Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I've been into the bowels of the Mugamma and lived to tell the tale.
The Mugamma is the infamous Egyptian government temple of bureaucracy, its gray hulking shape inspiring dread in those who gaze upon it, and fear in those who must enter its twin metal-detector-adorned entrances.
I'm totally exaggerating. It's chaos, of course, but if you google Mugamma, you'd get the idea you were in for a bit part in "The Trial," not for actually achieving something over the course of a single day.
My mission: To extend my 30-day tourist visa.
My plan: Travel by Metro to "Sadat." Observe visa-acquisition process.
Perhaps, I thought, I could get the visa today. Or maybe just do reconnaissance.
I had to go through two metal detectors, push my bag through two x-ray machines, and prove I wasn't carrying a camera. There were hordes of people at the photo booth in the lobby, so I was glad I'd stopped by a photo store in Zamalek for passport photos. Likewise, I had my photocopies—the woman at the internet cafe in Zamalek had given them to me free since I was such a good customer there while my laptop was in the shop.
Madness awaited me. People milling about in the narrow, long hallway alongside numbered windows. Men sold tea and water from trays. Benches were crowded. Some people looked exhausted. Others, annoyed. Most looked resigned, and a few appeared confused.
I walked past about 50 windows to one that said something like "Tourist Extension."
Only one person was in front of me. The bureaucrat was sweet and helpful. She gave me a form and told me to go to window #43 to pay 11 pounds. (About $2.)
I pushed through the crowds, paid 21 pounds and received back three stamps and a ten-pound note.
So far, so easy.
I found an empty seat, sat down and pulled out my black pen.
"Tsk, tsk." The man next to me shook his head and handed me a blue pen.
Uh, okay. I used it.
Then, back down the row to the nice bureaucrat. She stamped, stapled, and wrote a bunch of notes on the form. She took my passport.
"Go to Window #38 in two hours."
I went to Cilantro to snack, suppressing a foreboding feeling that something was bound to go wrong. Two hours later, I went through the metal detectors, pushed my bag through two x-ray machines, and paced down the row of windows to #38.
"Here." A woman shoved my passport at me. "Six-month tourist-resident."
Too easy. I've never been official before when I lived in another country. It feels great. I'm legal! I'm officially a resident of Egypt, and can stay for up to six months.
Not that I have any intention of doing so, but it's nice to be welcome for a change.
Mabrouk to me!