Saturday, July 21, 2012

If Kafka was here...

Have you been to a police station in Lebanon? If you haven't, you should. You don't need to go steal or kill somebody to live the experience, it's enough to kiss your girlfriend or boyfriend in public, or just look gay. But you can also claim you lost your ID. I on the other hand did lose my ID, but you don't have to, because, as you will discover in a bit, you can just claim you did, and get as many IDs as you wish. You might say, why do I need more than one ID? sure, but you say this either because you don't lose your ID easily or as often as I do and you haven't yet felt the need for spare IDs or you just don't have a criminal mind. In either case, this post is for you: if you are a good citizen, find out the truth about what you proudly call the 'state' of Lebanon, and if you have a twisted mind, I am probably not breaking the secret here, so no need to arrest me.

My experience at the police station in Lebanon has always been enjoyable, not that it usually is. What you get there is more than "one cup of coffee going and one cup of tea coming" as we say in Arabic, you get to see for yourself why the hell nothing works in this so called 'state' and you wonder why you are still paying your bills. But make sure you free a whole day for the experience. Take a leave from work if you should. 

What is the occasion for this post? there is usually no occasion for anything I write on this blog, but this time there is. This month was declared "security month" in Lebanon. Ironically, or maybe not so much, two banks were robbed, maybe three, I stopped following, protests roamed all streets from north to south, east to west, you probably have heard of the new burning tires fashion, and a bull even raided a supermarket in the middle of the city (I am serious, check it here). 

So, I lost my wallet some time ago, outside the country (and this is no small detail as you will find out) and I had to issue a new ID (not that you really need it unless you lost your driving licence too!). I go to the police station, the guy there, makes me comfortable, brings a chair, some tea, some coffee, offers pepsi, takes out some blank papers, adjusts his seat, gives me a serious look and asks me: where are you from? You would be expecting something like: how can I help you. What does it matter, you think? but he probably needs it for his papers, you wonder (now this started to sound like Kafka's). Of course, he is interested to know my religion. As I was beginning to explain that I am here because I lost my ID, a woman comes in. She had just been robbed (a few meters near the police station). With the same calm he received me, he offers her a chair, some tea, some coffee, and asks her to relax. He explains to her that it is not the first time someone is robbed, and that she needs to file a lawsuit against an anonymous. The woman goes mad and starts shouting: so you are not going to do anything? the guy is probably still down, I know how he looks like, many people saw him take my bag and run away, I want to file a suit against the state not against an anonymous!!. Very composed, he answers not without sarcasm: do you see anyone else here? You expect me to leave this place and go after him? sit down. He starts with me, writing very slowly, manually of course, on his piece of paper, that I lost my ID, how, when, where, asking me from time to time, about some grammatical rules. He then asks me to take the paper and make copies of it outside the station. To make a long story short, and such stories are never short, I lost a whole day, from one official office to another, waiting in long queues, making fun of our so called state with other people waiting in queues and public officers joining us in mocking the 'state' from time to time, cursing their life. 

The guy at the police station had the solution to the problem though. He had this brilliant theory that goes as such: put those thieves under my control and I will see that theft never happens again, I can teach them a lesson, they go too soft on them, see in Saudi Arabia, no one dares to steal, why? because they know their hands will be cut off, we need to cut off their hands. Only if you let me run this country!! His pearls of wisdom go beyond his post modern human rights theories. He explains: see? the robber has an advantage over the police, we are in uniform, he can easily identify us, but he is like any other person in the street. This is a hard job.

It sure is.

At another office, I had to run from one guy to the other asking where I should go to get again one more stamp on that piece of paper. Now, don't ask me what all those stamps are for. The guy at the station did not even make sure I lost my ID, how could he anyway, he just wrote that I did, but all the guys who stamped the paper thereafter and none of whom read a word of it, had to certify that I had indeed lost my ID. They were told they need to put a stamp on my paper and that's what they did, sitting behind a table that had only a stamp device on it and holding that very serious look on their face. This is a government institution after all, and government officials have to look very serious. Ignore the woman plucking her eyebrows there or the man who comes out of nowhere to place your paper on top of a thousand others because I am a woman. I asked them why do I need all those stamps? but they too didn't know why. Now you have to respect the order of the stamps, you cannot just go to all the people who need to stamp your paper randomly. Of course there is a logic to that. Oh, and before you go, do not trust whoever tells you what other papers you need to bring with you, because it will always be missing something, so just get every official document you might think of before you go, and get them all stamped by the Mokhtar, otherwise you will have to come back the next day and the day after and in between go and find that you got the opening hours wrong. When you go to get all the official stamps, expect that the stamping people do not all sit in the same office or building. Do some stretching before you venture irresponsibly, because you will have to run from one building to the other. I did say to one of the guys there, I do understand that you all need to stamp my paper, but at least sit next to each other. He said: why?, with this philosophical look on his face. See this can never be short, but I will try. 

So, I get all the "necessary" stamps and a sense of victory overwhelms me, only I still don't have my ID!! 

There is one more building to go to and off I go. Last step, I tell myself. I enter this gloomy underground room and I find shelves full of IDs, Lebanese IDs with cedars all over. They were stuffed in old brown boxes. My mother's drawer of "things we don't know where to put or if we will ever gonna need" looks more organized. Cockroaches roaming among them, half of them eaten away by mice and termites. As the guy was about to take my fingerprints (fingerprints, ha ha ha ha), he asks me: where did you lose your ID. From there on, it is another Kafkaesque hell. Outside Lebanon, I say. Ohhhh... I can't issue you an ID, he breaks the good news; The police station paper is not enough, you need to get the stamp of the ambassador at the country where you lost it! Another stamp!! and how easy!! You can imagine the look on my face. But he had an alternative: This is what you should do, he says, go to the nearest police station and say you lost your ID today in Hamra street, this is lying, I know, I shouldn't be saying this, but this is the only way unless you want to travel again and get the ambassador's stamp, then get all the stamps again, and come back here. It won't show anywhere that you had filed a contradictory claim!!! This was supported by his supervisor and his supervisor's supervisor. There is no other way, he said, this is your state, what can we do, this is how things work here. So, out of all things going wrong, issuing my ID cannot go wrong, it should follow stamp rules. And to get it right, I should lie! I wasn't surprised to tell you the truth. Nothing surprises me anymore. 

But come to think of it, this is smart; what kind of criminal is willing to go through all those stamps to issue another ID or an ID with another name (a genuine one still)? in a way, this is a deterring technique. This is actually genius! Do not underestimate your state; it has your fingerprints too. How dare you commit any crime? The forensic experts of your state will bust you only they have never found any fingerprint in the history of the state. And if they ever did, can you imagine how the matching exercise would go? "We found the fingerprints!!! cheers!", "so who's the culprit?", "euhhhhhhhhhhh"....

P.S. On my way out of this last building, someone told me: don't worry, I know someone, he goes by the name of "el-X" he can get you a new ID in one phone call.

P.P.S I am told the Lebanese Forensic Team (LFT) was able to match the fingerprints at a crime scene once. They found 5 persons matching the same fingerprints. The forensic team knelt down for God is glorious.


  1. Do you have this "el-X"'s phone number? I lost my ID 5 years ago and i still haven't received a new one. i think i should contact "el-X"!!