Friday, May 22, 2009

Efficiency Exploited

[I started this post yesterday, but didn't finish it until this morning.]

Every year we have to turn our passports in at the passport office here and get a new visa issued and put in our respective passports, DH's and mine. Each visa is good for a year. We've had to do this six? seven? times now... Actually, I've had to do it one extra time. I'll get to that.

We are going on a cruise in a couple of weeks. Our visas would expire while we were gone, so DH took the passports to the passport office to get new visas for us. Good thinking. DH got an e-mail yesterday morning saying our visas were ready and to go to the passport office to pick them up. Fine. DH golfed yesterday morning and conveniently forgot all about picking our passports up until five minutes before he had to leave for work, when he said "You need to go to the passport office and get our passports." Great. Means I have to get dressed. "Oh, and can you take my uniforms to the cleaners while you're out? And, if you're up there, you may as well check the mail, too." No problem, Honey. I'm thrilled about getting dressed and going out to do errands in the middle of the day when it is as hot as it can possibly be. So, after I did a few things around here that had to be done, and made a cake that I promised a friend I would make for her dinner party last night, I put on a t-shirt and pair of pants and headed out to do my errands.

At two o'clock yesterday afternoon there was NO parking anywhere. None. What is going on? The Commissary parking lot is NOT supposed to be used by people in the surrounding office buildings, but it is. There is a sign that says parking is limited to 60 minutes. If you can't do your grocery shopping and ALL of your other errands up there within 60 minutes - something is very, very wrong with you. The Commissary is just not that big. And get your mail? A minute in and out at the most. Okay, maybe two minutes if you can't remember your combination to your box because you don't get enough mail to remember it. We actually did have ONE piece of mail - sent locally [no postage for anything sent locally - isn't that odd?] - from our accountant. Anyway... To the passport office.

DH neglected to tell me that the passport office has moved. No biggie. Still in the same building and on the same floor in the same area. It has just been redone and the office is now like bank teller areas, with each passport worker having a desk instead of just one big counter. Oh - and there are few men working the passport office - where it used to be all men, there are now mostly women. I find the new entrance and go in - and go to grab my deli number - no numbers left in the dispenser. Not a good sign. The LED readout says, #389 at booth 3. There are several people there waiting. One man is at a chair [booth 3] and three women are behind the desk all smiling and chit-chatting with him. [Don't tell me for one minute that women here are not at fault for some of the goings on between unmarried men and them - I have seen it - first-hand, with my own two eyes. I don't know what he has said that he needs three of them working on just his issues. But, then, again, I don't know that all three women aren't married to the one man, either. Could have been...] I'm getting annoyed. No one seems to want to be doing any work. NO ONE! [Big surprise, right?!!]

I had plenty of time to wait my turn to take notice of what was going on around me. It was Wednesday afternoon and everyone was waiting for four o'clock [quitting time]. I have also worked in offices for a good part of my life and I know that on Friday's in the States that the mood in the office changes at three o'clock - we are all happy for the coming weekend. It is no different here - well - it is - but then, again, a lot of things are different here. The women in the passport office still have two hours left in their work day - and they should be working. Not a one of them was much interested in working, though.

I finally get someone to help me. A young woman who is covered head-to-toe in black. She does not have "slits" in her veil for her eyes - her nose and mouth are covered - but her eyes are fully exposed. I sit down at the chair in front of her desk and say, "I need to collect our passports. My husband got an e-mail stating they were ready to be picked up." She says, "I can give you your passport but not your husband's. Wives are not allowed to get their husband's passports." What? You're kidding, right? I've collected both of our passports for the last - however many years - and never had a problem. She says, "Those are the rules." Since when? This is just great. [And you do not think there is a sign anywhere in the entire office that says, "You are only allowed to retrieve YOUR passport" or something like that. You don't think that the e-mail that was sent to DH said anything that would indicate that the rules had changed. Of course not.] The young woman handed me a piece of paper and said, "You must sign here." The paper was a receipt saying I had received my passport. I refused to sign it, and said, "When you give me my passport I will sign the form. It says that I have received it and I haven't received it, yet. Just trying to follow the rules." Well! She got all flustered. Didn't know quite what to do. I simply explained to her that all she needed to do was to go and get my passport from wherever it is they keep them, and then when she gave it to me I would sign the form. She and I had to argue about that for a couple of minutes. Apparently everyone else signs the form before they receive their passports. She finally went and got my passport, and I signed the form. As I am signing the form, she opens my passport to my new visa, and says, "Please inspect your visa to make sure it is correct." To which, I responded, "It may well be correct, here, but if it is not correct in the computer it isn't going to matter what it says, here, is it?" She had no clue how to respond. No clue at all. And yes, that has happened to me - my visa said one thing in my passport, but when it came time to leave the country, I was almost not allowed to do so - in the computer it said I had only a SINGLE entry SINGLE exit visa, even though my passport says MULTIPLE entry MULTIPLE exit visa.

Then I asked, "Who do I need to talk to so that I can get my husband's passport? He is working and we need them for tomorrow morning." I was not about to leave without it. That there is a new rule is bullshit. I've been picking up my husband's passport for years. Although, part of me can understand why such a rule would be implemented. Someone at the passport office obviously must have made a mistake and given someone's passport to a spouse that shouldn't have received it. I can think of only two examples how this could happen: DH actually worked with a guy - he probably still works with him - that decided he had had enough of his wife's attitude about being here and he told her that she needed to go home and stay home. He wanted a divorce. He took his wife's passport and ripped her visa out of it. In essence, telling her that she no longer had the proper documentation to remain here as a resident. So, there is one reason that perhaps you shouldn't give a spouse's passport to the other disgruntled spouse. The other reason would be a Saudi man who has more than one wife. What if wife number 2 wanted to take a trip with only husband, and he had dropped their passports off to have something done to them [they don't need visas - they are locals]. Then, say wife number 4 was upset about wife number 2 getting to go on the trip and she went and picked up her husband's passport. She could hide it or do something with it to prevent him from traveling with wife number 2. What other possible scenarios could there be that there has to be a rule that a wife cannot pick up her husband's passport? Who knows...

Anyway, the young woman told me I could speak to her supervisor about getting my husband's passport. Great. Where is your supervisor? "Go down the hall it is the first door on the left." I repeat to her, go out this door to my right - I'm pointing the direction at the same time - and his office is the first door on the left. "Yes," she says. Okey dokey. So I leave, go down the hall and go in the first door on the left. I've been in this office. When my visa from last year got screwed up I had to go to that office to get it straightened out. There were two people working in that office. A man, sitting at the back desk, talking on the telephone. His desk had stacks and stacks of paperwork on it - so much that the phrase "buried in paperwork" could actually apply. At one of the three front desks there was one person working. A pudgy young woman wearing black but with her face fully showing. What was she doing? Reading a woman's magazine on her computer. Working very, very hard! I sat down at the chair in front of her desk, no doubt interrupting her leisure time. I said I needed to talk to the supervisor. She asked me what I needed and I told her I wanted to get my husband's passport. She didn't have a single clue as to anything going on in that office or around her. The best she could muster up was to glare at me with that "deer caught in the headlights" look. There was no communicating with her. Our conversation was convoluted beyond belief. "You need passport? Where your husband is he from?" No. I want to pick-up his passport. It is here. "He is with you?" Yes. The invisible man to my right - that is my husband. Do you see him, here, with me, you dimwit? I need to speak to your supervisor. It is quite obvious, to me, that not only are the lights off in that peanut-sized brain of yours, but no one is home and the property has been vacant for a long, long time. I am doing everything I can to remain on my side of her desk without jumping over it and grabbing her and trying to shake some sense in her. She points to the man at the desk behind her, working, and says "He is on the phone." As if I can't see that myself. How much is she being paid, I wonder. Whatever it is, it is too much. Paying her to stay home would be a better use of resources.

The man at the desk, covered with stacks and stacks of paperwork, who is talking on the phone, put the phone to his chest and asks me how he can help. I ask him if he is the passport office supervisor and he says no - go down the hall to the last door on the left. First door, last door. Same, same. Well, if you are coming in the building it would be the first door - but it would be on the right. The young woman in the passport office is just as clueless as pudgy woman in the visa office. I leave the visa office and go down to the last door on the left - or, what would be the first door if you were coming in - but on the right. Oh my gosh. What a waste of time. This is supposed to be a state-of-the-art efficient processing center. Nothing can be done without an e-mail to several departments and everything has to be entered into the "system" and everything is done with one single identification number. Honestly, how anything is ever accomplished in this country remains a mystery.

I find the "passport supervisor's office" and go in and there is a lone Indian man - a secretary - working at a desk. He has a window which faces the outside of the building which is actually the back entrance. I have been to this building enough times to know to come in the back entrance instead of going in through the front - which means I have miles of corridors to walk to get to this part of the building. It took me a few times, but I figured it out. I ask to speak to the supervisor and the Indian secretary tells me that he is not in - and he points outside - where there are a half dozen men in their thobes standing at the door outside, smoking. [There is no smoking in offices on our compound - so everyone spends all day outside smoking, instead of inside at their desks working.] Had I not have already spent half an hour being tossed from one clueless worker to another I probably would have had more patience about this than I did at this point. I am not going to wait. I head out the door and right to the group of men who are all talking and laughing and smoking - with a simple, "Excuse me. Which one of you is the passport supervisor?" I interrupt them all. A man speaks up, "I am. Can I help you?" Yes. I need to get my husband's passport. He puts his cigarette out and says, "Come with me." We go into the building, together, and into his office - the first door on the right - and he says, "Please. I want to see you smile. Sit down. Have a drink." No thank you - this is not a social call. He gets me a little juice box from the small refrigerator in the office and hands it to me. No. I don't want juice. If you have something stronger than juice... At this point I would be happy to accept that. Say, a shot of bourbon or something. Never mind. I just want my husband's passport. "We cannot give you his passport. It is against the rules." No. I have been getting his passport from this office for many years. He tells me I have not. Umm. Yeah. I have. We go around and around. I tell him that my husband is working and that we need the passports as we have plans. I lie and tell him we are planning on going to Bahrain in the morning - which, of course we are not - it is the weekend, tomorrow - there is no way we'd go to Bahrain on a weekend. He says, "I must speak to your husband." I tell him that that is impossible. My husband is flying and you will not be able to reach him. "What is his mobile number?" I give it to the man. He dials it - he has "speaker" on - and gets the Arabic recording that must say, "The number you are calling is not available" or something like that. "I cannot reach your husband." Yes. I know that. I told you that you would not be able to reach my husband. He is in the plane - up in the air 20 or 30 thousand feet - and his phone is switched off. He is a pilot. He is flying. What don't you understand about that? We go around and around and he says, "I will give you his passport this time." Oh, thank you! "I want to see you smile." To which I respond, "I will smile when I have his passport, but NOT until then." We go back to the passport office.

He goes to young woman who wouldn't give me DH's passport in the first place and says, "Give her her husband's passport." Then he asks me for my ID, which I give him, and he hands it to the young woman. She says, "We will need a copy." He says, "Yes. Go make a copy." She has just been instructed to do something below her pay grade and she is not happy about it. Means she has to get up out of her chair and walk ten feet to the copy machine, put my ID on the glass and push the green button. Oh my gosh. Some actual work! She makes the copy and comes back and hands me my ID. Then she goes and retrieves my husband's passport. [She could have saved herself an extra trip by getting the passport first and then coming back with both items, my ID and my husband's passport. That is far too logical and nothing works that way, here.]

The man looks at my husband's passport and looks at my ID. He is comparing last names. Yes. They are both the same. Have been for many, many years, and for the entire time we have lived here. He is clearly very American or Western looking in his passport - blonde, blue eyes, white skin. I look the same on my ID - clearly very American or Western, only with hazel eyes and a lot more hair that DH. Passport supervisor seems convinced that because our last name is the same we are probably married and that it will be okay to give me my husband's passport. He opens the passport to the new visa and says, "Please inspect the visa. Is it correct?" I tell him that the visa can say anything on it, that it doesn't matter what it says, what matters is how it is in the computer. He tells me it is the same in the computer. Oh, really? Like a mistake has never been made in this office! They why did my last visa say MULTIPLE entry MULTIPLE exit, but only allow me a SINGLE entry and a SINGLE exit? Never mind. Not worth going into with these people. I sign the form that I have received my husband's passport, I thank the man for his help, I flash him a quick and very insincere smile and leave. Dayum. What should have been so simple and taken five, maybe ten minutes... It has taken forty-five minutes.

Yep. That is efficiency for you. Or, everything but!


  1. I always show up with a band of armed men and we ride our horses into the lobby. That gets results. Or may Pancho Villa did that, i forget. HE never had to wait for a beaurucrat.

  2. It was an unbelievable waste of time. I probably did not do the whole situation justice with my description, vermindust.

    And wasn't that Willie Nelson? Whiskey for his men, and beer for his horses...

  3. Bravo,Bravo, mission accomplished.You deserve the Purple Heart :)

  4. I don't know if I deserve a Purple Heart, Rasputin, but something purple. Preferably in a stemmed glass... Dry. Not sweet. Sterling? Alexander Valley? Yeah. Purple.


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