By Keith Wells
Illustration by Peter McMahon
MY CAR registration ran out last week and I went to the Traffic Department to renew it. I waited patiently in line at Window No. 1 and, when I got to the front, pushed my papers through the hatch.
"Window 27," said a voice from inside.
Delighted to have so easily discovered the right place to go, I hitch-hiked over to Window 27.
There were only a few dozen people waiting, and in less than three brief hours I was at the hatch. I offered my documents to the faceless Gods within.
Now I'm a patient man, holder of the Amid Hospital Medal for X-ray Waiting, Winner of the 1977 Traffic Jam Award and a leading contender for the 1979 Post Office Patience Diploma.
I'm skilled in the art of smiling through gritted teeth, of saying 'thank you' instead of spitting, and politely sipping tea when I'd rather be committing murder, so I calmly walked the few hundred yards to Window 13. There I joined a crowd of jolly folk all beating merrily on the hatch which was closed.
In less than half an hour, Windows 12 and 14 opened to left and right of us. We broke into two groups and I rushed, or was rushed to the very front of Window 12. Again I thrust may papers into the maw of the beast.
"Window 13," came the stem reply. I'm ashamed, yes, bitterly ashamed to confess it, I, Keith Wells, Holder of the All-Time Record of Visa and Fingerprint Delay, should have lost control over such a trivial matter, a mere 3-hour wait. But lose it I did, and I impatiently moved my head through the hatch and looked right, towards Window 13. And there, sitting behind the closed hatch talking affably on the telephone was Dozi Salaam, Kuwait's finest bureaucrat. "Dozi!" I cried.
"Come back tomorrow," he replied warmly.
I did, and it was now I learnt the fascinating and traditional game of Traffic Windows. It was first played in the desolate monotony of the desert as a way of creating intellectual stimulation to defeat the mind-numbing boredom of all that sand. Every time you went to get new registration plates for your camel, you played Traffic Windows with the Camel Registration Office. Anyone can play, and it works like this:
You take a large wall and make 40 hatch windows in it, all numbered (preferably in the language of the Aleutian Islanders). The windows must be small and set low enough to rupture anyone who bends down to look through them. Then close all the hatches.
Periodically open a hatch at random. When a queue had formed, slowly give each player a different hatch number to visit. The hatch may be open or closed. If closed, he must return to the hatch he has just visited, which with any luck, should now be closed, which means he's out.
If the hatch he's sent to is open, however, the player waits his turn and is then given a new hatch number to visit. The trick of course, is that although there may be hundreds of players queuing outside, behind the hatches there is only one. Dozi Salaam, single-handedly pits his wits against the multitude to see if he can achieve the incredible aim of frustrating all of them.
As an old friend, Dozi let me in behind the hatches and I watched him play. First he opened Hatch 39. Instantly a writhing mess of fingers appeared, squirming impatiently. Dozi calmly said: "Window 7. Window 7. Window 7," about 12 times then slammed the hatch shut.We listened to the thunder of feet receding down towards position seven, then Dozi calmly re-opened hatch 39 and gave one astounded contestant his registration papers all completed in about ten seconds flat.
"There must always be a winner on the outside," Dozi explained, "or else they get disheartened and give up." Then he shut No. 39 and sauntereddown to open hatch 22.
"But you told them Window 7," I reminded him politely.
"Hatch 22, Always keep them guessing!" He opened the window and yelled, "All registration papers here, two dinars!"
It was an astonishing sight. A blizzard of dinars poured through the hatch in the three-and-a-half minutes before Dozi slammed i4 shut.
"Now, here comes the tricky part - issuing the registration books." He showed me a pile of them down by Window 5."
You go over to Window 38 and create a diversion," he said, "I'll issue these."
I suppose it's because I'm inexperienced, but when I opened Window 38 and three fat Egyptians started scrambling through the hatch simultaneously I panicked. But not Dozi, he picked up a fire extinguisher and affably extinguished them. Then, quick as a flash, he was back at window 15, hurling blueregistration books through the hatch, his rubber stamp a blur of speed. He worked like a Trojan for over fifty seconds before slamming the window shut and collapsing on to the sofa for a cup of tea and a chance to read his newspaper.
After a bit, he looked up and noticed the time.
Coup de grace
"By heavens, it's late. Time for the Grande Finale."
To my surprise, he dragged out a box of tape recorders and went along placing one behind every hatch. When they were all plugged in, he moved to a large console I hadn't noticed before.
"Watch this!" he whispered, "It's sensational!"
He pressed a button and all the windows opened at once. There was a dull muttering roar from our opponents and I braced myself, expecting instant and immediate invasion, but before the startled crowd could move, Dozi pressed another button and all the tape recorders spoke at once.
"Come back tomorrow!"And all the hatches slammed shut.
Dozi’s Guide to Bureaucracy
You need lots of it. If you can learn to hibernate while standing up in a Post Office queue you are well on the way to success. Never lose your temper, you'll never find it again in Kuwait.
Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates are essential for all major transactions. If you intend to die you will need six photographs, signed on the back, and triplicate copies of your Birth Certificate to prove you are alive prior to dying. Persons dying without Birth Certificate will face severe penalties.
In the event of sickness you are entitled to take time off work, however, you must present written proof of your illness to your employer. He will also require a Birth Certificate and a valid Residency Visa. Employees without such a visa will be considered fit for work, and deported.
These are necessary for all official transactions, at least 100should be carried at all times.
These must be handed over at once to the proper authorities, i.e. farashes, tea-boys and the gentleman gardening his nostrils who will be found in almost every office.
Occasionally delays are unavoidable when dealing with any bureaucracy and you are advised to prepare yourself accordingly; a newspaper, sleeping bag and small primus stove are essential.
This means influence. If your brother's friend's nephew knows the cousin of the official you are dealing with, your problems are over. If not, you should beat your brother and tell him to try harder.
This is an Arabic word that means disaster. If you are sentenced to `boukra' it means that your papers are incomplete, not ready, or propping up the leg of an official's desk. Take your defeat gracefully, a polite cringe may work wonders. Do not worry, when you return nothing will have changed in your absence.
All documents are good. The more you have the easier it is to get more. If you have your grandfather's Discharge Papers from World War One it is relatively simple to open a bank account, providing you can also show valid proof of your own existence (see above) and sanity. In the event of losing your sanity you will need the customary sixteen: photographs and a certificate from the doctor (together with a photocopy of the doctor's Birth Certificate) stating that your are without your senses.