April 26, 2015

Some Days

We went biking to the Mar Mikhael Street Festival. The theme was 'Discover Armenia Street', which coincided with the 100th commemoration of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, April 24, 1915
Some days.

My car was up for its annual quality check, the infamous mecanique. In order to have your mecanique done, you will need to come to the inspection office, with your car, and present your car papers.

But I couldn’t find my car papers. I looked and looked, and looked some more, but it was not to be found. Both hubbie and son use my car now and then, and between the 3 of us, someone had lost it.
No car papers, no mecanique. No mecanique, no car insurance. I call the mecanique for advice.
Madam, you must first report it lost at the police station.”

So this Saturday morning, 8 o’clock, I am on my way. I start early, because I know how these things go.  

Although not exactly in the middle of the Armenian neighborhood, which is Bourj Hammoud, this street leads right into it.
At the local police station, a lovely young man helps me. Impeccable English, always helpful with my less than perfect Arabic.
No problem, madam, sit down, let me get the paperwork. What did you lose?
“My car papers.”
“Your car papers? Have you already been to the Adlieh?”
Adlieh is the judicial department of the police force.
Ahh, you first must go to the Adlieh.”
“But I was told that if I lose something, I report it at the police station.”
“Yes, that is correct. Except for your car papers. Then you first need a paper from the Adlieh.”

Entertainment for the kids; a soap bubble magician
And so to the Adlieh I go. It is still early, Saturday morning and all that.  At the door of the Adlieh, my handbag is thoroughly searched by a police lady. Never have I had my bag searched this thorough. They must be worried about irate customers who lose their cool.

What do you want?”
“I lost my car papers.”
“First floor, first door.”

Up n the first floor, however, there are 7 doors, all around the stair case. This building is from a time when money was plenty, and corruption low, and so a real architect with a grand vision has designed this building. Doors all around.

Mar Mikhael is an extension of Gemayzeh, and bustling with activity in the evening. Little pubs and restaurants are everywhere. It is a very laid-back kind of atmosphere, very different from the constipated Zaitouny Bay crowd.

 I try a number of doors, all wrong, until I hit the right door.

A lady asks: “What do you want?”
“I lost my car papers.”
From a thick envelop a – clearly very often – copied paper is presented. In Arabic. And the lady leaves the room.

“Uhh, what do I do with this?” I ask the remaining man in the room
“Fill it in.”

But the paper is in Arabic, and although I probably could decipher some words, I wouldn’t know what the official terminology means, and I cannot write Arabic.
“Then go to Sami, in the cafeteria, he will fill it in for you.”
“Down stairs.”

Down I go.
“Are you Sami?” I ask the gentleman you find in every government building. He sells cookies, chocolate, coffee, stamps and copies official paper work for you.
“That I am! What can I do for you?”
“Can you help me fill this in?”
“Absolutely.” He obvioulsy does this all the time. He fills in my paper, sells me the necessary stamp (7,000 pounds), and sends me back up. “Same office.”

Back on the first floor, the lady looks it over. She stamps it, and says “Okay, next door.”
“Next door?”
“Yes, next door.”
“To do what?”
“To get a signature.”

Next door I go, where a man behind a very large desk seems very busy, but not too busy to give me my signature.

Then I am sent to yet a third office, where the signature gets stamps yet again, and then I am done.
Typical pre-war Beirut architecture. Which is slowly disappearing as ugly high-rise makes its way

Back to the police station.
The nice gentleman has now been replaced by a lady, equally friendly.

“What do you want?”
“I lost my car papers and I have already been to the Adlieh,”
She takes my paper from the Adlieh, enters the information by computer into the system, and tells me she will call me in 3 days. “What for?” I ask her.
“To get proof that you have reported it.”
“So now I am done?” I ask, hopefully.
“Nooooo. Now you have to go to the Nifa. You need to get a paper from them that you have lost your car papers otherwise you cannot get your proof from us that you have reported it. And then they cannot issue a new one

Of course. How could that logic have escaped me? It is by now 9:15. Not bad for two government offices. To the third it is. The Nifa is the place where you get a driver’s license, get your car registered, or have it inspected.

For those who have ever been to the Hamra Festival, or the street festivals in Bliss or Makhoul, the crowd in Mar Mikhael is totally different. Although Hamra is already a lot more cosmopolitan than the rest of town, here it is much younger, and very down to earth. No veil to be seen either, I though that was interesting.

But traffic is now in full force, and getting there takes a little longer. It doesn’t help much that I now need to go to the bathroom, and I inadvertently end up in a line of cars that are going for inspection. At the Nifa.

When finally making it to the Nifa, I am again directed to the first floor, and to “ask anybody.” There are, however, three buildings, with three first floors. When I finally make it, there’s like a thousand men, moving around like ants in an anthill, and an equal amount of windows with little holes in it, through which you can tell an attendant ton the other side of the window, what it is you want. And in front of each little window is sort of bunch. You sort of get into the bunch and wiggle your way to the front.

 I make it to the first window.
“I lost my car papers.”
“What’s the plate number?”
As I say the 7, first number in my plate, he replies, without looking up, ”Window 0.”
“Excuse me”?
“Window 0. Your plate starts with a 7. That’s window 0, here’s window 5.”

The Armenian flag in the background as pub owners get ready for more crowd
And so the entire process repeats itself. In front of window 0 this time. Around 11 o’clock I finally get my turn, and explain my problem.

And as he is typing my information into the computer, I see car registration papers churning out of his printer. Just like that. A simple stupid color printer prints car registration papers! Why did I not think of this before? I have a digital copy of mine, just in case I would lose it, like now. Why did I not think of that? I just print it out myself, the right size, laminate it, and no one would notice. This system breeds corruption like no other.

 When I finally get my proof that I have lost my car papers, I mention the man it would have been a whole lot faster if I had just printed mine out, like he does.

“Yes, it certainly would have. But now you cannot do that anymore,” he replied dryly.
“Why not?”
“Because yours has just been entered into the system as void.”

Some days.



Elie Touma said...

WOW !!! God help you and God be with you to persevere over this bureaucracy. Hope all goes well and the rest of the process may be easier.

Fadi said...

hahaha I just love reading your stories. I'm not laughing at you having to go through the misery that bureaucracy in Lebanon, but just how you make it sound like you wouldn't expect any less from them.
Love you blog!

Anonymous said...

No veil to be seen either, I though that was interesting. Can u rephrase that please ? elaborate what you mean with this.

Sietske said...

Ne veil, as in no veiled ladies. In stark contrast with street festivals in Hamra or Bliss, where there are more veiled than unveiled ladies. It's strange how west and east are still divided that way: https://www.facebook.com/Achrafieh2020/photos_stream

Anonymous said...

Yeah mind the demographics lady...am sorry for you. Your parents didnt really do a great job.

Anonymous said...

To the last Anonymous, not sure what your grievance is , but it sounds like you are extremely jealous of her lifestyle. Unlike you, Sietske is one fine specimen of humanity.

Anonymous said...

We are very thankful to Sietske for writing and sharing this nice blog, very long time reader.
It is very clear that she loves Lebanon and its people. If we had more people like her Lebanon would be a much better country.