I spent a mind-numbing morning down at Lumumba Road in one last misguided attempt to get my zambian drivers license. I got a provisional license back in August after about 5 hours standing in one line and another but that was 6 months ago and the thing long-expired because were were so discouraged and confused about what needed to happen next. Every person we asked seemed to have a different strange answer and anyway it was too late to do anything more that day so we left the building, defeated. We sent a ‘fixer’ to go stand in queues but he did not have any better luck than us and the provisional licenses we worked to hard for lapsed.
An upcoming road trip (with many police check points), meant we needed to rethink about our lapsed provisional licenses. So I spent the day in any number of different slow moving queues at three different Road Transport and Safety Association (RTSA) offices: Ridgeway (a vaguely administrative office), Lumumba Road (a maze of service windows and closets) and Mimosa (bookings).
Queues and confusion
First was the queue for room 14, it is supposed to be Mr. Bright Phiri's office where we were sent from the RIdgeway RTSA office after visiting room 10 and 14 there. Onto data capturing -- line 9-- only because the line we were directed to from line 28 (line 12) was closed, as were the other 10 and 11 examiner's lines although the examiners were sitting there, it seems, just sitting there to tell people to go stand in another line. Then to the cashier (line 18) where I insisted on paying for license renewals and conversion licenses and a booking fee which caused all sorts of ruckus as it took a good 20 minutes for her computer to print the booking receipts -- 20 long minutes with a huge and ever-growing line of irritated zambian men queuing up behind me.
We (you would think We means me and todd but here it means me and Celia, my friend who has assured me that she would get me out of the hoop-jumping that I had previously been directed to do--the main reason Todd and I had failed to act beyond getting the provisional licenses ages go) but I digress. We high tailed it out of there to travel 25km through mid-day traffic out of town in the total opposite direction of anywhere to take care of "the Booking."
I have no idea what anyone means when they talk of "the Booking." Near as I can tell it does involve an actual book but beyond that I'm totally lost. What we find when we drive 25km and take a right at the Ross Chicks sign and a left another 2k down a wandering but paved road through several community farms is the RSTA "Booking" office. Not that you would ever know it: there is no sign, no arrow, no indication, no nothing in fact to lead you to believe that this office even exists. Nonetheless, on a hunch, we took a little jig-jog left, asked a small boy with his mangy dog and his chickens if this was the driving place, he assured us that we should follow the road a bit and we would find the booking office. Of course we will. Immediately, we find ourselves ON the driving test course -- a beautifully paved racetrack type speedway course in the middle of the cornfields.
We park (after driving the course in fits of hysterical laughter) and find the same woman we talked to at 7:45 am at the Ridgeway office. It is now noon. Unsmiling, she says, "I told you that you would find me here." She did indeed but I had no idea what she was talking about at the time. "You come with me." It's straight out of Monty Python. I'm just going with it at this point and realize that I'm going to have to take an actual driving test. Great. Fun! My name went in 'the book" and I'm scheduled for a test.
I get into the car with a jolly male 'examiner' and my other new friend from Ridgeway marches purposefully out to a bunch of orange cones set up all over the parking lot. I have heard about these cones. Our friend Miguel failed his driving test when he scraped a cone while being instructed to reverse through them and execute a 90 degree turn...without turning around to look at where he was going.
My examiner directs me onto the course for my driving test. Mind you, I have been driving here for a year but I have little clue about the official driving rules. Driving here is fine and quite fun during the daytime--love those roundabouts, hate those mini-buses. You would think that driving on the left would be difficult to adjust to but half the time you have to drive on the shoulder or on the right anyway to avoid obstacles so it's more a challenge of remembering where you SHOULD be instead of where you actually ARE. Parking lots/Carparks are mindbogglingly difficult to navigate so the orange-cone set-up is making me sweat.
Not twenty meters into the road/racecourse I meet my first challenge: a marked pedestrian crossway. "What do you do?" he asks. First, I marvel! In a year I've never actually seen a marked pedestrian crossway. It’s gorgeous and I admire it appropriately, or perhaps, inappropriately. Thankfully he tells me that what I need to do: put the car into park and put on the handbrake. Really? "Really." Then I look for imaginary pedestrians, errant chickens and creep through the test course which for me is driving about 200 meters, taking a left turn and pulling into a parking space.
We go find our Ridgeway-turned-Mimosa office friend who signs both my bookings paper and a mysterious "Pass certificate" and instructs me to go find three signatures. "Any three?" Any three. I go back out to the scary orange-cone area and find three different examiners to sign my papers. "Ah! You have passed, Madame!"
With good reason they decline to sign for Todd's booking so I collect myself and rush home to give todd his new license and booking receipt and send him out of town to go take his own driving test. He too sees the orange cones and starts to sweat. In the car, the examiner simply says to Todd: "Sir, you already have your license?" Of course. "So why is it necessary to travel?"
But the elusive license is still not in hand. I must take our signed bookings papers back down to the Lumumba road office -- office is a generous term, labryrinth is better-- and stand in more queues and more cashier lines and hope that our pass certificates made it back from Mimosa, but after that we will have our licenses! No, wait, we will have our temporary license (which is an entirely different creature from our provisional license) and some day before we move away we may or may not have actual proper Zambian driving licenses.
The licenses are printed in South Africa so they can take a good 6 months to get back here. The temporary is only good for 60 days and extensions are good for 30 days. Thankfully the queue for standing in line to get extensions and get your license blessedly has a "ladies' line" which more often than not has no one in it so I get to jump to the front and at least find out if I need an extension or get to pick up the card at long last.