Sunday, 12 January 2014


Ziama, Jijel
The first year of living in Algeria seemed to be all about chasing paper.  All you have to say to anyone here is ‘paperwork’ (‘quaghat’) and immediately people understand.  They understand why you’re so stressed, why you’re so late for, or have to cancel appointments, why you never have any time, why you’re so short tempered, why there’s smoke coming out your ears, your hair is on end and your face is bright red.  Paperwork!  For every piece of paper you need here in Algeria there are about five more.  What more can you say about a country where your birth certificate expires before you do, and where your death certificate must be renewed annually.  Just as well this is a Muslim country, otherwise I have this horrible picture of the powers that be insisting on all dead people being dug up and buried annually.

And for many years now I have had a sneaking suspicion that when a lot (an awful lot) of Algerians get up in the morning and start getting ready for work, they look in the mirror and think to themselves ‘what can I do to make life as hard as possible for everyone who comes across my path today.’  As just one of innumerable examples, my son needed to apply for his Identity Card, so he got all the paperwork together and went to the ‘Baladia’ (the local council offices).  There he was told that a telephone bill with our name and address was not good enough for proof of address, he needed the electricity bill.  So off home we traipsed to get the electricity bill, and when he returned with it he was then told that there was another document missing.  Now…. why, oh why, couldn’t the first person look through all the papers my son brought in the first place and tell him which were missing or which were not correct?  Even when you ask them to give you a list of everything you need – parent’s birth certificates, grandparent’s birth/death certificates, proof of address, proof of work, stamps from the post office, certificates from the local tax office, parent’s ID information, proof of what you ate for breakfast, dinner and tea for the past week (Ok….so now I’m descending into the farcical), there will be something not right, something missing, something that you have to run off for and queue up somewhere else to obtain, something that will take up even more of your time, your energy and your temper.  And… when you queue up for this particular piece of paper… you won’t have all the necessary paperwork to acquire THAT piece of paper so off you run on yet more paper chases, until you feel like a dog chasing its tale in never ending circles. Paperwork!

And don’t think for a minute that it’s only for ID cards, and visas and other important matters that you need to chase around for paperwork…. if your child wants to start a sports or craft class, change schools, start university, get married, pick their nose they need… paperwork. Having been born in Ireland and living in England for as long as I have I am accustomed to the originals of documents being extremely important, but here in good old Algeria often (not always, mind you) a photocopy of the original, authorized and stamped in triplicate (or so it seems to me anyway) is considered to be far more important and necessary than any original document.

Sometimes (read ‘most times’) when a rule is brought into place, especially if it’s to your benefit, it takes AGES (years) to trickle down to the ordinary man in the… office.  Of course if it’s NOT to your benefit it comes into effect everywhere simultaneously.  When we first arrived in Algeria we had to renew the children’s birth certificates in The Golf area of Algiers because they were born abroad.  They then made it possible for them to be renewed at any local council offices a few years ago, which is so much easier mashAllah.  My son went to our local one last year to try and renew his one and was told that it was not possible as he was born abroad.  So, he rang my husband who had to come out of work, go to the office, and when he told the woman that the rules had been changed she said she didn’t know anything about it.  So he requested to speak to her supervisor who confirmed that it was indeed possible to renew his certificate there, to which the woman actually apologized to my husband and said she wasn’t aware of it.  Paperwork!

Ziama, Jijel

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