Fingers and thumbs

April 22, 2012

My two years were up and it was time to renew my residence card. This time it was possible to avoid the health screening at the government facility in Darsait by using one of the several authorised private centres, so I chose Atlas in Al Khuwayr. 

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my passport the first time so couldn’t pass, even with my valid residence card. So I went along the next day for the blood test sample, chest x-ray, and a strange medical check-up which ended with the advisory words, “Lose 7kg sir, no cheese or fried food.”

Atlas took my right thumbprint for each step along the way, I am thinking how efficient is this? The next morning I returned for the test results. All clear, thank heavens. Back at my office I am told that the results now need to go off to Darsait, to be stamped…..I can’t face that place so a PRO helps me out.

With a day to go before my residence card expires I head off to the facility near the airport to get the process completed. I am pointed in the direction of the fingerprint building, where no new prints are needed; all were done last time, every finger and thumb. I get the silver sticker for my passport page and feel like I am top of the class.

Back to the main building where the nice man at reception gives me ticket number 2257, and checks my forms. The electronic counter indicates that ticket 2121 is being processed.  I am told to go into the room to the left, where there are no spare seats, and 160 men queuing. I am the odd one out. There is no air in this room, so I take my place standing outside. Ten minutes later there is no movement with the counter. “Computer not working,” says the nice man. A kind Omani in a blue dishdasha smiles at me. “What to do,” he says.

Finally the counter jumps to life, and after an hour I get into the photo-booth area. Ticket number 2323 is ahead of me! He has jumped the queue! I can’t believe it. “Right thumb please here, sir, and look at the camera.”

I get to the room where the residence cards are given out, to find just two men at work, and a room full of 200 people, all crowding around the front desk, all in airspace I consider to be too close to mine. “Thumb print, sir, “ I am requested, my new card is in my hand, and after two and a half hours I am on my way.

Next morning I am on the 8am flight to Dubai, and at the electronic gate I try to use my shiny new residence card. The machine asks me for right index finger, then left. Both are rejected. I try all three machines. No joy. The official Omani points me to the man with the passport stamp. I am confused.

I return to Muscat that night, and the Omani friend of my taxi driver is working next to the electronic entry gate. Again the machine asks for my right index finger, then left, and I am rejected.

I wait and talk to my Omani friend. “I know the machine is asking me for my finger, but I am going to try my thumb,” I say. “Do you think it will work?” “Inshallah” he replies.  I am worried others in the queue will see that I don’t know my fingers from my thumbs, so I wait until everyone else is through.

The machine asks for my right index finger, but I place my right thumb on the glass. The gate opens. I am through. The thought of trying to get my official records corrected keeps me awake at night. But I do now understand why so many people at the electronic gates fail to get through. The system is also a guessing game!