Moroccan Bureaucracy: More “Inshallah” than Weber or Kafka

More than a century ago, German sociologist Max Weber launched his legal-rational theory of bureaucracy, establishing the characteristics he believed made a bureaucracy good. Weber liked bureaucracy. Weber REALLY liked bureaucracy. Weber liked bureaucracy so much that he considered it of vital importance to the success of the modern state. For context, though, consider that Weber, who died in 1920, never had to renew his driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He also never moved to Morocco. Anyone who has done either of those things more likely associates the reality of modern government bureaucracy – especially in Morocco – with Czech author Franz Kafka, who died in 1924 four years after Weber. Like Weber, Kafka also never experienced the DMV or moved to Morocco; but, his nightmarish tales elicit knowing nods from readers who have done one, the other, or – in our case – both. Still, even more than seeming Kafkaesque, Moroccan bureaucracy embodies the culture of “Inshallah” (“God willing”) that pervades everything here.

As heads of schools, as well as in other matters of personal and professional life, we have had our share of interactions with bureaucracies of all kinds. In our household, because Brian actually worked in government a lifetime ago (before he became a Government teacher) and because he tends to have more patience for dealing with it, Audrey tends to nominate Brian as the family representative to fill out forms of a pesky nature and go stand in lines to turn in said pesky forms. So Brian experienced an “Inshallah moment” dealing with Moroccan bureaucracy last week in the process of trying to get Charlotte’s residency paperwork approved.

As expats living and working in Morocco, we need residency paperwork to work here, to open a bank account and wire money stateside for bills, to pay daughter Margaret’s college tuition in Arizona, and to do pretty much any other official government or business thing back in the U.S. Fortunately for us, George Washington Academy’s HR office does an exceptional job helping new employees to navigate the startup hurdles by facilitating our obtaining residency paperwork, establishing bank accounts, etc. after we provide the HR folks with multiple passport-type photos (taken with the proper background, or no good); our passports, of which they make multiple copies; original birth certificates; our marriage certificate; criminal background checks from the FBI; medical attestations completed by a Moroccan doctor to certify that we have heartbeats and can breathe; and other required paperwork that HR organizes and submits on our behalf. Granted, it still took a couple months for each of us just to get our Récepissé (receipt) from the neighborhood police headquarters that said officially we had started the residency paperwork process. Until we had our récepissés in hand, we could not open a bank account (which HR again facilitated). Because we could not open a bank account, we could not wire money back to the U.S. and had no place to put our cash here in Morocco. Even after we received our récepissés and opened a bank account, we still had to wait several months longer until we could wire money. Meanwhile, we waited for our Cartes de Séjour (our actual residency cards) to arrive from Rabat, the Capitol of Morocco where our residency application paperwork had gone for processing. Coworkers at GWA who arrived after we did last summer started getting their CDS, but we did not. We asked HR why others who followed our arrival received their cartes before we did. Our first solid dose of the “Inshallah” nature of this process came with the only available well-reasoned explanation: “Because theirs came back from Rabat before yours did.

Since the récepissés expire after three months, we had to go to the Prefecture, the big police headquarters in Casablanca, to renew them before we flew back to the U.S. in December. January came still without the cartes. Brian asked HR when our approved cartes might get sent down from Rabat. He learned that they actually had arrived from Rabat, but now sat in a drawer in the Foreigners Office of the Casablanca Prefecture while HR waited for word that we could go pick them up. Finally, in early February, HR told Brian he could pick up his Carte de Séjour. He went to the Prefecture, waited his turn in the Foreigners Office, picked up his CDS, and asked if they also had Audrey’s CDS. Yes, they had it…and she would have to come herself to pick it up. A few weeks later she did. Having finally picked them up nearly eight months after we arrived in Morocco, our new one-year cartes will expire in September, requiring that we go through the whole process again. Yet, after getting our first one-year CDS, we can reapply for another one-year or a five-year or even a ten-year. Assuming we still have the option in September, we definitely will go for the ten-year. For now, with both of us finally holding our Cartes de Séjour, we felt official. We felt like we really belonged. We felt success!…

…Except that Charlotte turned 16 in November, and Morocco requires children age 16 and older to have their own residency paperwork. So four months ago we kicked off the whole process for Charlotte. For whatever reason, rather than having Brian as the parent of record, we initiated paperwork with Audrey as the parent of record. Charlotte’s paperwork got filed in early December, and our wait for her Récepissé began. (Flying at Christmas from Casablanca to Paris to Seattle and back again in reverse, she had only her passport and the small provisional receipt that precedes the official Récepissé but proved sufficient for her to get back after our trip.) We presumed her application moved forward, and that we would get her official Récepissé soon, especially since her small receipt would expire at the end of March.

Nope.

When Brian learned in February that he could pick up his CDS at the Prefecture, he also learned that Charlotte’s application had come back rejected because the last name on her birth certificate (Menard) differed from the last name on Audrey’s birth certificate (Cauley). Imagine that. So we had to amend her file with paperwork that named Brian as the parent of record and certified his status as her father. This began with a trip to The Commune, a neighborhood-based collection of government agencies, including the equivalent of a Notary who could affix the proper seals and stamp the right stamps to certify Brian’s attestation as Charlotte’s father. In Morocco, nothing official happens without a stamp. In an age where the government can track an individual’s currency exchanges by passport number through a nationwide computer database (and does, in order to limit any individual’s currency exchanges to about $4000 a year), getting a notary stamp remains more 1917 than 2017. The Commune’s open air offices have not a single computer to be found.  Instead, it features lots of clerks sitting at aged and worn mid-20th Century desks while waiting to stamp papers – including a one-armed older man reigning as the lightning-fast stamper. A clerk finds the right square seal, licks it, and affixes it to your document. Then he stamps it by hand with a big THUD sound of him punching the stamper down on the paper and seal. Then you sign the register in a thick, leather-bound, oversized ledger. For all the paper-based operations there, the wonder is that you see no shelves lined with filled ledger books and other paper records. Who knows where those get stored. With paperwork duly stamped, though, Brian could take it to the Prefecture to drop it off and have it added to Charlotte’s file.

And this is where “Inshallah” bureaucracy really takes off.

When Brian went to pick up his CDS at the Prefecture, before going to the Foreigners Office he went to the main room to drop off his notarized papers. The room had about a half dozen counter spots with two of them actually staffed by clerks. A large crowd sat waiting their turns to approach and do business. All Brian needed to do was drop off the papers, but when he tried to do that with a clerk she gave him a nasty look and spoke sharply to him in French that he needed to get a number and wait his turn. Asking where he could get a number, she jerked her head right to indicate he should get them from the clerk seated at a table at the far end. Moving to the table, he asked the table clerk how he could get a number. The table clerk told him in French that the numbers had all been given out. Asking him when there would be more numbers, the table clerk told Brian that was all the numbers for that day. In essence, even though he had gone fairly early in the morning to the Prefecture, he would not be allowed to drop off the paperwork that day. Apparently it was not God’s plan for him to drop the paperwork that day.

A week later, he tried again, heading to the Prefecture first thing in the morning. Inshallah, surely he could get a number and execute the simple task of dropping the paperwork. However, despite the early arrival, again the amassed people had already claimed all the numbers for that day. Again, God’s plan did not include dropping the paperwork that day.

Calendars and schedules did not let him return for a third try until last week. With the expiration of Charlotte’s provisional receipt three weeks away, he headed again to the Prefecture. Arriving no earlier than before, this time he found on the end counter a cache of red paper squares with numbers hand-written on them. He grabbed Number 22, then saw the clerks dealing with numbers 1 and 2. GWA’s HR office had told him to get a number if possible, but also to check with the Foreigners Office on the off chance that they had processed Charlotte’s paperwork after all with only Audrey’s parenting information. With plenty of red paper numbers ahead of him, he headed back to the Foreigners Office. Asking if they had Charlotte’s Récepissé, of course they did not. However, in order to explore why they did not, the clerk took his paperwork… Finally, it was his Inshallah moment!

After a few minutes of the clerk conferring in a different room, she returned and asked him to take a seat around the corner outside the office of the chief and wait. So he did, and he waited. And waited. And waited. Could they actually be preparing her Récepissé right there?

No, they could not.

The Inshallah moment had passed. When she finally came back to him after he waited over an hour, she told him that his notarized paperwork had expired after all these weeks. “Why did you not come sooner to drop it off?” she wondered at him in French. Deep breath. Count to ten.

So we still do not have Charlotte’s Récepissé. The clerks at The Prefecture said they will work with our HR folks to get it resolved before Charlotte’s expiration date at the end of March…Inshallah. If not, does anyone want to add a great 16 year old kid to your household? She may be looking real soon for a place to go.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

4 thoughts on “Moroccan Bureaucracy: More “Inshallah” than Weber or Kafka

  1. Good luck is all I can say! 🍀 I hope it’s all worth it. I’d be submitting my resume to every school stateside. You guys have more determination than me, that’s for sure.

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    1. The + of living here far outweighs the – of such things. Come visit! We’d love to introduce you guys to Moroccan cuisine.

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  2. This sounds so familiar to me, coming from the land of Kafka. You did not have to wait in lines in front of unmarked, closed doors? Maybe you can borrow a crying baby or rampaging toddler next time. In certain quarters, they can help reduce the wait.

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