How to Contact Me

Life on the central plains can get awfully lonely at times, so feel free to drop me a line! Here's how:

D'Abravanel, Jed
B.P. 6



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Battles With Bureaucrats

Life in America may be considered constrained by bureaucratic red tape by some, but in comparison to Morocco it is a cake walk. A three hour wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles may set you back half a day, but the application process for a Carte de Sejour may set you back three weeks - and still not arrive after all paperwork is completed and submitted for another nine months; if you are lucky. And if you aren't, well, then you are like everyone else - because from what i've seen no one is that lucky with the Bureaucrats.
Case in point, an AIDS (SIDA in french) testing that I was helping to plan with a Moroccan association in my souk (market) town. In order to work on planning this testing I came in to my Souk town bright and early at 8 am on a Monday - for what looked to be a half days worth of work - I hoped to return to my village and my own bed by the time the sun set. Rather my early morning meeting with the President of the local association got pushed back - as he disappeared into the ether - until 8 pm that night. It wasn't too big a deal, and I was still patient at that point. We discussed logistics, came up with an action plan and a list of government officials whom we would need to contact. We agree to meet the next day at 10 am to start the process of getting all the relevant signatures - from the local clinic, from the office of the caid and from the president of the commune. The next day rolled around - and we at 10 am - as I sat drinking a cup of tea with one of my Souk town volunteers, Logan, who should appear at the cafe where we sat if not the Nurse Chief Major of the local clinic - just the man who I needed to meet with! What luck, we started to chat, inquire as to each others health,that of our respective families and of course discuss the weather. After a few moments the president of the association who I was working with appeared as well, everyone who needed to be involved in the conversation that needed to happen was present. The president brought up the topic of the SIDA testing, the Nurse Chief Major smiled shook his head and chuckled slightly.
"A SIDA testing here? Wonderful, who gave you this idea?"
My friend the president of the association informed the Chief Major that it was the provincial minister of health who had contacted him to organize the testing. The Chief Major nodded sagely and slowly brought his hand up to his head, ran it through his thinning silver speckled hair and brought it back down to rub his chin before replying.
"Of course, we will talk about it tomorrow when you come by the clinic. Come in the morning, after all today is a holiday."
And so ended the work that was accomplished on my second day in my Souk town.
The next day rolled around and by ten the president of the local association and I had met. We soon dived into the morass of the bureaucratic world of Morocco, and with deft handling on the part of the president and with me standing by smiling and occasionally inquiring as to peoples health and other trivialities, basically doing my job of adding legitimacy to the whole undertaking, by 11:30 we were done and all the permissions needed were gained and the project planned. Then I decided to work on getting permission for my upcoming vacation to Italy. Now Peace Corps regulations require that I notify the local ministry of health if I plan on taking vacation days, I don't need their permission but I do need proof, in the form of a signature, that I made them aware of my intentions before submitting the form to the Peace Corps for approval. The Peace Corps doesn't care who signs it - so long as it is signed by counterpart or higher authority.
Upon showing the pertinent form to the Chief Major, who I ran into on the way to the Mosque, he told me to show it to the clinic doctor as he didn't have permission to sign such a form. Rather then argue I acquiesced and left my Chief Major to his daily prayers, and made my own way to the house of my souk towns doctor. Upon showing him the form he also refused to sign - saying once again it wasn't within his powers to sign such a form for me. At this point I called my assistant programming manager, Rachid, after explaining the problem I handed the phone to the doctor to straighten the issue out. Suffice it to say it didn't get any straighter - rather the doctor refused to sign it before taking to the Provincial Minister of Health in Khenifra the next day. So he asked me to return the day, in the morning, and stated that after he talked to the Minister permission (and a trip to Italy) would be mine. So be it. I would stay in my Souk town another day.
Moments after the previous interaction had come to its conclusion I received a call from Mina - the Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer - stating that I needed to go into the Gendarmery the next day. Why? Because a new rotation of gendarmes had recently transitioned in and the new Chief Gendarme couldn't find record that I had applied for a Carte de Sejour, and didn't believe that I had a receipt for one or was legally in the country. At this point I was wavering between an all encompassing rage on one hand and a black pit of despair on the other, one deeper than the Abyssal Trench. But instead I just went and had a cup of tea - thankful that at least I had good friends in my souk town who wouldn't mind me spending yet another night on their couches.
The next day I presented myself at 10 am at the clinic, and the doctor promptly showed me into the office and called the Ministry of Health. The line was busy - perplexed he came to a final decision.
"What you must do is submit the paper to Khenifra, we can mail it, which will take 15 days. Or you may hand deliver it - in which case it will be signed as soon as presented. But I will not sign it. It is not permitted."
I then ripped my hair out - strand by strand. Or rather I felt like doing so, rather I politely excused my self from the clinic silently cursing him and the system in which he operates. When my counterpart had submitted his own vacation forms to the ministry that 15 day period had turned into two months - and he did not receive the necessary signature until the day of his own vacation. As for traveling to Khenifra - I did not relish the thought of six hours of travel on a cramped, cold, overcrowded bus - plus likely a day of having to wait in a small stifling office as Ministry official after official stopped in to greet me and submit me to cup after, after cup of over sweetened tea. Instead I called my assistant programming manager and told him what had occurred.
"Ohhh, don't worry about it Jed. Just submit it - we don't need the signature."
Of course, if the clinic knew I hadn't submitted it, issues would emerge. I'm not going by again until after I get back.
As for the Chief Gendarme, after five minutes in his office he had found the form he hadn't been able to find. The key was he looked through his files - of course he couldn't have done that if I hadn't been in his office. With that cleared up he sent me on my way - saying I should have my Carte de Sejour in no time and that I should come back before leaving to Italy to get my receipt of application stamped so that I don't get turned back at customs. It has now been a month, went back in today and no carte de sejour and now I must return next monday to get another form.

Oh and the SIDA stage? It got canceled when it snowed - the officials from Khenifra didn't want to try and blaze a way through the 1/8 of an inch that covered the road. So is life in Morocco.