I moved to Morocco in 2001. At the time I spoke neither Arabic nor French, but I was a student of Arabic in a language school. Knowing this is important as I describe my experiences with the birth of two of my children about 15 months apart, both in Morocco.
My first child was born in Casablanca. At the time I had studied just enough Arabic to know common greetings and describe the members of my family. I did not have an adequate knowledge to be able to deal with forms, offices, and the details of life. I didn’t think it mattered until the person who had promised to help me with translation was suddenly unavailable right when their assistance was most needed.
I went alone to the U.S. Consulate, where I knew I could at least find out what was needed as an American citizen to ensure my child’s paperwork was complete on that end. They also supplied me with a helpful set of instructions listing what papers they needed from Morocco and how to acquire them.
I set off on a quest to get an official Moroccan birth certificate. After misunderstanding directions several times, I eventually found the right government office and arrived with all of the correct paperwork. Then, the person sitting at the desk asked me to have my marriage license translated into French. It was the last straw and I broke.
After a brief but somewhat loud exchange during which I used every bit of broken Arabic I knew to refuse the request and point out that the important words were either very clear, as in the names on the license, or were nearly or absolutely identical in French and English, such as “marriage license,” so that there was no possible way that the document could be mistaken for anything else, I was told “It’s okay, you can pay her.”
My file was taken to the desk of another person in the office who took a look and said, “No problem.” Two hundred Dirhams and one day later, I walked away with two official Moroccan birth certificates for the U.S. Consulate and easily acquired the official U.S. paperwork so my child could be a U.S. citizen. I didn’t think anything of the money other than perhaps there was a fee that I didn’t know about beforehand.
My second child was born in Fes a mere 15 months later. My Arabic had progressed greatly by that time, and I had no trouble communicating with either the hospital or any of the government offices. I was able to take the exact same paperwork to the proper office in Fes, they looked at it and made some notes, and then gave me two official Moroccan birth certificates for my second child. No fees were mentioned and I did not pay for anything other than the standard notarization of documents (official stamps to certify copies as conforming to the original documents).
What was the difference? In both cases, I did my best to be polite and humble, ask questions and request assistance while never demanding or being rude. In the first instance, I was a weak and unprotected foreigner who didn’t know what was going on, didn’t have anyone to assist me, and no way to appeal for help. I was stuck, and the people in the office knew it. In the second, I was a knowledgeable and educated man being treated as an honored guest.
The topic this month is centered on red tape and bureaucracy in Morocco. This is but a brief glimpse into part of the problem: service in government offices is not standard and those in better positions are often treated better than those in positions of weakness. There are other problems.
Had I time, I would describe the six month process of obtaining government permission to conduct research in Morocco and the labyrinthine procedure to use that permission to start a consulting firm to assist others wanting to do research from outside the country. I believe the issues of graft and corruption still exist, but seem to be improving. The sheer volume of paperwork and the size of the Moroccan bureaucracy is a problem that remains as strong as ever.