Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Testing your patience

After all my many visits this was the first time I saw a sign!  There are cars triple parked in front of the sign and the entrance so it's no wonder I never noticed.  Taking pics of/in government buildings is a big no-no so unfortunately you'll have to trust me that this is a pretty flattering view on the facility.
A friend of mine recently asked me to walk her through the steps of getting a local drivers' license.  I happened to be a queue at the time to pay for my car's road fitness certificate.  The only thing I could tell her was DON'T DO IT!  Doing thing 'the right way' (legal, by the books, or whatever is the way you are "supposed" to do it), particularly with getting a license to drive....only tests your patience, not your driving skill.  Remember my experience getting a driver's license?

Getting the road fitness was not as ridiculous but it was still straight out of a Monty Python sketch.

So, our car needs an annual 'fitness' sticker.  Right away the problems start.  There is no STICKER.  There is a circle on a piece of paper that you have to cut out and somehow affix to your front window.  Our car has 4 stickers on the FRONT WINDSCREEN that are each 3.5 inches across: one practically tattooed on from when the car lived in Japan and three for Zambia, a road tax certificate ($90/year), the fitness "sticker," and the scam of the year, a carbon tax sticker.   Now, that is safe.  TJ has a proof on insurance sticker as well.  The carbon tax came into effect randomly, we had to scramble to pay b/c they started giving fines right away for not having it.  Then they decided the carbon tax law was illegal, ridiculous or unnecessary, so they stopped it right away as well.

Because I have been there before and know the routine, I decide to just take care of this errand myself.  (My first mistake). Most people just have someone do it for them, a driver from work, a gardener, an 'errand boy' or something.  I have no idea how much the thing costs and we don't have a driver or errand boy, so I figure easier just to do myself.  I park by the Dept. of Mines, collect my papers and copies of papers that they might or might not ask for.  Then I am confronted by the queue, the line.  Since the new government took over there are noticeable differences in how things are run.  At the DMV (here the RTSA) there is a room (room 12) with bank of windows with tellers/agents and computers. In the past there is a disorderly order to the situation - a bit of jockeying for your place in a non-line but people generally know when it's their turn. When someone tries to sneak in, everyone jumps in to tell them to wait or let so-and-so go first.  It's not pleasant on a hot day to be stuck in room 12 but it's not torture.

Anyway, maybe it's the way of the new the room has a row of new (but already broken) airport style waiting chairs and the door has two military guards with big guns (today two really beautiful women) and a private security guy with his little beret and official vest letting people in as seats open up. The line is out the door and along a narrow path which likely would not be covered in the rain.  Already I am glad I didn't come in Feb when the fitness certificate expired but when it was raining.

After a full boring hour in line it's my turn.  I give the agent my expired form with the hole in it from where I cut out the not-a-sticker-sticker.  She asks if I need to take care of anything else.  Nope.  OK, it's 28,080 kwacha.  B/C the smallest bill is 50 it's rounded up to 29,000.  But she doesn't have change, so I pay 30,000 kwacha or $5.24.  I waited in line for an hour to pay $5.24.  This just gets me the application for examination and the receipt, which curiously says "Payment Reference:  NOT APPLICABLE."

Next I have to go the the inspection yard which is TOTAL COMEDY, again, straight out of Monty Python.  I thankfully have thought at least to have the car washed and have changed out a brake light bulb. The inspector, faced with the examination sheet with a list of 15 things to examine opens the hood/bonnet and proceeds to scold me for daring to bring in a dirty car.  I look at him like he's from Mars.  The car is sparkling clean inside and out -- it's so clean no one recognises me at school in the morning.  "But," he shows me, "the engine is not." And he marks down the fault in a very dramatic fashion and inexplicably makes a note that the exterior car body is dirty as well.  I remember suddenly that TJ had to get an his car engine steam cleaned after failing his fitness inspection (for this reason alone) and fear the worst.  "Next time I will fail you if you bring this dirty car in again."  The car gets a pass despite the dust.  It wasn't exceptionally dirty, just normal car- was cleaned a month ago when we got the last oil change -- a comedy of a whole other sort involving our car being held at Central Police while our mechanic sat in a holding cell for getting 'caught' answering the phone while driving back to the house.  The phone call he took of course was TJ calling to see when he would be bringing the car back.  D'oh!  Anyway, looking at my dusty engine was the extent of the rigorous-on-paper-only "examination."

Now I had to take the paper to get signed.  There is a little shack by the gate which has 2 desks crammed in and 4 examiners (one literally smashed behind the door on a tiny collapsing folding chair.  I wait and eventually get the paper the same guy who 'inspected' it.  Why I had to take my papers to a new spot and wait my turn only to have it signed by the same guy, I'm not sure.

Next, to "Room 7" (next to room 8, the one with no sign or number) to submit the examination papers and get the paper with the not-a-sticker "sticker."  The line for Room 7 is easily an hour long and lunch time is 15 minutes away so I pack up and return the next morning, hoping that my decision to delay does not mean I have to start over.  Mercifully, it does not and mercifully there is NO ONE in line.  The agent takes my papers, prints my 'sticker' and instructs me to return with it to the examination lot.  There I am to find the examiner.

I return as instructed to the examination lot without the car but with my husband.  I am warmly greeted by the examiner "Ah, Mama, you have returned!  What can I do for you?"  TJ on the other hand is detained at the gate and reprimanded by a guard for accompanying me.  The guard is in turn scolded for wasting time reprimanding TJ.  While this is going on the sticker get signed (sure enough, the same examiner as last year and the same examiner as the previous day) and we are released from RTSA until the next sticker comes due.

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