Every driver in America has a DMV horror story. Next time you finally get to the counter after standing in line for an hour, only to have the window slammed shut in your face, think of us in Ethiopia.
Here the problem is not surly clerks. Everyone here is very nice. They say “finished” and “not possible” and “not today” in the most pleasant ways.
For new teachers, there are two matters that have to be resolved through the Roads Authority office. One is driver’s licenses. Ethiopia wasn’t among the 179 countries of the 1949 International Convention that created that the International Driver’s License. If you want to drive here legally, you must get an Ethiopian license.
The other issue is car registration. For us, the license is just the first step toward vehicular independence. We’ll face the second complicated process, the registration, once we buy a car – the subject of another post.
Last Saturday the school took a group of seven newbies in a bus to the Roads Authority to get our licenses. We were all as excited as a family of septuplets on our 16th birthday.
It had been a long time coming. Before we were eligible for licenses, we first had to obtain our Ethiopian residence ID cards; I wrote about the delays with that process a few days ago. We also had to go to the US embassy to have our American licenses authenticated, another half-day excursion involving much paperwork. Then, after we had finally completed the required preliminary steps, the trip to the Roads Authority was postponed when the office had an unannounced closure. But at long last the road gods smiled on us.
Two Ethiopian men from the school’s transportation department accompanied us to the office, a long, warehouse-like building with a corrugated metal roof, painted-out windows, and a wooden counter that stretched most of the 700 feet from one end to the other. Applicants crowded the counter – no lines or windows here – trying to get the attention of the clerks. Luckily our guides were experienced with the process (and fluent in Amharic) and they did all the legwork.
We paid 8 birr apiece (40 cents) for a stamp and a lavender construction paper folder into which we each put our documents: passport, residence ID, foreign driver’s license, photocopies of fronts and backs of all these same documents, a passport sized photo, and the signed embassy authentication form. Our drivers collected our folders and negotiated the counter for us while the faranji waited on benches along the wall. An hour or so later they returned with a big ledger book for us to sign and collected 100 birr ($5.00) from each of us. Back to the counter, and other hour later, they came with another book for us to sign. Another 45 minutes, and we finally had our driver’s licenses.
Woo-hoo! Now all we need is a car.