Bureaucracy? I’ll Show You Bureaucracy

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Below is an actual photo of George W. Bush writing a note to Condoleeza Rice at a recent conference. Not photoshopped, courtesy of Reuters:

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When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Here’s a story about a Florida mother complaining to the school board that her 16 year old daughter had to read Bapsi Sidhwa’s 1992 novel, Cracking India (upon which Deepa Mehta’s excellent film Earth was based). The mother’s objection is that the novel contains a brief scene that describes heterosexual oral sex. Newsflash to the mother: your 16 year old daughter knows all about oral sex. And if she doesn’t, she’s gonna learn real soon. Why can’t these people do their own parenting and leave literature alone?

Okay, further to Mischa’s comment yesterday about National Geographic having some confused tracking system for his DNA kit, I thought I’d share the following story with you, just to emphasize how bureaucracies screw up at the highest levels.

In the summer of 2003 I was living in Washington, DC, and had just been invited on my first field mission to Guyana, which was to depart in mid-July, a week away. My Canadian passport was to expire in September and, for some reason, Guyana requires all visitors to have passports that do not expire for a year, otherwise entry is refused. (Don’t ask why. It’s not as if people are beating down the doors trying to illegally get into Guyana!) So I had a week to get a brand new passport, a task that would not be a problem if I’d been living in Canada, but was a little tight since I lived in the USA.

The embassy informed me that it could be done in 72 hours with special dispensation. I had to get a special form from them, then run around madly to get new photos and letters of support from CIDA and my client, CSIH. Because I’d been in DC for only 2 years, no one local was allowed to sign my photos, so I had to run around getting other forms and hire a notary public, all of which took a couple of days. Then I paid a large sum to courier my package to Hull for priority processing. And I waited.

And waited. Now, I was to leave on a Saturday, but the rules state that passports can only be shipped to the embassy, which is closed on weekends, so I had to make sure to get mine by Friday. I called every day, and each time was told that it had not yet arrived. I called the passport office in Hull Friday morning and was told that the application had just been processed and that I would receive my passport in another week! Another week!!! Keep in mind that by this point, the process had cost me hundreds of dollars.

So I had no choice. Saturday morning, equipped with my soon-to-expire passport and a sheaf of letters of support from everyone I could think of –CIDA, CSIH, the Canadian embassy in Guyana– I headed to the airport. The Guyanese embassies in both DC and Ottawa had told me that there was no way I would be let into the country. In fact, I was told that the airline would not even let me on the plane! I got to Miami and attempted to board the flight to Guyana. The airline official took a second look at my passport, screwed up her face and said, “Hmmm, expires in September.” My heart stood still. “Okay,” she said. “Have a nice flight.” And that was that.

But the story doesn’t end there. When I returned to Washington a week later, I of course got a call from the embassy telling me my passport had finally arrived. Grumbling, I went to pick it up. Here’s where the story gets good. When I picked it up, I was told it had been waiting there for me for two weeks. That’s right, it had arrived in 72 hours, just as it was supposed to. But for some reason the officials in Hull still thought it was being processed, and the officials in Washington had no idea it had arrived.

That, my friends, is bureaucracy.

We end today with a public service annoucement. Deonandan.com guest blogger Sheila is trying to get rid of her apartment in downtown Hull. If anyone in the Ottawa area is looking for a new place, she’s offering her 2-bedroom place for $685/month starting October 1st. If anyone is interested, please leave a comment below or email me (ray at deonandan dot com) and I’ll pass it on to Sheila.