I was fingerprinted today.
First time I was fingerprinted, it was at the Appleton Police Department. I know, sounds like the start of a really good story, but it’s not. Or, it is, but not like you’d expect. Peace Corps applicants are fingerprinted and run through a crime database before moving on in recruitment. So, perhaps, since Peace Corps led me to Morocco, where I married my husband, maybe those first fingerprints did lead to these. But as always, I digress.
The UAE will soon require all residents to hold an Emirates ID card. I am a generally compliant person, and they are also now posting deadlines and per-day fines to begin next year, so it made sense for me to register now, before everyone who’s been here ten years and never got around to it freaks out and the lines get long and backlogs start. I went to the typing centre a couple of weeks ago. That’s a place where people behind a counter, or at little desks, often wearing light blue button-down shirts, enter your info into a database on your behalf, and you pay the fees. There are typing centres all over town handling all sorts of bureaucratic things such as residence permits, medical examinations, and probably lots of other things that don’t affect me, but may affect expats from other countries.
I don’t like typing centres. They are sad little places. Some have little number machines for customers, others you have to sort of jostle with the public and wrestle your way to the counter. Fees feel unpredictable, though I am sure they are probably off a formula and quite systematic. But there is just something incredibly out of sync to have these rows of scribes entering info off a passport and into data fields, something I’m perfectly capable of doing myself. Like two things are happening about 200 years apart, but at the same time. It feels like time travel. The typists aren’t comfortable being friendly. The boss is looking over their shoulders, and snide remarks about bureaucracy are probably not wise to make in those circumstances. But you want to. But you don’t.
Anyway, I got my SMS before making it out the door of the typing centre, with the date and time of my in-person portion of the registration process. Today was my big day. Well, husband said he was busy today and I’d just have to cab it over myself. Turns out, cab fare was nearly 50 AED (each way), and the office (a different one from where the husband had his stuff done) is out in the boonies, down a gravel path on the edge of something, somewhere with lots of speed bumps and roundabouts.
My first cabbie offered to wait for me outside the building, but I sent him off, afraid it could take me an hour or longer. He assured me it would not take ten minutes. He didn’t know how embittered I am by bureaucracy. I didn’t remember that Dubai is always a surprise.
Inside the building, I was quickly (albeit not politely) served up a number by a woman wearing an abaya and surgically inflated lips at reception. I took the number to the next room, marked “Ladies Only,” where another woman, this one transfigured to a beauty by her kindness and friendliness, waited at the contraption desk. She took the most thorough “fingerprint” scan I have ever imagined. Full hand, fingers, ends of fingers each separately rolled over the scanner, palm pressed against the scanner, and even the heels of the hands.
I was embarrassed by the outrageous trembling of my right hand as she worked it through the calisthenics of the scanning. She was kind about it, claiming her own shaking was worse when she had hers done. I know, nice, right?
Then, I got to stare into a camera and she shot my eyes. And that was that.
I got a receipt and instructions about the next SMS I am to expect, and was free to go, certainly not ten minutes after arriving. Shorter than the cab ride. The driver had been right. But he was gone. I’d told him to go. I stood a few moments in front of the building, looking for another cab, but there were none just then. A man called to me, “Taxi, madam?”
“Yes,” I replied. He asked where to, I told him.
“Use a car lift, madam,” he said. “Just the same.”
“No thanks,” I said, smiling. “I’ll wait for a taxi.” He protested, and we went back and forth a little, but I wasn’t buying. I’d never heard of a car lift, and I assumed it was an unlicensed taxi. Just then, a licensed taxi arrived, and I flagged him down and got in. The driver asked why I was laughing when he arrived, and I told him about the car lift: I was right, he said, and I should never use one. They’re not metered, and they are illegal, and if they were to get in an accident, my ID would be taken and I’d be in trouble for hiring the car in the first place.
He was clearly delighted to be able to offer me this bit of instruction.
As is my habit, I asked the driver where he was from (Pakistan), how long he’s been here (not long, just 11 years, madam), whether he likes Dubai (it’s okay). We talked about snow (he will go home, near here, for snow this winter), our children (we both have 10-year-old sons), a little about politics, and then that quickly veered into religion, a much safer bet, where it stayed for the rest of the ride. In the end, my taxi-driving brother refused my tip.
“Inshallah,” he said, “next time I will take it.”
There are approximately 7,500 taxis in Dubai.