Of Egyptian bureaucracy and birth certificates

2 Feb

Learning to be a father, with all the requisite tasks of changing diapers, feeding, bathing, holding, putting to sleep, indoctrinating with tales of Notre Dame football and Braves baseball, etc., has been my first great adventure this week. My second great adventure was tackling the Great Egyptian Bureaucracy to get Finn a birth certificate and make him, Pinocchio-like, a real little boy. Fortunately, I was joined in my adventure by our friend Clay, who’s here studying Arabic — it’s a good thing he came, or I would have been totally lost.

First off, we went to El Nada Hospital, where he was born, to get a notification of birth, which actually was pretty easy. Then we had to go to the district office of the Ministry of Health, which was about a half kilometer away, down a little side street (unlabeled, of course). After asking for directions from the woman selling herbs and onions on the side of the road, we found the building, a dilapidated villa-turned-government-office, with five or six rooms all shooting off the central entryway. There was no reception desk, and no one seemed to care we were there, so we had to go door to door asking where to go. Finally, a woman, practically drowning in a pile of loose papers, motioned us over, looked at my forms, and said I needed two copies of Melissa’s passport. So we grabbed a taxi, raced home, Clay met Finn, and we raced back to the office. It was 1:30 by now, perilously close to the 2:00 closing time — yes, government offices are open from 9 to 2 — but fortunately everyone was still there.

We reapproached the woman, who promptly sent us down the road, apparently (this was all lost to me in a flurry of Arabic) to get more forms — exactly from where or whom she didn’t say. So we wandered around for a few minutes, and didn’t see anything like another government office where one might acquire forms, then went back and asked again. Another guy took us to a copy shop a few doors down, where the owner, after going back and forth with Clay about whether or not we had two copies of our passports, reached under the counter and gave us two photocopied forms. (Of course, why didn’t I think of getting my official government documents at the local Kinko’s?) I had to pay 25 Egyptian pounds for some stamps of unknown purpose, which mysteriously appeared in a folded-up piece of paper, then we headed back to the Ministry of Health yet again.

The woman seemed satisfied now that we had everything in order, and started to fill out the forms. That is, until we got to the baby’s name. She couldn’t for the life of her understand why he wasn’t being named Patrick, at least as a middle name, since Egyptian children take their father’s name as a matter of course. We (rather, Clay) explained that things are different in America, at which point she sent us over to the director to discuss such a ludicrous notion. So we tramped across the hall to his office, decorated with an oversized and very stern-looking portrait of President Mubarak (I got sort of a “Big Brother is watching” feeling) and featuring a TV playing Egyptian soap operas that the director occasionally glanced up at. He was actually quite friendly and helpful, and his English was pretty good (certainly better than my Arabic). He looked at the form and decided to start over, grabbing another couple of copies out of his filing cabinet. (So why exactly did we have to go to Mohamed’s Copy Shop and Government Document Emporium?)

All the forms had to be in Arabic (the official language of Egypt), so after much negotiation, we settled on an Arabic transliteration of Finn Javier Mason…which ends up sounding more like “Feen Hafeer Mason.” When it was all done to everyone’s satisfaction, he plastered the green certificate with red stamps and sent us on our merry way, and now Finn (or Feen) can say he has a cool-looking Egyptian birth certificate. (Or so we think…it’s all in Arabic, so for all I know we signed him up for military service or sold his soul to the devil or something like that.)


7 Responses to “Of Egyptian bureaucracy and birth certificates”

  1. Javi (not the brother) February 2, 2008 at 12:58 pm #

    The Braves? Come on, Patrick. Don’t strip the kid of hope less than a month into his life. Isn’t Melissa a fan of some organization with a chance? The Nationals maybe? How ’bout the Padres!?

    Of course, you can’t go wrong with Boston!

  2. mom February 2, 2008 at 6:40 pm #

    How about posting some new photos of Feen Hafeer Shallah Paatreek Mason? Perhaps with his little galabeya & head covering/dishtowel?

  3. jeff carrier February 2, 2008 at 9:42 pm #

    First off, you can go very wrong with Boston. Secondly, I’m sure Finn will do fine in whatever service you signed up for. Or hopefully will be out of the country before he has to serve. Best of luck Indiana Mason, adventurer of Egypt.

  4. Melissa February 2, 2008 at 10:30 pm #

    Sorry guys, with the spotty internet service, it’s going to be impossible to post pictures until they’ve fixed everything. We’re hearing it’ll be fixed within 10 days, inshallah. In the meantime, we can access the blog (obviously) but have only been able to get into our e-mail once or twice in the last few days and our Skype isn’t working. We’re taking lots of pictures and will put up more when things are better.

  5. Uncle Hafee (the brother) February 4, 2008 at 2:30 am #

    Nice.. what an ordeal.

  6. Non-Arab Arab February 4, 2008 at 5:00 am #

    I have to say, I am impressed you got it in one day!

  7. Deeana March 13, 2016 at 4:17 am #


    I realize this an old post. However I have a question. My husband and I recently had a baby in Egypt and we are having difficulties getting a birth certificate for the baby.
    Did you need to get your passports translated? Also did you need to show them your marriage license?

    Kind regards,

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