Part Three 1/2: Most Official Paperwork, Most Officious Friends.
Part Three was just getting too long. It’s summer; people are busy. Plus, you may recall, there was the whole how-much-detail-to-include debacle. Also, I am in a mood where I am swinging wildly between first and second person, sometimes even in the same sentence. This is frowned upon by all real writers. I do apologize.
Ok, back to our story, back to second person meaning first person, back to spelling mistakes not caught because I’m typing on a different computer and it just messes me up.
We left our spunky heroine, “you,” at the language center where she had just finally gotten a piece of paper stating that she used to work there, no longer worked there, had been paid a total of X dirhams, had paid X in taxes to the Moroccan government, and had been signed and stamped. (The paper, not “you.”) (And what? Now we’re in third person? This blogger seriously needs an editor.)
On receiving this paper in her hot little hands, “you” heads back downtown where she waits about 15 minutes for the woman to come back from lunch. Wait–this is sliding into the too-much-detail error. We’ll skip to the bit where she returns to the office, with Ismail and Donn, at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Our 3 friends are sent upstairs (this is symbolic, I’m pretty sure) to meet with the Chief of the First Subdivision of Moral People (chef de 1ere subdivision des personnes morales). I love this title and am hoping to incorporate it into my personal life at some point. They don’t just have a Moral Majority, for those of you who became aware of American politics in the 80s, they have their Moral Majority subdivided.And we, as tax-paying people who are hoping to leave, are in the very first division. I feel a little proud.
Before we go back into the third person, I would like to explain a teensy bit of French-influenced North African culture to you. Lunch time is sacred, and is taken properly and not skimped. The idea of a sandwich eaten at a desk is nightmarish, rather like a typical American might feel on being informed that lunch today will be a tiny bag of pretzels and a Diet Coke. Oh wait–that’s the airlines. Lunches are minimum 2 hours and involve 3 courses and, for the French themselves, a bottle or 2 of wine. (per familial group that is) And then one lingers over a tiny cup of espresso, while solving the problems of the world. One stretches, possibly goes for a short invigorating walk, then goes back to the office round 2:30 or 3. Many businesses don’t re-open till 4 or so. But the lady thought, and we thought, that the Chief of the Moral People (1st subdivision) might be back about 2. So we went about 2:30, just to give him some time.
We sit. We sit some more. We sit even more. Ismail chats animatedly to a woman in tight jean capris with a henna up her leg, and ends up exchanging phone numbers. I read a book. We sit some more. Ismail exclaims over a very modest outfit and hijab worn by another woman. “That’s how women should dress,” he tells us, but he doesn’t talk to her. We sit some more. Finally a secretary arrives. She introduces us to the sub-chef, who fusses because I didn’t have a “bulletin de salaire.” I point out the sheaf of papers, all officially stamped and signed, which details my salary in minutiae, but they were viewed as sadly inadequate.
Finally, with much rejoicing, came the arrival of the great man himself. Ismail is happy. “I know him!” he tells us. “His family are our neighbours! I’ve even met him before. This is really good.” I am happy too. The chef wears a striped suit, striped shirt and striped tie, all in varying colours and stripe-widths and patterns, yet all dark, muted shades. The effect is sort of numbing, which I’m sure was intentional—kind of like the red “power” tie in America.
We are shown into the office. Ismail shakes the Chef’s hand, reminds him of their connection, tells him what wonderful people we are and that he hopes the Chef will do all he can to help us. The chef frowns over my sheaf of papers. He asks me a few questions. Then he makes a pronouncement: if I can produce a copy of my contract with the language center, that will be enough.
This had actually occurred to us a couple of days earlier, but then we found we’d packed it. So back out to the language center we go. They love me there.
Next morning, we are back in the waiting chairs by about 10. The Chef isn’t in yet. Nor is his secretary. We discuss how when the cat’s away the mice will play. Ismail likes that one. I remodel the waiting room in my mind. It’s a huge room, empty but for 3 chairs in one corner, the attached kind you find in airports. I imagine it with a carpet, paint, a fake plant in a corner, fun Moroccan lanterns. Inviting, comfortable. It helps pass the time.
Eventually the guy shows up about 11 or so. The Big Man, wearing the same all-stripes-all-the-time outfit, looks over the contract and reads it and finally, after some deliberation, agrees it is fine. Back we go to the sub-chef who is now out of the office. Eventually he shows up (aside: he was really working) and prepares an attestation or signs it or something, then he takes it back across to Monsieur Stripes, who actually stamps it. Then it goes back to Stripes Jr, who breathes on it or something, then it goes to the secretary, who records it, then it is placed gently into a snow-white folder and handed reverently to us. It was a big moment for us. We looked, and all it was was the paper from the language center, but now with two (TWO!) additional signatures and stamps. “Is this right?” we queried, but the secretary assured us it was, all the etrangers get this paper. And sure enough, later we give the paper to our shipping agent and it is accepted as right.
Ismail was very proud of himself. “I really helped you,” he pointed out. “Without me, you wouldn’t have gotten very far.” We agreed. We thanked him profusely, from our hearts. He was absolutely right. But he wasn’t done. “If I charged you for my time,” he said, “It’d be a lot of money.” We were puzzled. We were pretty sure, even given our relative lack of cultural understanding, that we weren’t supposed to pay him. We’re friends. He’s our landlord, but we hang out. We discuss the world. Elliot watched most of the World Cup with him. But then he laughs. “Of course I’m kidding,” he says. We laugh too, uneasily. We’re not sure what he’s trying to tell us. And he doesn’t let it drop. For the next several days he tells us how much we owe him, tells us he’s joking, but seriously we wouldn’t have gotten far if he hadn’t come along. And it kind of spoils it for us. We’d planned to do something really nice for him as a thank you, but he takes the wind out of our sails.
Coming soon: Part Four (really 5 but who’s counting): The Container Arrives!