Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Licensed to Drive

I got my Kuwaiti driver's license today! It was such a feeling of accomplishment. Now I just have to get a car. Apparently, I just call a company and find out what they have...choose a car, and they bring it to me! Sign the contract, et voila! I'm a bit skeptical of this procedure, since nothing NOTHING works that easily here. Although you can get anything delivered for a price, so maybe it will work! In any case, getting my license today was truly a cross-cultural experience. Here's a brief idea of how it went...

1. Three weeks ago- visit US embassy in order to have my american license validated. Almost forgot my passport at the embassy, oops! Had to turn off my phone and leave it at security. When I went to turn it on so I could call my cab (the US embassy is in a really non-commercial part of town, so no cabs around), realized that my new phone has a security code on it so I have to put in a pin when I turn it on. Had no idea what pin number was. Stuck outside in nasty dust storm. Asked awesome filipino guards to call me a cab. Cab came and everything worked out.

2. Two weeks ago- submit my license validation and medical paperwork to the HR department at my university. Pleaded with them to speed things along since I can't handle many more cab rides.

3. Last Thursday, get a 1 inch stack of paperwork from HR. Told that I need to go to some building in the city, go up to the 6th floor, get a signature, go to another building in another part of the city for an eye exam, go back to the original building for a stamp, then presto I would have my license. Told it should take about an hour. This time, not offered any help with this procedure. Decide to procrastinate a few days since I can only go during business hours and this has been my craziest week of the year.

4. Plan on going today at 10am.

5. At 1:30am last night, get text message from my cab driver saying he would not be available today. Lay in bed worrying for an hour trying to figure out how I will find someone dependable enough to take me on aforementioned wild goose chase.

6. At 7:45am today, walk out to roundabout to hail random cab to get to work. Cab stops for me in middle of roundabout. We almost get hit by bus as he pulls back into traffic.

7. Realize about halfway to work that I know this cab driver because he drives a couple of the faculty at my university! Very happy. Ask him to take me for driver's license procedure today and he agrees.

8. At 10am, get in cab. Figure that if they said it should take 1 hour, it will probably take 3.

9. Arrive at random building where ministry of driving is located. Proceed into first building. Man in window tells me to go up to 5th floor. While waiting for elevator, I am surrounded by 6 men all dressed in dishdasha. Get in elevator with all 6 men. Try to keep from panicking in tiny enclosed space with 6 huge men as we creep up to 5th floor. Follow men into another room where there is another man in a dishdasha gathering paperwork. No one speaks a word of english. Hand man my paper and he beckons me to a chair. Sit there for 20 minutes while all the men chat and take turns either staring at me or ignoring me. Finally get back my paper and told to go downstairs.

10. Directed to go next-door to another building. Enter building to find it crowded with about 50 men, all in dishdasha. Thus far, have not seen another woman since starting the process. I am directed to a window, where the man waves me off to another window. Get signature from upstairs dude verified. Told to go get my eyes checked.

11. Cab driver takes me to another part of the city where I enter the police clinic. A man at a window verifies the signature, then I'm told to go get my eyes tested. Sit in a chair, where the woman proceeds to hold up a rolled papertowel to each eye while I read 3 letters. Declared acceptable for driving. Get paper signed and stamped. Return to cab.

12. Return to original building. Hand dude my huge stack of paperwork, now sporting several fancy stamps and signatures. Told to buy 30KD (about $100) worth of stamps from a machine. These get attached to my stack of paperwork. Go back to window, where the same dude looks at the same stack of paper and then tells me to go to another window. Proceed to window 16, where I am told I need to visit window 18. Hand stack of paperwork to dude, who looks at same signatures and hands back paperwork, beckoning me to a little room. Dude in room looks at same paperwork and tells me to go back to window 18. Window 18 dude takes my paperwork and tells me to be seated. Sit there for 20 minutes, surrounded by dozens of men in dishdasha. Still no women to be found. At the end of 20 minutes, I am handed a beautiful driver's license. Break all traditions by smiling broadly while I look the last dude in the eyes and say with glee, "Shukran!" (thank you in Arabic).

13. Proceed back to cab driver who brings me back to work. Total time elapsed: 2 hours! Total cost of cab driver: $35. Total stress involved: 9/10. Total feeling that I would be happy to never see another man staring at me: 10/10. Getting my driver's license: priceless!

So there you have it. I definitely have to say that the weirdest part was traipsing through building after building populated entirely by dozens of men in full traditional garb. Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb and feeling like a piece of meat! It's those moments that I find impossible to really describe on a blog. It's like a parallel universe. But I thought I'd provide you a little visual image so you could picture me standing in the midst of a group such as this.

1 comment:

donna kushner said...

WOW!!! I am so proud of you for persevering through this incredible experience! Congratulations on accomplishing the goal. I will be praying for your safety on the road, especially after a glimpse at the post before this one which I now need to read. You are doing so great adjusting to culture!