During the near decade that I spent with the Ministry of Culture I met some really interesting characters.
There was this office boy, who was pretty old for that job, he was in his late forties, but was qualified for nothing else. He was a very pleasant, mild mannered drug addict. It was a very well known secret. I remember asking him what he did to get his fix during Ramadan, the month of fasting. He gave me a detailed description of how he did it. During normal days he used to swallow a lump of hash just before leaving for the office. But in Ramadan he has to cut off food and water at dawn, so if he took his fix then, it will start working too early and won’t last long enough till sundown when he can take his second fix. Need is the mother of invention. So he managed to think of a method that would keep the hash from being absorbed too quickly; he used to, during Ramadan, wrap the hash in soft bread pulp and swallow it whole just before dawn. This was quite clever. One day during Ramadan, this man was struggling, to the extent that he walked through a closed door carrying a full tray of coffee and tea orders. I asked him what happened and he said he overslept and did not have the time to swallow his morning fix before dawn broke.
Another interesting character was one of the bosses who was known as being light fingered and good at juggling the figures so that he alway lined his pockets at whatever he was doing. He was invariably seen with worry beads in his hand, a supposed sign of piety. Though quite dishonest, he had a terrific sense of humor and was known to make jokes about himself. One of those jokes was that his worry beads were not to remind him of the number of prayers, on the contrary, he was counting all the stuff he had managed to “win” from the Ministry!
One of my female colleagues was a very conservative woman who was forever having a difficult time coping with the way we dressed. That was the time of mini and micro skirts. Generally there were no micro skirts, but miniskirts were the norm. One day the Ministry sent out a survey asking if employees of the ministry would prefer to stick to their individual code of dress or would prefer a uniform to apply to all. That woman started lobbying for a uniform. Personally I did not like that one bit. So I tried to find out why she was all for a uniform. It was like opening Pandora’s box. The barrage of complaints and criticism of dress, then morality of those dressed in the way which she deemed indecent, was overwhelming in its vitriol. The only way to stop that horrible idea of a uniform from taking root, was to persuade her that it was a bad idea and would not serve her purpose. I finally came up with a plan. On a day when she was feeling less irritated than usual, I approached her and said I would like her opinion about the survey, she gave me a condescending smile and gestured for me to take a seat. I started by saying that I knew that she understood that by agreeing to the uniform she would be giving up one of her rights. She looked surprised, what right is she giving up? I said the right of choice. But, she argued, they will have a uniform for all. I said yes, but do you know what that uniform looks like? Maybe its a miniskirt that you will HAVE to wear because you would be one of the driving force behind that survey agreeing to the uniform. She nearly had a fit! They would never do that! I said how do you know? You are giving up your right to object and to choose your own code of dress. I did not be labour the point. I thanked her for helping me understand the situation better and left. The next day the tide turned. The idea of a uniform became taboo and was scratched with a vengeance.