"You may be wondering," I said, "why I am sitting at your desk, sharpening 1,872 pencils. The problem is that I do not know the answer to this question myself. Perhaps I am being punished. I'm just not sure why."
We had gotten through, between both of us in a four hour period, somewhere between 400 - 450 pencils sharpened. Out of 1,872. We had overheated five pencils sharpeners and permanently destroyed one. I had, during a moment of sheer spacey-ness, put the eraser end in on accident and ruined the pencil (my boss had to dig the eraser out with two paper clips). I became undoubtedly the best-paid pencil sharpener in the history of the world. And then someone thought to order presharpened pencils.
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Secondly, homais attempting to extend his visa in Damascus:
He helped me with the last of the form, which I proudly presented to the man behind the desk, only to be told with a click of the tongue, "no, no, you must photocopy this twice, then buy the stamp, then come back". He waved me away with a 'this conversation is over' gesture.
Copy it where? What stamp? From whom? After all the stress of the morning, I very nearly melted down right on the spot. I was about two seconds away from the worst Ugly American moment of my life. I am an American, goddamnit, I wanted to yell. My fucking country rules the world, and I will not be treated like this. This is backwards! Barbaric! Insane! Help me with your stupid procedure, useless peon, or my country's wrath will be swift and awful!
Fortunately, I checked myself. I realised that my rage was nothing, nothing compared to this man's complete indifference to my fate. I would have done better to yell at the wall. Instead, I tried a different tactic.
"Please," I said as humbly as I could, in a mishmash of English and Arabic. "I am very confused and my Arabic is not very good." I can cry on cue. If I were a girl, I probably would have tried it, but I don't think it works as well when you're male, here or in any country. I went on: "Please, explain to me what to do. I don't understand." I did my best to make my eyes plead silently.
He sat a moment, weighing his options, never looking up from his other paperwork. After an infinite pause, he said "fine. Go downstairs to one of the stores outside. They will know."