Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Mother Of Bureaucracy

I recently sold my jeep, having found that it wasn't in the greatest of shape after being dropped into a canal a few months ago. I wasn't in the car when she went swimming. I'd loaned her to a neighbour who needed to do something one night, and he was run off the road by a large dump truck that was tooling along going the wrong way on a one way road without lights. Welcome in Egypt. Happily, no one was hurt, but the jeep has never been quite the same. After some searching around, I found someone who would give me a pretty decent price for the car and went into Maadi to transfer the ownership of the car.

The place where this sort of thing is done is one of those offices that most tourists and even most ex-pats never see during their stays in this fair country. Shahr el Qari is a very special place. I'm not sure what it would be somewhere else, but here it is where all powers of attorney are registered, where all sales of property such as cars, land, buildings are registered and it has to be the most crowded chaotic place in the universe. Because most of my late husband's companies were based in Maadi, and we lived in Maadi, I had occasion to get to know the people in our local Shahr el Qari fairly well while I was sorting out his estate. I think hardly a week went by when something or other wasn't being registered and the staff there got to know me rather well. I guess that there weren't too many foreign women coming in there that often.

I've always gone in to the Shahr el Qari with someone to run interference for me and to chase down the right people to sign, stamp and register the pertinent papers. I'm spoiled and I appreciate it very much. To do anything in that office you have to have paid at least three or four fees and collected the right selection of coloured papers to show to the people working at the desks. This time my faithful Mohamed Said (in the striped sweater) worked his way through the crowds in the office to collect the scraps of paper and the signatures we needed to finish the sale of the car. Honestly, if I had to do it myself, the process could take days.

At one point in the process we reached the stage where the director of the Shahr el Qari, a very friendly woman about my age, had to stamp things, and we came into her office. She had to send Mohamed back out into the crush to register or sign or stamp something else, so she offered me the use of the sofa in her room. While I was sitting there waiting for whatever had to be done, a man came in with his small son in tow on a similar paper chase. The director appeared to know this gentleman as well and suggested that he could leave the boy on another chair in the office while he also chased stamps, papers and signatures. The child settled in the chair and happily munched away on potato chips while he watched visitors come into the office to receive the final stamps on whatever it was they were doing that day. The two of us were probably the only people in the entire office who were relaxed that day because it was a Thursday and the whole place was closing down early at noon, making the work rather frantic.

After approximately an hour and a half of playing sardines in a series of four or five adjoining offices, I was called to a desk where they looked at my passport to be sure that I was actually who I claimed to be and then they asked in Arabic just what it was that we were doing with these papers to be sure that no one was having me sign something bogus, and then wrote immensely long sentences in Arabic in a large register which I had to sign three times in different places, and we were done. We took a paper to the car's new owner where we received a plastic bag containing bundles of money to be counted and verified and ultimately deposited in a bank. Mabrouk. The car is sold.
copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani