Bureaucracy is a Terrible Beastie

Go to the Police Station over in Sweileh, they said. It’ll be a simple procedure, they said. Simple my arse. This is more old-school bureaucracy than an entire flotilla of ICPCs.

If I didn’t appreciate the orderly British queueing system before, I certainly do now. Arabs, it must be said, don’t do queues. It’s a total free-for-all here in the visa extension office of the Sweileh Police Station. Behind the crush for the three front desks, of which only one is currently manned, a Syrian woman is snoozing in one of the chairs whilst two of her excitable children race around the pram of a third. That Sudanese guy who keeps pushing in front is wandering about with a cheeky grin on his face. Half of the staff behind the glass look as if they’re somewhere far away – Fiji, perhaps – and Andrew is at breaking point, cussing and swearing at every wrong turn. What with the amount of wrong directions, backtracking and blue-stamping we’ve had to go through to get here, I don’t blame him. No, you need the blue stamp, right corridor, last door on the left. Yes, we need to renew our visas, not buy exit ones. No, you don’t need to wait. ‘You just have to keep asking,’ says Samir, an electrical engineer turned maths teacher with flawless English. He, like almost everyone else in this room, is waving a passport that is most certainly not Jordanian; in his case, it’s Kenyan, though I’ve seen examples of Thai, Philippine and Tanzanian as well. Immigrant labour, I don’t doubt; I’m told that cheap household workers are often brought here to pitiful salaries. What a world…

Yalla yalla yalla. At least the guy in the back of the room is actually looking at our passports now, albeit with just about the same interest a five-year old might show to an issue of The Economist.

Gah! Just as it looked like we were done here, our visa guy just dropped the passports face-down on the desk behind the glass and sauntered back to his desk. Very helpful of you, bud. Samir has left us, leaving us to face this sulky crowd of office workers and timid maidservants-to-be on our own. Come to think of it, we really are alone; everyone else seems to have concluded their affairs. The last African woman left the room a minute ago. It can’t take more than five minutes or so to sign a form or two, right? Especially when we’ve already filled out half of it… What the hell is taking our guy so long?

My bad. Our passports have been ready to collect for the last ten minutes. Turns out all we had to do was ask – just like Samir said. No papers, no waiting, not even any additional stamps required – just plain human interaction. Oh, bureaucracy. BB x

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