A tale of Stone Age systems and frustrations


People looked shocked and irritated while they stood around waiting for their name to be called so they could get a chance to go into the office and start the process of renewing their business licenses.  Every once in a while, an older gentleman would stick his head out the office and the waiting people would become filled with hope as they listened carefully to the names being called out.
Most come early in the morning, a couple of hours before the office even opens. They stand in line while a designated employee lists their names on a piece of paper. Those names will eventually find their way to the licensing office.  Ideally the office then will follow that list and process the licenses in the order of the names on the list. However, as we all know, we don’t live in an ideal world.
“I have been here since five in the morning, why isn’t my name being called?” was a frequently asked question.
It is bad enough that business owners have to go through the long and mind numbing process of paying taxes, but even after that, to try and renew business licenses has become a full fledged pain in the butt. The weird thing about this situation is that it actually never gets better; it is very likely that it is getting worse.
As I was standing around with my fellow men and women waiting to hear my name called out, I couldn’t help but over hear people talking and making suggestions about how to make the whole process easer for both the customers and the office workers.
“I do not understand why I have to stand inline with the people who just started the process of renewal while I have finished everything, paid for everything and I am just here to pick up the document!” I heard someone exclaim. And I felt they were absolutely right.  
In a country where lining up for everything is down right more common than…well not lining up, it would be normal behavior to just say ‘oh well’ and  go with the flow but it is almost impossible not to feel upset or not to take it personally when one is hustled  to the point of absolute rage or tears. Yes, some people do actually cry.
So why aren’t things getting better? Beats me! Maybe it has something to do with the fact that everything still seems to be on paper. This means that when a person’s file is needed, although it will likely be in alphabetical order, the employee will still have to look for it among hundreds of peoples files. That takes a lot of time and not to mention energy.
So I wonder, wouldn’t it be so much easer if, oh I don’t know, some sort of automated system was put in place? It is not like computers, servers and back-up systems are  new phenomena that has been just introduced to Ethiopia.
Okay where was I?…yes I was standing around waiting for my name to be called, which never happened by the way. Finally, when I got tired of everything I made up a different reason to get into the office, the people at the door  bought it and let me in.
I figured the inside of the office would be a lot more pleasant, it almost felt like I was given a pass to heaven (not that I would know what that really feels like, but I imagined it would be something like that).
Upon getting in however, I found that things were even more messed up inside. People shouting back and forth, office workers telling customers to shut up and wait or get out or even go to hell. The small office is crowded and smelly (you get over a hundred people in a small room it is bound to get smelly).
A nice lady directed me to where I needed to go.  I pushed and shoved my way to a desk and there it was! My file! It was all beaten up and torn, but still a sight for a sore eye.
With absolute glee, I kindly, warmly and with a big old smile on my face said to the lady behind the desk, “That one, yes the one on top, that is my file.” She did not share my enthusiasm, she actually got really upset and told me that they were calling my name repeatedly but I was nowhere to be found.
I started to say that wasn’t true. I said that I was waiting over three hours outside to be called up on but nobody did. I wanted to tell her how tiring it was to get to her office at the break of dawn and find out that I was still the 50th person to arrive. I wanted to say it was actually my third time going back and forth, I wanted to say that I had a job to get to and if I didn’t get there on time, I would get in trouble. I wanted to share my frustrations.
I wanted to say that and more but as I looked at her; the semi-pissed off but mostly tired expression on her face, I came to realize that she too has her own frustrations, she probably has people from all ages and back grounds yelling and demanding her attention all day, everyday. So I put aside all the frustration, managed to carve a smile on my face and apologized for not listing when my name was being called out.
Apologizing for things you have not done and smiling at problems. They are survival mechanisms. They are how we live in this country.