There are just some stories that are too good to forget.
There were a few times last year in Morocco where crazy, insane things happened to me and I knew that these were experiences that I would not want to forget. Not that any of these experiences were particularly pleasant – they weren’t – but they are entertaining in retrospect. And although I’ve told the stories many times to friends, I have yet to document them. Now as I tell the stories each time, I find that I’ve forgotten more and more details. So it’s time to write them down so that I’ll have them saved forever.
So below is story #1.
This story stretches from September 2009 to May 2010 – the length of time it took for me to secure a residence card in Morocco. A foreigner can stay in Morocco for 3 months at a time without a residence card (you are given a 3 month tourist visa upon your arrival in country) but if you want to stay for a longer period of time, you have to apply for a residence card.
I knew from the start that successfully getting a residence card was a lot of work. A lot of foreigners that live in Morocco do not even bother getting a card – they just plan to leave the country and come back in every 3 months – and they may plan to do this for years and years. I suppose they see it as a good excuse to jet off to Europe every once in awhile.
But I found that plan to be too much time and money ( I would have had to leave and come back 5 times during my stay), so I prepared the papers for a residence card. Here is what I needed: proof of residence, proof of job/income, a 100 dirham (that’s the currency) stamp, and photocopies of your passport. Now that doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it? I didn’t think so at first either…
Problem #1: Finding a place that sells the 100 dirham stamp. The residence card application only began requiring a 100 dirham stamp a few years ago (it was 60 dirhams or something before), so few places sell these stamps. And of course, few people know where to go and even when they do know, how do you describe where it is? Addresses are next to useless here, especially when you are talking about a small magazine shack in the center of town. So I went on an excursion one afternoon to find this elusive magazine shack armed only with that information. I managed to find the place after a few hours of asking person after person and visiting about 10 tobacco shops. But problem #1 solved!
Problem #2: My residence. I was living with a home stay for my first three months in country, but I needed proof of where I would be living for 6 months. Some host families in the past have been known to let foreign students say they are living with them for 6 months, but my family did not think it was a good idea (and I don’t blame them), so I couldn’t use their address. So I had to wait until I found my permanent residence.
(3 months passes and I leave the country and come back in buying me 3 more months of time)
Problem #3: My proof of job/income. My first 6 months in country, I was considered a student. I was taking classes at an Arabic school in town and I had a document saying that this was so. However, now that I was applying for the residence card 3 months later, I no longer had proof of study for the next 6 months. The government officials in the application office informed me that my “job” as a Fulbright researcher was not enough – I had to have proof from somewhere else that I was working with them. Boo. I called one of the Fulbright coordinators in Rabat (amazing lady who can fix pretty much anything!), and she got me an “affiliation” with the university in Fez (meaning she changed my affiliation on my Fulbright document to say this). Well, that was easy, right? Not so fast….the government officials now say that I need a document from the university that says I am working with them. Luckily, this affiliation wasn’t entirely made up and I went to one of the professors at the university to have him write me an affiliation letter. But one more last catch…he says I need the signature (and stamp, they love official stamps here) of the dean of the school.
Getting the signature of the dean was actually quite the adventure. He seemed to get a kick out of me and my darija (language skills) and was interested in my research project, too. I spent about an hour in his office chatting and him correcting the French on my document (as a French professor, he refused to sign a document riddled with grammatical errors).
So now I officially have all the job/income papers I need.
Which leads me back to problem #2: my proof of residence. After leaving my home stay family, I moved into a great house in the old section of the city that was owned by a British lady. We were renting her house unofficially since she does not have the papers to officially rent out her space (can you guess why? Yeah, she doesn’t have a residence card!). This sounds like a bad arrangement in America – an unofficial rental agreement – but in Morocco, it’s a fairly normal occurrence. Since I’m unofficially renting the house, I couldn’t use the address on my application. (Although my housemate managed to do this…don’t even get me started….).
So as I’m leaving the residence card application office, defeated for about the sixth time in the last six months, on the verge of tears, who just happens to be on a morning stroll with his family through the area? The professor that had helped me with the affiliation letter! I was clearly upset and I told him the entire saga of getting this darn residence card.
He – God bless his parents (that’s what you say when you want to give a BIG thank you) – offered to let me use his home address for my application. Now obviously this isn’t exactly legal – but I was desperate! We talked to the Fulbright coordinator and hearing the full story, agreed that this was a good solution.
So – humdililah! (Praise God – used to rejoice) – I finally had everything in place.
I finally successfully submitted my application and two months later I had in my hands my own official residence card!!
This story is long and complicated enough, as you see, but add in the fact that every single time I got a new document I had to go get the paper photocopied twice and then get it notarized twice at the local notarizing office, there was a LOT of time consumed by this residence card task.
But after all is said and done, I’m glad I got the card and I had some interesting adventures along the way – spending an afternoon talking to tobacco store workers, a hour in the university dean’s office, and some quality time with my favorite university of Fez professor. And when it was time for next year’s Fulbright students to apply for their residence card, I had tons of wisdom to pass on :)
Stay tuned for story #2!