Parking in Shmesani has always been a horror, one that has been multiplied in recent months and years with the construction of the near by Abdali district and subsequent infrastructure work. The Canadian embassy has never been a great diplomatic institution in Jordan and being a dual citizen I have often, over the years, run in to problems with the embassy, the least of which is parking. Pulling up to the embassy the other day during mid-morning, I parked haphazardly in a temporary spot, with the belief that I would only be a few moments given the fact that I was merely going to hand in documents for renewing a passport. I was right. It was actually less than a few moments. At 10:50am, the guard outside informed me that the embassy was winding down operations for the day, specifically for passport renewals. The hours I was given were 9 to 11am, which seemed absurd to me. The guard, perhaps sensing my frustration, asked where I’d come from. What does it matter, I asked. I might as well be coming from Zarqa if it’s mid-morning and you’re already closed.
I had to come back the next day of operations which was nearly four days later.
Today, I tried again. Double parked again, thinking this shouldn’t take too long. This time I was wrong. It took over an hour and a half to go from standing outside in the street to being body checked, to turning off my cell phone and handing it in, to waiting in a room where there were a maximum of 4 other people. This last revelation almost knocked me off my feet. After waiting for so long downstairs amidst a line of no more than 5 people, then taking the elevator the fourth floor, I was half expecting the place to be packed with citizens. But four people?
A total of two employees were serving these four people, and by the time they got to me it was well over 40 minutes. Having got there at 9:40am, I half expected the clock to turn 11 and for someone to come and tell me that that was it for the day. In the end, I walked in to a little box of a room with a window and an employee. There was so much bullet-proof glass between us at that moment that even sound waves had difficult penetrating, and I couldn’t hear a thing she said.
It turns out, after all this frustration, my application was incomplete. The employee kept telling me to “read the instructions” and “you have the read the instructions”, as if I was illiterate. I had read the instructions and was confident the things she asked for were non-existent but at this point, there’s nothing to argue after being there for so long. Beyond the scope of the embassy’s operations (or lack there of) renewing a Canadian passport abroad is a bureaucratic mess. The list of requirements and the attention to minor details is so absurd it will make you want to curl up in the fetal position and cry while you rock back and forth on the ground. Searching for a guarantor, a person the Canadian government considers to be important, such as a doctor or lawyer, is always a nightmare, but actually easier to do in Jordan than in Canada where few people know you personally, and even fewer are willing to sign any official documents. Every Jordanians knows at least one doctor or lawyer in their family or circles who’s willing to put a stamp on things. One of the mistakes I had committed was not having my guarantor stamp and sign both a photo and the application. He had forgotten to stamp the application.
I left abruptly, took the elevator down to the ground level, handed the security woman the key she had given me for the phone locker, only to have her tell me to get it myself. Suddenly the phone was no longer a serious threat. Naturally, to make matters worse, I went out to find my car had been ticketed.
This process is actually no different than in past years. The only altered variable is the worsening parking condition and the embassy seems adamant about remaining in one of the most congested areas of the city, in a building that packs them like sardine cans. Years ago you had to literally scan the skies for the Canadian flag to identify the sardine can of a building. Now, you just search for the roadblocks.
And then experience them.
About a month ago, I decided to renew my Jordanian passport, which was on the brink of expiration. I had heard that the passport department had made some serious improvements but thought to myself that such reports were probably exaggerated, or, like all things Jordan, a government department had merely elevated itself from a D status to a C status. Waking up early, I decided to beat the traffic, specifically in hopes of finding a parking spot in the equally congested Jabal Amman area. Luckily I found there were several parking lots available, and I parked quickly. Stepping in to the department a man by the door asked me what I needed and I told him I wanted to renew a passport. He gave me a ticket with a number and asked me to go sit.
I sat. I waited for 15 minutes. They called my number. The employee took my papers, verified my identity, spoke to me clearly behind a non-bullet proof window, stamped my papers and asked me to go pay. I walked 5 meters, paid 20JDs and was given another number and told to wait in another room. I waited for another 15 minutes. A man walked out and called my name amongst others, and I had a new passport.
Bureaucracies are always interesting. Each country has its own laws and regulations, and some just have more than others. Ironically, Jordanian security is much more globally recognized than the Canadians, and yet getting in to the embassy as a citizen of that country was like breaking in to a fortress. And one would actually respect the bureaucracies if they ensured that, say, Israeli secret service weren’t forging Canadian passports to carry out assassinations on foreign soil. The process would be admirable even. But alas, it is far from true.
It is nonetheless interesting to see something in the public sector that Jordan is actually better at than a first world nation. One could argue that the Jordanian passport has less market value than a Canadian one, but, nonetheless, it was process that mattered at the end of the day. And in this, the Canadians have failed miserably.