Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You think YOUR DMV is bad?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks since I got back home from my holiday. First, I'm all on my own for a while, as Jorge has traveled home to the States and is visiting his family. I've done the single mom thing before, but only for a couple nights at a time. It actually hasn't been bad, after the first tear- and recrimination-filled night. (My tears, mostly). Milo's been a doll - I mean, how did I get such a great kid? - and we've had a lot of fun just hanging out and going for walks and stuff.

Also, it's World Cup time again, and Malawi is soccer-crazy like the rest of Africa. I've even been infected by the spirit, and in the afternoons I go to my neighbor's and watch the match while Milo plays with their two boys. Tonight I'm multi-tasking - watching a DVD, blogging, and checking in on the FIFA website with my i-pod to see if South Africa has scored.

Also, there has just been a lot to do. For example, I realized last week that my driver's license is about to expire. Since I couldn't renew it online, that meant one thing...time to finally get a Malawi driver's license. I've avoided this unpleasant task for as long as I could, but now there was no getting around it.

So off to the Road Traffic Office I go...expecting the worst.

Day 1 wasn't too bad. I used my obvious foreignness and cheerful disposition to ask anyone official-looking if they could help me. Mostly their 'help' went like this: "You need to go to Room 2," then in Room 2 I was told "You can pick up the application in HB." HB didn't seem to exist, so I asked again, and was sent back to Room 2. At that point I called it Bureaucracy 1, Gwyneth 0, and went back to my office to make photocopies instead.

Day 2 I tried a different approach. My office offered to send a driver with me, someone who had a friend who worked in the Road Traffic Office. That seemed promising - I saved at least an hour while the driver's friend entered my application information. Then I spent several more hours having my photo and fingerprints taken. I gave up again at 4 o'clock when the line for the cashier stretched so far out the door that there was a guard to keep people out.

Day 3 my sunny disposition was finally starting to fade. I started where I left off, the cashier's office. Only there was no cashier - she was replacing the printer ink cartridge, which apparently takes half an hour in a government building. I finally got to the front of the line, only after several Malawian men literally muscled their way in front of me, only to be told, "you need to go to Room 2." Room 2 told me, "You need to go to the cashier's office."

Another 30 minute wait in line, only to be told "You have to take your photos." I explained that I had already done that. Wellllll...they got lost. So BACK to the photo room, for yet another photo and round of fingerprints (and you can imagine what my passport photo is going to look like at this point - definitely not my best shot). Then back AGAIN to the cashier's office, where they at last took my money.

At that point I thought I was free and clear. But no. Instead I was sent back to the dreaded Room 2, where they had no idea what to do with me. So rather than take the effort to find out, the man I spoke to directed me to the office for the driving examiner. Crap. I've been driving for 16 years, but there's no way I could pass a Malawi driving exam - they still require you to use hand signals.

But at last, some good news. On my way to the road test room, a man I had spoken to on the first day of my ordeal saw me and asked "What are you still doing here? Haven't you got your license yet?" I explained my predicament, and he took pity on me. "Here," he said, "just go see the big boss. The RTO will sort it out for you," and then he showed me into a plush, carpeted office, where the receptionist took my papers and disappeared behind a big wooden door. A few minutes later she reappeared...and then uttered those fateful words...

"You need to go to Room 2."

But, seeing my look of panic, she instead escorted me there myself, where I found, after three days and many frustrating hours, fresh off the printer, my new temporary Malawi driver's license.

Now I can only wonder how much trouble it will be to collect my real license once it's finally minted.