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:

guard it with your life
guard it with your life | Source

Passport Lost

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.

Passport Regained

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.

It isn't.

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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Comments 28 comments

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Those high notes can be tricky, but you did a grand job! Qatar sounds like a tough place to get action. You obviously need saintly patience when dealing with authority there.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Ah well, one shot, live - no retakes :)

Yes. The problem is the Government offices are mostly staffed by quota, with people who have no real interest in being there. And such systems as are in place are of the carbon paper era.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thank you :)

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Delightful little dittie of a song! We spent an entire day in Rome getting my husband a replacement passport and the line to do so was a block long to start with. Real sure he didn't "lose" his and that some young thugs thought any man of that size (6'5" 250 pounds) was a challenge they couldn't resist on the bus when it came up missing.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Oh, too funny. Bureaucracy is a self-perpetuating descent into idiocy. Hang on, I'll go listen to the song --

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

yep, love that one. Now, whyever would they stop live shows and take the stage away???

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Jerilee - Rome is notorious for pickpockets and hustlers of all flavours. Lots of people get caught out there.

Teresa - Yes, bureaucracy is only good for spelling tests.

They took away the stage because - the resident filipino band was so popular the place was always full and packed at weekends. They decided if they lost the stage they could gain one more table. They did. Now they have lots of empty tables. To compensate for that loss, they raised the prices. Now they have even more empty tables. Slaka logic.

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

Oh the irony of the lost passport-- right there in the police station all the time-- gives you real confidence doesn't it? Well, loved the tale of burgeioning beaurocracy and at the end just had to go watch the video of your perfomance. Loved it!!! Bravo Paraglider--nicely done :-)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Robie - in Doha, or Slaka, you have to make your own entertainment, how you can. But officialdom is not entertaining, ever!

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

I chuckled at your mention of counting the men in the typing booths, I think I would have done the same. LOL! Its nice to read that a Filipina lady returned your lost passport, but on the other hand if you hadn't experienced what you did, we wouldn't have had an entertaining glimpse of officialdom in your side of the fence. :)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi VioletSun - it didn't feel entertaining at the time, but then I suppose it wasn't much fun being Julius Caesar on the Ides of March. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. My taxi driver did well out of driving me round all these offices!

Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Reminds me of Larra's "Vuelva Usted MaƱana". I commiserate, Para, but at the end of the day, all is well that ends well, I suppose :-)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Well, I got through it and am still in the country, so I guess everything's OK. Thanks Elena :)

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Quite a runaround! Nice Miltonic twist you've put to it!

Loved the music - Waterloo Sunset used to be a favourite :)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Shalini - Waterloo Sunset is also in my repertoire, but it works better with a full band, for the harmony vocals. Ray Davis was/is a talented guy:)

magdielqr profile image

magdielqr 7 years ago

Excellent Hub!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi magdielqr - thanks for that :) Your 'qr' doesn't stand for Qatar, by any chance?

quicksand profile image

quicksand 7 years ago

Oooh! That was quite a nightmare! Thank GOD it was short lived. I can imagine the hassle you have gone through, and I am real glad you got it back! Take care ... of your passport too!

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

This is just great! Just think how much higher the unemployment figure would be without bureaucracy! Got to find something to keep these guys busy, yes?

Glad it had a happy ending though.

Love the singer and the song - thanks for sharing. Funny how different you look from what I had imagined! That African avatar had misled my imagination.

Love and peace


Jess Killmenow profile image

Jess Killmenow 7 years ago from Nowheresville, Eastern United States

What a nightmare. Glad you got through it!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Quicksand - the worst thing about it is knowing that if some emergency happens back home, without a passport there's no way you're going to leave the country.

Tony - I remember noticing in Bombay that it took seven people to sell me a book in a bookshop - four were carrying out a process (ledger entry, cash handling, wrapping, receipt issue) and three were supervising. Your comment made me wonder if you've read 'The Singer, not the Song'? Worth seeking out.

Jess - thanks! I seem to have survived it :)

quicksand profile image

quicksand 7 years ago

Whenever I am overseas I leave my passport, travelers checks and ticket at the reception or put them in a polythene bag and tuck it into my shirt! In some countries you need the passport to encash travelers checks.

My hats off to that Filipina!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Quicksand - that's sensible on a trip or holiday, but not quite applicable when you are living in the foreign country for extended periods. And yes, 3 cheers for the Filipina!

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

oh good for you, a filipina returned it, it could have been a waiting time again just for the processing...

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hey, thanks for reading so many of my hubs tonight :) I'm off to eat now. See ya!

neysajasper profile image

neysajasper 7 years ago

The situation which is focused there is critical enough. Now having a picture view of such happenings one can face this problem with strategy. System of approaching the concerned authority is well defined. These facts educate the readers.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Neysajasper - we meet again! Yes, this was a long complicated process which worked out well in the end.

Brian 5 years ago

That seems like a piece of cake.

Im doing this in Baghdad and getting no help from the UK Embassy in Iraq (which no longer process applications), France(which process overseas applications) and the UK (who France send the application to..

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