Thursday, August 31, 2017

Getting a Tanzanian drivers license

Oct. 31, 2017

Back in the US we complain about the DMV - how long it takes, how indifferent the employees are to our suffering and impatience, the short office hours, and so on. Well, maybe our experience getting a Tanzanian drivers license back in Morogoro will help you appreciate the ease and convenience of the American DMV.

Learn Swahili: 'drivers license' is leseni ya dereva

Day One: Our friend Rich is helping us get set up in Tanzania, and we all head down to TRA (Tanzanian Revenue Authority). Among other things, TRA handles issuing licenses. We make sure not to go between 12:30 and 2:00, during which time workers are likely to be at lunch. We fill out our applications for licenses and wait in line a while, only to find that the mtandau (network) isn't working. Come back tomorrow.

Learn Swahili: 'network' or 'internet' is mtandau

Day Two: At TRA we wait in line again, only about 20 minutes. Mtandau is working, so we get our applications processed, with requested endorsements for large cars, small cars, pikipikis (motorcycles) and - why not - bajajis (small 3-wheeled taxis). We are asked to go to the bank next door to pay the fees for those endorsements. For security (and possibly corruption) concerns, TRA doesn't handle money itself.

Learn Swahili: 'car' is gari and 'motorcycle' is pikipiki

We wait in line at the bank next door for 15-20 minutes, and pay six separate transactions of 5000 shillings (about $2.20) each to TRA's account. Returning to TRA with our receipts and after waiting in line, they continue to process our application. We are then asked to return to the bank and pay for our drivers tests. This test will be for road sign comprehension, not for actual driving skills. Apparently our ability to pay for endorsements confirms our ability to perform the skills. We wait in line at the bank again for 25 minutes, pay our test fees of about 20,000 shillings each (~$9.00). Returning to TRA they waive us to the front of the line this time, note our receipts and direct us to the police station down the road to take our tests.

Upon reaching the police station we are told that their mtandau isn't working. Come back tomorrow. No problem, we'd like to brush up on our road signs first anyway.

At home we find a picture online of all the road signs and symbols. Many look the same as in America (see picture below), and some don't. The majority I haven't seen once yet in Tanzania anyway, so I'm not concerning myself with the strange ones.

Learn Swahili:  'road signs' are alama za barabarani

Day Three: We arrive at the police station to find the mtandau still isn't working. Come back tomorrow. This time I get a phone number so I can call first.

Day Four: I call the police station and they say the mtandau is indeed working. So we three (Rich, Jenneka and I) head down. After waiting in line for a while we are let into a small office where a policeman is ready to quiz us on the road signs and symbols from a poster on the wall.

The same poster as the one we were tested on

I'm first, and he points to a sign. Of course it's one I have never seen before, so I have no idea. He smiles and points to another. I'm not sure, but I take a stab at it in my limited Swahili. He laughs. It goes like this and he's obviously showing me the hardest ones that I'm not sure even exist on actual roads in Tanzania. But I'm having a 50/50 success rate and he's enjoying my attempts at Swahili. And he's pitching a few questions at Rich and Jenneka too. Soon he says okay, approve their licenses. After seeing my floundering Jenneka tells me she's not ready to take her turn today, but I point out we're both getting licenses. Apparently my shaky quiz answers were good enough for both of us.

So we take our papers back to TRA to get our licenses. After waiting in line we find out that the machine that makes the licenses is broken. Should we come back tomorrow, I ask? No, it'll be a couple weeks.

Day [much later]: A couple weeks later we head down to TRA and find out the machine is still not fixed. Try back in another week or two. Over a month later I actually get a text saying my license will be ready on Monday. Wow, proactivity feels good! As it turns out, that Monday is the day we are moving to Tabora, and we are able to stop by first thing in the morning and pick up our licenses on the way out of town!

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