We line up to get identity. 130 people are ahead of me. 129, 128, 127. Bureaucracy takes time everywhere.

Bureaucratic time is ritual time. It makes us. Produces the us we narrate in our shared experiences of bureaucracy.

One office felt familiar: the helpful guard, the indifferent office administrator, the petty bureaucrat. The lack of information. The sense that whatever one does is wrong—though there are no rules to direct conduct. One wanders randomly. Hoping not to offend beyond the arbitrary limit whose crossing will transform a bureaucratic hurdle into the unbridgeable sea of lost files.

One smiles hesitantly, says hello. Endures petty cruelties.

How do cruel petty bureaucrats respond to that most casual of interactions:

“How was your day?”
“I was mean to many people.”

The job must be tedious. After all, many of us are here because we are not responsible enough to hold on to our wallet-sized ID cards.

Many sit here without reading or writing material, not even looking at their phones. Anxiety mounts. How can it not? The process seems designed to be humane. Perhaps a busy government facility is a good thing? A sign that “government is working.”

A number is called.
No one responds.
The number has been called.
The subsequent number is called.

Those who can—those who must—stick it out.

How strange it must be to act as the state’s gateway: with a stroke of a pen, one bestows state-recognized Kenyan-ness.

I’m not sure what kind of book one would be able to read here. I am carrying Emma Darcy, Jacques Rancière, and Sol Stein, none of whom seem appropriate to the rhythms of an indoctrinating voice:

Now Serving Number . . .
Please Go To Counter Number . . .

Now Serving Number . . .
Please Go To Counter Number . . .

Now Serving Number . . .
Please Go To Counter Number . . .

Now Serving Number . . .
Please Go To Counter Number . . .

Now Serving Number . . .
Please Go To Counter Number . . .

From Lacan: The important thing, for us, is that we are seeking here—before any formation of the subject, of a subject who thinks, who situates himself in it—the level at which there is counting, things are counted, and in this counting he who counts is already included. It is only later that the subject has to recognize himself as such, recognize himself as he who counts.

those who in counting are counted—that which is countable
a history of modernity

Handwriting conveys a state-recognized truth. One’s details are read from a state database, from a computer screen, and then written down in pen on a state-issued document that is filed by the state.

The process is bureaucratic: wasteful & unnecessary


We assemble here—we are assembled here—as those who wait. State can mean condition. We are conditioned. Acted on by numbers and numbering. A choreography of small movements. Strangers make conversation, an attempt to be unnumbered. Books call it “human connection.”

Another border. Another set of prints.
I will spend as much time here as on a flight to Johannesburg.
Another border. Another set of prints.

One is processed.

The building is well ventilated. Unlike other Kenyan bureaucratic spaces, it is not an accumulation of stale anxiety and fear, the inevitable byproducts of one’s encounters with the state.

A friend tells stories of identity seekers stripped of belonging.

Here, we occupy space as encroachment—the hand that uses you to balance a body, the body that stretches its man-being to assert its man-ownership, the too-large purses that hit one as their owners rush past. And those few of us who fold in on ourselves, trying to make space something that can be shared, struggling against bodies that will not yield, that will not acknowledge others as bodies, that will not attempt to make our shared bodying kind or gentle.

A man walks past. He is holding a recorder. Those who don’t know any better call it a flute.

“Efficient Services Available at the Convenience of the Citizen”

The older gentlemen sitting next to me speaks into a pink phone.

Five hours later: what I need is not possible here.

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