Lost Passport - the Nightmare of Officialdom in the Middle East
A Miltonic Epic in Two Parts
Last Wednesday evening, I lost my passport, getting into, inside, or getting out of an unlicensed private taxi. I discovered the loss on Thursday morning, when I was sorting out my bits & pieces for work. I dismantled my apartment, as one does, and found lots of hidden goodies, but no passport. I had to admit the inevitable, and start the replacement process.
Back in the cold war era, Malcolm Bradbury (of The History Man) wrote a tongue in cheek travel guide to Slaka, an imaginary Soviet satellite state. I have long believed that this is where I live, because of the local addiction to bureaucracy and officialdom. Some insist it is the State of Qatar, but I remain convinced I've found Slaka. Read on, and judge for yourself:
When you lose your (British) passport in Slaka, you phone the Embassy who give very clear instructions: report the loss at Capital Police Station. They will make out a report form that you will need for renewing your visa. Then download and complete a C1 Passport Application Form. Bring the form, two photographs (one of them countersigned) and the fee to the Embassy. Renewal takes ten working days. Sounds easy. Here's what really happens:
You report to the Capital Police Station and after queuing for half an hour they tell you you should have gone first to Airport Immigration for a Certificate of Entry. This is a document that states officially that you are in the country - apparently presenting yourself in the Police Station is not evidence enough. You go to Airport Immigration where (after queuing) they tell you you should have gone to Main Immigration, a Government building about seven miles away. You go there and eventually get directed (after much queuing) to the correct office where no-one seems remotely interested in deciding whose job it is to be helpful.
Finally, you reach a tall friendly Moroccan guy who explains that they can only authorise the letter, but it first has to be typed up in the typing pool. You have to go back out, across the car-park to a row of unmarked portacabins, wherein sit fourteen men (you'll have plenty time to count them), in fourteen booths, each with two ancient manual typewriters (one Arabic, one English), a stack of blank forms for every occasion, and a clamour of customers waving papers. As there's nothing resembling a queuing system, you choose the smallest clamour (no.6) and muscle in with the best. When you finally get your typist's divided attention and explain the requirement, he sends you to clamour no.1 where it all starts over.
After about an hour, clutching your typescript, you stagger back across the car-park and up the stairs where, fortunately, your friendly Moroccan has not gone to lunch.
So, my tall, friendly Moroccan takes one look at the typescript and says: right letter, wrong form. Then he says something that sets him apart from the rest of Slaka officialdom and assures his place in heaven: Wait here while I go to the typing pool and have it changed for you! What would have taken me another hour, takes him five minutes, and after another five I'm heading back to the Police Station, where they take the form and say my official Certificate of Loss will be ready in two days time at 11 a.m.
But at 1:30 it is and I take myself off to the British Embassy with a completed C1 Passport Application and the necessary photos and fee (799 Qatari Riyals). Ten working days, they say.
The next morning, the Embassy calls me. When they started processing the application, my old passport showed up on their database as lost and found. Apparently, a Filipina lady had found it in the street and handed it in to Capital Police Station. Not for the first time, I find myself grateful for the Philippine presence in the Gulf. Best of all, she had done this on the night I lost it. So, three days before, when I was in the station reporting the loss, my passport was resting in a drawer a mere six feet away. Joined-up policing strikes again.
In fact, I can't blame the police for not making the connection. Lost passports are apparently put into unmarked envelopes and bundled into a drawer. I'd feel lost too.
My only remaining regret, and it's a big one, is that the police either did not take, or more likely, did not retain contact details for my Filipina saviour, apart from a Christian name. Thanks and a reward are due if we ever meet.
A llittle more about Slaka
You may be wondering why I was carrying my passport on my person when I wasn't going anywhere. Here in Slaka if you want a drink in a bar, you have to present either your Qatari ID card or your passport. Copies are not accepted. I don't have an ID because I do not have a local sponsor. I am an independent contractor, and technically a visitor to the country. So I need to carry my passport everywhere.
For more tales from Slaka please visit The Paranormal Hotel, my Middle East blog, where you can even see Paraglider and Mr G performing in a live rendition of the Kinks classic, Sunny Afternoon. Don't rush ;)
Thanks for reading!
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