Holidays have a way of somehow bringing often much-needed bureaucracy to a halt. Summer holidays and the extended Eid holidays which Saudi residents enjoy are no exception. Add to that the effect of COVID-19 that has been around for some months now, and getting things done sometimes takes some doing.
The tendency for bureaucrats to relax their work ethics and attendance as well becomes more pronounced as the holidays approach. Last year, in the midst of the summer vacation my daughter found that her passport had almost expired, and as she was travelling abroad for school on a Saturday, the first day when everyone is back on their desks after the holiday, her urgency suddenly became my emergency.
After making several contacts, I finally found someone who referred me to a working number at the passport office. The officer who replied affirmed that they had a section open for emergencies during the holidays. And what greater emergency did I have than a daughter whose flight was booked on the same day when everybody was back at work.
The staff is just recovering from the month of Ramadan, and now maybe some of them are taking it easy and resting. It is the holidays, you know.
And so I made my way to the passport office in a near desolate part of town. When I eventually got to the emergency desk, the officer advised me to come back on Saturday. “But why then,” I hollered. “My daughter is leaving that night and there is no hope of getting another reservation until after the New Year. She cannot miss out on her school preparations. And besides, you do have an emergency desk to deal with such situations. Saturday may be just too short and too late to get it renewed in time,” I persisted.
His reply? “I’m sorry, but we’re open today only to handle emergencies,” he replied, failing to note the look of bewilderment on my face. “And besides,” he droned on, “the officer in charge of such matters will be back on duty on Saturday. It’s the holidays, you see”.
‘On vacation till Saturday’
A vehicle crashed into my parked car almost ten days ago. The matter was referred to the district police station where reports were drawn and blame was assigned. I was to get my car fixed by the errant motorist. The motorist was held pending compensation and further investigation.
After a few days when I heard nothing about reparations, I dropped in at the station inquiring about the progress of my little claim. I was shuffled from section to section until I could it take no more. Seizing the moment, I marched into the office of the head honcho in charge and demanded an explanation.
“Your case is with Officer Musallam. He’s got all the papers and the reports. They’re locked up in his desk,” he replied almost apologetically. “And where is this Officer Musallam?” I snapped back somewhat agitated. “Well, he’s on vacation till Saturday. Come back then and the matter will be sorted out in no time. It’s the holidays, you see.”
This past weekend I had trouble getting cash from any of the neighbourhood ATM dispensing machines. Driving from one dispenser to the other, I was greeted with an annoying ‘temporarily out of service’ sign on the little screen. After the fourth attempt with the same holiday greeting, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I called the toll-free number posted at the cash dispenser. After an agonising wait, someone finally answered on the other end. “Now look here,” I yelled into the mouthpiece. “I am trying to get some money and all the machines I’ve gone to are out of service. It is my money and I want it now. Just what the heck is going on.”
His answer? “You know a lot of people draw out funds during the holidays and these machines get emptied out very quickly. It’s hard to keep up with the demand. Next time you should draw enough money before the holidays to guarantee that you don’t run out. Try a few more machines a bit further away from your neighbourhood. I’m sure there will be one that will cater to your needs.”
“But why not work harder to ensure such things don’t happen at all?” I demanded. “Why can’t these machines get extra service during these times. I can understand one ATM or two. But not all those that I’ve had the misfortune of going to. Is it asking too much to get what I want and when I want it? It is mine, you know!”
“Yes, I know” was his reply. “But the staff is just recovering from the month of Ramadan, and now maybe some of them are taking it easy and resting. It is the holidays, you know,” he offered without any further substance. Ramadan was almost two months gone, but can you argue successfully with a mouthpiece?
The next time holidays roll around, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I’m just going to take a holiday from it all!
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.