The Luddites at the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) had messed up our bill payment because their payments are managed by Empost and therefore you can pay your bill outside their billing cycle. Once you’re there, you are guaranteed a ever-increasing stay in Outworld, with everything screwing up more and more as each month goes by and each payment getting credited in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only solution is to go down there physically and talk to someone with direct access to their prehistoric computer system and command of a UN recognised language. The latter is usually the big problem.
SEWA’s offices in Ramadan are a listless, torpid place: you can actually physically feel the effort as everyone flops around trying to conserve energy. Come to think of it, SEWA’s offices are like that outside Ramadan, too…
I was waiting to speak to the head of the front office, a laconic Palestinian bloke, who was dealing with an agitated local. The conversation tickled me pink, and went (taking up from when I rolled up, obviously) like this:
“The bill’s not paid and the computer has you down for disconnection. That’s why we disconnected it.”
“But the boss pays the bill and he’s not here.”
“I can’t help that. Your boss has to pay the bill.”
“We’ve been without water for two days. Just give me the key for the water!”
“I can’t do that. You have to pay the bill before we can reconnect it. It’s on the computer.”
“You’re a dog and so’s your computer!”
At which the local turned on his heel and strode off. Now calling someone a dog in the Arab world is not generally considered to be polite, to put it lightly.
“Ramadan Kareem” retorted the SEWA chap. It was delivered impeccably: a perfectly timed mixture of remonstration and effyewtoo. Ramadan Kareem is a traditional wish at Ramadan and means ‘Ramadan is generous’. The month is not only a religious observance but is also meant to be a time of piety, reflection and community and using bad language or being naughty are no-nos.
The local turned at the door. “And you know what you can do with your Ramadan Kareem, too!” He shouted.
I felt I had witnessed a moment of true humanity and was still grinning as I left a few minutes later, despite being considerably lighter in the pocket.