Yesterday, we went went on a little adventure through the dark recesses of Lebanon's immigration service.
When you lose you passport at home, you report it lost to the police, you cite the report number on the application form you collect from the postshop down the road, you send off your money and seven days later your new passport arrives at your front door with the smiley courier guy. Here… not so much.
The story begins a week ago when we went to the police station here in Tyr to report the loss at the airport in Beirut (yes. I had been in the country less than half an hour and I lost three passports. Not impressive. I was doing a fairly good zombie impression at the time, but that isn't really an excuse). Anyway, the police/immigration service in Tyr - conveniently situated at the local prison - sent us to Saida. 50km away. To get paperwork for the station here to give us more paperwork. Then you get your report number. Right.
I should note that we got a Lebanese friend to translate everything for us at the prison. Faidal, unfortunately, works every day but Sunday (which just happens to be the day the police station is closed in Saida), so he suggested we hire a Taxi and get a driver that spoke English who could help us for the day. Finding one of those was a mission in itself, but we engaged the services of Hussain, the cousin of Ali, one of the translators for the UN.
I had the worst case of gastro I've ever had over the previous two days. So, imagine the scene. I'm not feeling all that great, we're holding two small bundles of snot (decided taking them was a better idea than leaving them with a sitter we didn't really know when they were sick), we're at the mercy of a guy we don't know who tells us it will cost US$50 for the day. We have no idea where we're going, no idea what we need to do there and in all honesty it could really have been the set up for a great monty python sketch at this point.
At Saida, we become the parade of lost children following our pied piper Hussain. Trailing babies, we follow him through information (which is a small, out of the way room not at all obviously where you would ask for information), up stairs through a filthy building more suited as the set for a russian cold war era spy film, complete with the soldiers standing smoking under the 'no smoking' sign (I wanted SO bad to take a photo of that, but figured we were in enough trouble already) to the tiny immigration office, which is manned by four men in LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) uniforms who peer at us over their large wooden desks and tell us we're in the wrong place, and we need to get scans of the front page of the lost passports before we come back. At least, I think thats what we were told. Thank god I've bought the scans on a memory stick, but they don't use computers in the police station, so we are back down the stairs, past the smoking soldiers to the car to find a copy place and another place whose function I'm still not sure exactly of. Hussain says 'Court', I think he means 'Municipal Building/Registry Office'. Whatever the case, it requires a full body search and the surrender of our phones before we are allowed in.
Here, we first descend to the bowels of the building and consult the Oracle. I'm actually pretty sure that's his official title. 1 x very friendly old dude in a small fluorescent lit room with a really loud and efficient German-made Arabic electric typewriter who listens to our story, as told by Hussain, types it up in triplicate in Arabic, affixes it with many stamps (the kind that look like postage stamps) and sends us on our way upstairs to sit in a queue.
Here, I'm certain Hussain somehow jumps the queue and finds a woman behind another large wooden desk (again, without a computer) who first asks if we speak French before making him translate that she doen't like us because we are UN - this whilst showing us the screen saver on her iphone is the VP of Hezbollah - but that she will help us anyway because she likes our children (score on bringing the cute sick kids). After some discussion with Hussain and another member of staff, we follow her into her boss's office, which is also full of soldiers. I'm pretty sure we interrupt some kind of conference, but he nods at us (god like) and we leave.
Back at her desk, forms are signed. Stamps are thumped. I sign the stamps. We follow her to another desk where we are entered into a big black ledger by a large man surrounded by people who all seem to be talking at once. More stamps. We leave. I am confused by what has happened and, on asking Hussain about it am just told that we were really lucky we were foreign. Apparently that process takes the locals anything up to two days. Still confused.
We return to the Saida police station immigration office with the wad of stamps. There is a big discussion over whether the report should be in my name rather than my Husbands, but it is concluded that as I had been the one to lose the passport it was acceptable that the report be in my name. Sigh of relief. More waiting. We are directed into someone's office to sit on the only spare chairs on this floor while Hussain has a conversation with the soldiers about us. Not sure what happens next as having slightly weird conversation with owner of office about his kids and how to say LAF rank in French (turns out he was a Lieutenant). A soldier appears and hands me a receipt. It is about the size and appearance of one of those hand written receipts that you get in the receipt books used by small businesses, only its in Arabic and has a stamp on it. Hussain tells me not to lose it. I'm to take it to the immigration in Tyr on Wednesday and they'll ask me some questions.
ALLLLLL of that, my longest post yet, and you guys still don't have your happy ending. Sorry about that. If its any consolation, I'm still a bit confused too.
Let you know how it goes on Wednesday.
p.s. Hussain is a prince among men and we gave him $100. He earned every penny. And my eternal gratitude.