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Bureaucracy, merry



Diary, Tuesday 3rd January 1995:

The Friday before Christmas we unpacked all the stuff that had arrived from Miami. On the Monday before, I spent the afternoon at the airport trying to get the airfreight released. It was at a place called The Queen’s Warehouse, situated at the edge of Norman Manley Airport. Being the week before Christmas it was very busy, complete mayhem. Bureaucracy dogged with endless and apparently senseless documents, rituals and stamps and yet no one lost their temper. I was sent to one desk to get a stamp, thence on to another to get a signature and back again to show a letter to someone else. Each particular place, where a stamp had to be placed or a signature scribbled was situated in a different part of the building and each place had several queues of patient people waiting and shuffling and talking amongst themselves and looking at each other to measure their relative progress. Some places had been designed for the purpose of stamping or signing or checking with kiosks and desks or counters, others were mysterious, or merely improvised and yet equally important. Here relaxed officers sitting at small dirty tables in corners near huge packages and behind large sliding doors would sit and look at the endless flow of documents, each with its own possibilities for rejection. The storage part of the warehouse was separated from the administrative part by a huge thickly barred fence. Behind the fence there were men scuffling about to search for those items which, after a journey of the cross with its seven bureaucratic stages, was finally to be released. Only after three hours of queuing and hustling was I allowed to stuff my car with all the boxes that were due to me. I had enlisted the help of a man with a small moustache, who, together with a group of others, made his living from the confused and the frustrated: people who came in vain to rescue their belongings from this enormous, endless castle near no-man’s land. In the end it was the letter from the embassy that clinched the deal, when a small jolly custom’s officer had the letter waved under her nose, all the bureaucracy dissolved away in smiles and helpfulness. She immediately gave me high profile privileges, clearly visible to all the others who stood around waiting. I was the only white man. Most of the others waiting would have to return the next day. They tolerated even that, accepting the magic attached to a letter from an embassy. And I did not flinch at taking advantage of my privileged status, wrapping up any sense of unfairness deep within my subconscious.




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