The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

One step forward, one step back... 

.......in the march for Womens' Rights. A very plucky lady, Fawzia Muhammad Al-Mubarki, has set out on a career as a Passport Expediter. Woman Stamps Her Passport to Success A Passport Expediter? This probably needs a bit of explanation.

When I came to the UK and needed a driving licence, I got the paperwork, photo and a check together and sent them to an address in Wales. Three days later, my driving licence appeared in the post. So what, you may say. Well, in Saudi Arabia, we have massive unemployment, and a massive job creation scheme known as the Civil Service (although the "Civil" does not refer to the politeness of its servants). "Civil" servants pursue job preservation strategies that involve making everything as time-consuming, complicated and difficult as possible. Thus, to get a driving licence in Riyadh requires a trip to a compound in north-west of the city, and a visit to 8 separate windows in turn. When I say "visit to", I mean "queue at". And I do not mean a queue like a polite and orderly bus queue here in England. A Saudi Arabian queue is a semi-circular crowd, several men deep, all struggling and straining like an English rugby scrum, at whose center is possibly the window you want - but you'll never know until you get to the window, because they don't have signs like "collect your form here" or "enquiries", just "Window no.3". So initially your queueing may be totally abortive. However, go to the right 8 queues, in the right sequence, shove / push / wriggle your way gradually to the front to be served, and you'll eventually get your licence. It literally takes hours. You have to do it in person because they test your blood type and your eyes. If you aren't there when they open at 8 am, you run the serious risk of still being there at prayer time around mid-day; when everyone heads for the prayer hall and you've lost your hard-won position in the scrum at Window No. 7.

It's a bit different for passports and visas. They are a bit more modern there, and have tickets. Go in the morning, collect your ticket, go back sometime in the afternoon, take a seat in the massive hall facing the 3 civil servants who are at desks raised on a platform, go up to them when your number is called, and you're in business. Unless something is wrong with your paperwork, of course, in which case repeat the whole thing the next day. The hall is awful - too little air-conditioning - it's like being in the World Body Odor Championships. Every now and again some old Bedu wanders in out of the desert, he's never heard of tickets or waiting, he just goes up to the guys on the platform, there's then a shouting match between him, the civil servant, the person who was being served, and the cop on duty, which is quite good entertainment, it helps the time to go more quickly.

So, to get back to the point, a Passport Expediter is someone who gets a passport or visa on behalf of a client, for a fee, to save them wasting complete days of their life. I have to say I'm full of admiration for her. Personally, I'd rather eat glass than do that day after day, week after week, month after month. At least it's in the Passport Office, where they have tickets. I don't think she'd survive the queues for a Driving Licence. Unless, of course, she took along our friend with horns, in the posting from two days ago. Put him on a leash and she'd get to the window right away, no trouble.

Meanwhile, one step back.

Three Wives Kicked Out at Once

A man married to four women kept his promise that he would divorce his wife if she spoke to her married daughter, Al-Madinah newspaper reported. The reason was that the daughter had previously refused to give her father part of her salary. The father rejected his daughter and refused to allow her to enter his house and as a result, her mother was divorced. The husband then demanded his second wife to raise the children from the first wife whom he had divorced. She refused and he kicked her out. He then asked the third wife to take care of all the children and when she refused, he kicked her out as well. The fourth wife, fearing that she too would be kicked out, agreed to take care for all the children.

Happy Families, Saudi-style. The problem is, of course, that divorce is too easy for men. Get a lawyer, pronounce "I divorce thee", and you have just condemned your ex-wife to a lonely, embittered and frustrated existence. You won't be surprised to know that the process is rather more complicated for women divorcing men. I have long advocated that for a man to divorce his wife should be a 16-step process, administered by the Driving Licence Agency - that would do wonders for the stability of Saudi family life.

(Mrs A and I have been very happily married for many years. However when I suggest, in jest, that a second wife might give me a new perspective on life, she replies, in jest, that when her brothers have pegged me out on the ground in the desert, near the scorpion colony, that life might be somewhat shortened.)

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