a cup."

Wait a second. Let me back up.

When I last posted about making a business down here, we were almost done most of the paperwork. Obviously, because we're not open, that little bit of paperwork took several months. During that time, we hired a new guy, Nick, who gradually took over the reigns, and I am now employed largely to help him get the business up and running. This is especially key, as I am leaving in a few months. As it stands, the only thing stopping us from opening the store right now is the legal department of Ross University. Word is they're playing ping pong at the CAC while our contract sits on someone's desk.


Here are some of the highlights of the last few months.

1. Officially getting my work permit:

This was supposed to be the last step along the way to getting the coveted contract with Ross. I happened to discover that I got my contract by accident when I was helping Nick start on his. Once he got his badly xeroxed copy of a work permit application (which of course, is not only unavailable online, but can only be handed out to those with passports), the secretary informed me that mine was ready.

"Weren't you supposed to phone me when it's ready?" I asked.

She looked at me for a full ten seconds, and then slowly shrugged.

"Whatever, so I can have my work permit now?!" Excitement grew within me. I could feel myself metaphorically burst through that tape at the end of a race.

I would be the black one in this image.

"Yes," and she handed me a small envelope. Just as I was about to pump my fist in the air and twirl, as all major video game characters should, she said: "You just have to take this to Inland Revenue to stamp it."


So we hop in our taxi and shout, "INLAND REVENUE! STEP ON IT!" And we're there in a flash.

And then I wait in line. I think if they had access to it, it's a place where they would play a midi of "Girl from Ipanema" softly, over and over again in the background. Finally I make it to the counter.

"My work permit please!"

"Ok sir, that'll be 200$"

Dammit. I fork over the equivalent of 75$ US.

"Just a minute sir." He goes in search of something, and returns five minutes later, carrying an official looking green paper. Holy balls I'm pumped. It's right freaking there!

I reach out, my fingers tingling in anticipation of a job well done, when he says: "Ok sir, now you must take this to the Police Headquarters, for them to stamp your passport."


So we hop into the taxi and yell, "POLICE HEADQUARTERS! STEP ON IT!" And we're there in a flash (We get everywhere in a flash, because Roseau is a small town masquerading as a city).

I run into the police headquarters. "I'd like my stamp please."

"Sir you're in the wrong building. You need to leave, go around the corner, and go in there." Out I go.

I run around the corner and into the police headquarters. "I'd like my stamp please."

No one answers. I'm in what appears to be a courtroom shoved into a closet, and the two officers ignore me. "Hello?" I ask. No answer. I sit down. After five minutes where I slowly curl into the fetal position, an official looking man walks in, looks at me and asks, "Have you been helped?"

"...could I have my stamp?" I whimper.

"You're in the wrong building sir. Go around the corner and go into the room there." Out I go, around the corner.

This must be it. It has all sorts of signs about passports and things. I enter, and talk to a police officer behind a glass partition.

"Hello sir. Could I have a stamp for my passport?" I hand him my passport and the documents I've acquired. He looks up at me and sighs. He stands, and goes to talk to a colleague. He returns, and closely examines the documents. He then stands again, and goes to talk to the same colleague. They have a good laugh. He returns. He grabs a stamp on the desk and lets it hover over my open passport.

Do I dare let my heart grow excited? Do I try to push down that warm fuzzy feeling that comes along with a job well done? A smile creeps up on my face.

The man is about to stamp it when he stops, and examines the stamp. He looks confused, and tilts his head sideways, squinting at the underside of the stamp. He exchanges it for a different one, then confidently holds it over the passport. I ready my fist for an air pump and my body for a righteous twirl.

"Please hold on sir," says the man, the only words he's spoken to me the entire time. He then goes to his colleague, and shows her the stamp. She also holds it quizzically. They converse in hushed tones, and look my way with suspicion. She hands him a different stamp.

He sits down, inks the bad boy, and stamps my passport.



2. Getting Nick his work permit.

We soon found out that even though I had my work permit, we couldn't open until Nick had his, because I couldn't guarantee consistent open hours on my own (allegedly against the rules for in this mysterious contract I keep hearing about). So we start the entire thing over with him. Luckily, it wasn't as bad because I, being the trailblazer that I am, knew most of the steps. There were, however, a couple of hiccoughs.

When we got to an early part of the process where he happened to need the Police Headquarters, I confidently walked him to the right place, smug in my knowledge of how things work. Nick goes in, and for some reason is called behind the partition. I sit and wait, nodding to the other chumps in the room who didn't have their work permits yet.

Five minutes later, Nick comes out, looking nervous, and beckons for me to join him. Turns out, he's been talking to the Chief of Police.

"I should arrest you two," the Chief informs us. Strangely, this doesn't really phase me, and I stifle a laugh. This has all reached ridiculous proportions long ago.


"Your friend here has been illegally living in this country for two months."

I look to Nick. He raises his eyebrows and shrugs.

"I believe, sir, that we assumed it was alright because we are members of the Ross community, and they normally take care of these things. Plus he's applying for a work permit."

"He's still here illegally! I could throw you two in jail." Nick gulps. "But instead I'm going to make you pay 200$ to update your visa."

"Oh thank you sir, we really appreciate your effort." (This is something I've learned along the way. Every action done by a bureaucrat should be met with one of two counter-reactions: Graciousness to the degree of grovelling for even the smallest of deeds, or persistent anger when something is delayed until you become the most annoying thing in their lives.) So off we go to spend more money, and he eventually gets his permit in faster time than I.

This is Speedy Gonzales, according to Google, if the reference isn't clear...

3. Acquiring the food handler's permit.

Here we are now. We've gotten every single document ready, with the exception of one: the food handler's permit. Why we need a food handler's permit to serve coffee is beyond me, but as usual, we grin and go through the motions. So that was this morning.

I had no idea whether the training would take one hour or four, so I settle in for a boring day. It turns out to pretty much be a small lecture by one guy, telling us the following things: Wash your hands, bacteria grows on foods that are not boiling or frozen, and watch out for the typhoid! I tune in long enough to hear:

"So that pretty much wraps it up..."

YES!!! I think. Sweet mother of mercy this is all almost over. I was thinking about whether or not to buy a bottle of champagne in victory, when I tuned in again:

"...and you can drop off your urine and stool samples on Tuesday."


Turns out that for me to be able to serve coffee, I need to bring my poop in a cup of my choosing, my pee in another cup of my choosing, bring it to the hospital, wait for them to be sure I don't have worms, and only then are we good to go. When we told them that we had to get a physical before coming to Dominica, they graciously replied that if we can get our doctor to sign off on our certificate, then we can avoid the uncomfortable process.

And we'd better be able to find a doctor to do that, because as I told my boss this morning: I'm very fond of whom I work with, and I'm proud of what I've done to get Island Thrift to become a business, but there is no way that I am shitting in a cup.

No way.


  1. Excellent punchline. I especially love that this is your life. :P But then again, I just went and paid lots of money and jumped through a lot of hoops to get the certifications I need for my potential new job. But the difference between you and me is that for this job, for $19 an hour, I'd poop in a cup.

  2. hiLARious Mark. there is a small tear creeping down my cheek right now for all the silent laughing.

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  4. hahahahaaaaaaaaaaa. oh, mark. keeping my fingers crossed that stool samples are absent from your future!