Two months ago I decided to quit my job and be a full time student. When I was submitting my resignation, the chief accountant, the nicest version of an Egyptian woman in her late forties, advised me to go to the social security department and claim the money that was being deducted every month from my salary. Using what calculators have left me of mathematical abilities I knew that this money would keep me comfortable maybe for the rest of the year. I was told that the whole procedure would take around two months, which is … OK!
Although I’m known to be a patient person, I do have a short tolerance span with nonsense and stupidity and there is no place on earth where you can find a huge amount of both like you would in an Egyptian government department.
I decided to drag myself out of bed one Thursday morning to go to the Social Security department to which my last employer is attached. It occupied two floors of a big residential building in an area located one-hour’s drive away from my place. The offices were simply the rooms of the apartments with desks fitted into every corner. Filing shelves were squeezed in every possible inch and stood tired of the heavy dusty untidy paper and sick of citizens fighting with clerks.
I arrived there around eleven in the morning and after passing by five offices I was directed to Apartment Four on the fifth floor which carried a sign: “Pension”. Although I didn’t see how my document should be with that of pensioners, I was not so surprised. I elbowed my way through the zigzags of people till I finally stood in the middle of a room that had three desks and four frowning employees.
‘Good morning, I would like claim my social security money,’ I told one of the ladies.
She was working on a document and didn’t lift her head. She pointed with her pen to the opposite desk. I turned around and repeated the same sentence. The ladies was sitting behind heaps of files and paper, drinking tea and munching at an oily sandwich. She stretched her arm, took my document, shoved it in the middle of one of the heaps.
‘I’ll investigate. Come back in two days,’ she said.
Because I knew that two days meant more than a week, and because I didn’t know how on earth the oily-sandwiched clerk would remember where she placed my documents and what I needed, I went back after a month.
Last Tuesday I decided to check how things where going. Fifth floor, Apartment Four, Pension Department, the office opposite the main door. I was happy to see the office almost empty. It seems people didn’t want to get angry during Ramadan. The clerk I needed to see was not at her desk and I had to wait for ten minutes and bear with the silent female clerk who kept scanning me from head to toe and the noise coming from the other office; a citizen was shouting at one of the clerks for not finishing his document. ‘Have mercy. The man died six months ago and his wife and children need this pension,’ he yelled.
Good, our lady is back .
‘Good morning. I came a month ago to ask about my social security money’
‘What’s your name?’
She opened the cabinet beside her, pulled a brown folder and got my document out.
‘You have another sum from your previous employer. Go upstairs to Mr Mostafa in the archives and ask him to see if the other department has transferred this money to ours.’
Wow. I’m really astonished. I completely didn’t think about that. Great, the government has kept my money? Interesting. Full of excitement, I climbed the stairs to the archives and I am telling you, this is one job you would never want to do and a room you would not want to stand in for five minutes. But who cares now. I have some more money. I could travel abroad for a week or so. Maybe invest in learning a language. I could also buy a professional camera and take photography classes. Or maybe take my brother’s advice and change the car before GAT is here. No, no. I'll attend the wedding of two best friends in the States.
Back to earth at Apartment Four.
‘No, the money is not here yet.’
‘Ok, I will write you a letter to take to the other department and ask them to … Eh da? What’s this? You’re not married?’ she gasped.
‘No, I’m not married. WHY?’
‘Not even engaged? Good that I looked at your hands.’
‘Well, what has this to do with what we’re doing here?!’
‘You can’t claim your money if you’re not married. This is the law.’
‘You have to be either married of fifty years old to be able to take it.’
‘Fifty? Five zero? And wwwwait! What has my future husband to do with my social security money?’
‘Why are you worried? It doesn’t mean he’s going to take it from you. And this is the law.’
‘What if I told you I’m not actually married and not planning to ever! I left my job and I want my money back. It’s my right.’
‘Then wait till you are fifty. This is the law.’
‘What if I need it now for an emergency, to study, to GET married, or …’
‘This is the LAW. I didn’t make that law, no?’
The lady started to get mad at me and I started to laugh. I tried to explain to her that I do understand it was not her who made that law, and that I was hoping to get the rationale behind it.
For the hundreds of nonsensical laws in Egypt there is usually a made up reason. This time I really could not imagine any reason. Not even a stupid one.