I’m sure if I mentioned the word bureaucracy, everyone no matter of geographic location will have something to say. The Sudanese people are a gregarious bunch, well for the most part. I grew up often hearing the phrase “al Sudan beh nasah” (sudan is its people). Super friendly and to some extent somewhat nosy. Favorite pastime, includes drinking chai and lots of chatting…they love exchanging “shamarat” or gossip.
No conversation can ever start with the intended thought in mind. One must go through the lengthy salamat process, where one must inquire about all family members’ health, the weather, news and any sort of random banter one can think of. Hospitality is engrained in their blood, you can never pass by a group of people gathered to share a meal without being invited to join; even if you are a stranger.
So keeping this in mind, one can begin to get the sense of how government institutions function. Many idle bodies, reading newspapers, drinking chai and exchanging shamarat. There are people working, but like many office settings few carry the workload for many.
The Sudanese have perfected the I.B.M. philosophy. I’m sure that when anyone reads IBM, the image of the highly successful and efficient tech company that is famous for manufacturing some of the most reliable computers on the market. Sadly the Sudanese I.B.M. does not reflect any of the traits associated with this company.
A very simple example, you go to office X, to get some paperwork completed. You ask are assured that INSHALLAH you can come and pick up your completed paper the following day. So you come the next day, you sit down or wait by a window, go have some chai; if it is someone you know you must go through the lengthy salamat process and then….you come to inquire about your paperwork and you are told with a very sympathetic tone….they are not ready today, come BUKRA (tomorrow). So you leave disappointed, knowing that you have lost yet another day having to wait for paperwork. Having resigned yourself to loosing yet another day to getting this paperwork done, you set off to the same office on the third day. You wait, you drink some chai, you chat and then you finally get to ask about your documents….and you are met with yet another response in a sympathetic tone…. MA’ALESH (sorry).
So the Sudanese I.B.M. is a way of life. As much as I would like to knock my head against the wall sometimes, it’s the way things work. They move at glacial speeds but in a uniquely Sudanese way. So if you have any sort of paper work that needs some attention in a government office, then brace yourself, and expect to loose a minimum of three days.