Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Cat de Sejour: Part the First

My, my - where has the year gone? Is it really time for me to reapply (or in the case of Mr. Cat in Rabat to apply) for the right to legally reside in this country? Must we expose ourselves to what was essentially Kafka's living model for the Castle? – just as Cairo's Mugamma Building (a 20-storeyed nightmare replete with winding corridors & unlabelled doors) was Dante's inspiration for all 7 Circles of Hell?

Time – even Arab time – waits for no one.

Alas, yes: it's time to apply for our cartes de sejour. This will be Mr. CinR's first descent into bureaucratic hell; since (CinR says dismissively) this is a mere renewal for me and to the best of my knowledge there are few changes to last year's Entanglement in Red Tape Follies I am rather confident that:

1) I know what I'm doing; and
2) I can actually do it.

So cocky am I that I intend to further complicate the issue by attempting to exchange money on the very day that I am applying for my card renewal. You see, the only one of the benefits of having a carte de sejour is the milksop ability to change dirhams into Euros - at a staggering maximum of 15,000 dirhams a year (or €1,500).

If this were a Greek myth, I would have been turned into a three-headed she-goat & banished to
Macedonia for my hubris.

In the simplest of terms, the process is two-tiered:

1) the accumulation of authenticated supporting documents at a police station in Agdal; and
2) the completion and submission of the application forms (note my not injudicious usage of the plural) &
authenticated supporting documents to the Préfecture de Police downtown; namely:

* 2 copies of the Demande d'Immatriculation form;
* 2 copies of the Fiche d’Immatriculation card (which our employer failed to provide us with);
* 1 authenticated copy or original (original! bwhahahahahahaha!!!) of your Attestation de Travail (work certificate);
2 authenticated copies of the main photo page of your passport;
2 authenticated copies of the passport page which bears your entry stamp into Morocco;
* 1 authenticated copy of your Contrat de Bail (or rental agreement);
* 9 small recent photos;
* a bulleted c.v. (presumably for use by the secret police);
* 1 60 Dirham stamp;
* the souls of 2 baptised Christian infants.

As I peruse my checklist, a little black cloud appears – any confidence I once had effectively disappears. My rental agreement has on it my name only, nor do I and Mr. CinR share the same surname (not unusual as we are not siblings). To complicate matters, I have no wish to contact my landlord and ask him to rewrite the lease as this will give him a gaping window of opportunity to increase my rent. Nonetheless, Mr. CinR needs to have proof of his domicile. I soon learn that a document from me stating that we are married should be sufficient. As an added bonus, I decide to make a photocopy of our marriage certificate and have it authenticated as well. Confidence, once again, begins to course through my veins.

I would have expected the savvier reader to have arched an eyebrow or two at my liberal use of the word “authenticated”. This is the point where our hydra seemingly simple two-tiered system begins to sprout heads as each is sliced off bifurcate into something decidedly less simple. In order to authenticate your photocopies, you must make a little excursion to the neighbourhood police office where the system of authenticating documents divaricates again:

1) the receipt of photocopied documents, their verification against the originals, and the receipt of 2 dirhams per page by Person A; and
2) the affixation of a pretty green government stamp to each copy by
Person B.

Why the individual who verifies the documents and accepts your dirhams cannot then stick a stamp to the copies is a mystery to me but whose answer probably lays buried deep within Morocco’s bureaucratic morass (a French legacy) and chronic unemployment.

Off we go to Place Ibn Yassine authenticate our paperwork!

The Neighbourhood Police Station

What an interesting building! There is no helpful information desk! There are only doors radiating around a central atrium. Also radiating around the central atrium are lots & lots of people. None of these people look particularly happy. There are no helpful signs in French – Arabic, Arabic everywhere! Currently, my acquisition level of Arabic is 12 letters. What is one to do? But wait! – there is a sign in French which says photocopie – no need for a dictionary! Inwardly we rejoice and outwardly we make a beeline for the photocopying room where there are many many people clutching papers and dirhams.

But something is different. I pause. Ahhh – the room has changed somewhat since my last visit: it is now graced with several professional-looking cordons to encourage the orderly queuing of its clients. I am impressed.

Then I stop laughing and join the throng. Not knowing which employee to approach (again, the signs are only in Arabic), Mr. CinR and I take our cue from Julius Caesar and divide and conquer – we each push towards opposite ends of the high L-shaped desk with our own papers and dirhams in hand. As I am fairly petite and, on a very good day, sort of cute, I am fully confident that one of the Nice Male Employees hoping for my phone number will take pity on me and allow me to jump the pulsing horde of people.

At this point I note that there is an electronic numbering system, its LED display affixed before each employee. Presumably, numbers are called and clients are dealt it priority sequence. The displays are neither turned on, nor is the ticket issuing machine at the front door.

Then I stop laughing and in less than 3 minutes, I am waved to the front by a Nice Male Employee. Mr. CinR passes his share of our paperwork over the mob as surreptitiously as circumstances will allow and retreats to the atrium. I am concerned that his presence might hinder my thus far excellent customer service. A moment later and my dirhams are exchanged for a chit which will be redeemable for the authenticated documents. Because we are dangerously nearing the time for the afternoon siesta, I am concerned that we will have to leave and return. I ask my Nice Male Employee how long I have to wait. In French, he answers,

“The room next door.”

Experience tells me where I have to retrieve my documents but I’m pretty certain that I had initiated my request with the “when” word not the “where” word. Unlike English, in French they bear little resemblance to each other. Bravely, I try again.

“The room next door.”

Hmmm, this is getting a little tiresome. As I prepare for a third attempt (wondering how more pronounced I can make the q in quand), a young girl behind me taps my shoulder and says, “15 minutes”. I thank her, and still somewhat confused at my inability to properly articulate quand, I rejoin Mr. CinR. We join the assembly of people in the atrium; absurdly optimistic, we repair to the pick-up area fifteen minutes later. We sit. We wait. Another 5 minutes go by, then 10. I begin to recognize the faces of those behind me in the photocopying room - they pick up their documents and leave. I approach the Frazzled Woman at the desk - making her my friend will be a challenge. I gently push my chit towards her. She looks it and asks how long I've been waiting. I tell her –truthfully – 25 minutes. She then asks what I am waiting for, and I rhyme off a litany of documents. She looks under her shelf and says that they are not yet ready. Duh. Five minutes later, I re-approach the desk. She looks under her shelf and says that they are not yet ready. Five minutes later, on my third approach, she calls for assistance. A man appears and after a mildly heated exchange, he rummages through a wire basket overflowing with notarized documents. To be fair, he digs about 2 inches into the vesuvian stack of papers and announces, “They’re not there”.

“Could you look through all of them?” I suggest. With a withering stare, he returns the basket to the shelf.

At this point, I should mention that the pick-up room is attached to the drop-off room by an adjoining door; the likelihood of them actually going astray seems, in my mind, not very likely.

Again, I approach the woman. With a huff she disappears and drags my original Nice Male Employee from the other room. It is her belief that he will recognize the documents (as my description and the presence of our names on the documents clearly failed on that score). Nice Male Employee cannot find the documents but he remembers me. He smiles. He returns to his room. Frazzled Woman begins to scream but we think, not at us. Various employees begin to look under piles of paper and scurry from one room to the next. Moments later, Nice Male Employee returns bearing a sheepish expression and our documents, and slips behind a partition. Stamp stamp, stamp – voila! Our documents are ready!

Mr. CinR and I return to the atrium and double-check our folder. In it (along with our documents) is a rather important looking document that does not belong to us. Stupidly, instead of trying to find its owner in the atrium and selling it back to him for a substantial profit, I return it to the Frazzled Woman. She does not thank me. I have failed in making her my friend.

We wonder if that morning's experience would have been any different if I hadn't known what we were doing. We choose not to spend too much time considering this but come to appreciate the merits of not applying for a carte de sejour at all, but rather exiting & re-entering the country every 90 days as a tourist. So, authenticated documents in hand, we briefly consider taking a taxi downtown to submit our applications. But we have had enough for one day; instread, we go in search for refreshments, distilled or brewed.

Stay tuned for next installment of "the Cat de Sejour".

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