Fifteen years ago, I got my first driver’s license. I wasn’t sure I’d get it because the cop yelled at me during the test. I did something wrong, I can’t remember what, and she was rather harsh in her correction. Which made me panic and cry, so I was sure that I had failed. Especially since I had taken a crash course in driving – I rushed through the class material in two weeks, just so I could finish before school opened.
After the test, we all sat under the shed and waited to hear our names. I heard mine pretty early on, but when I went to the issuing door, the man there told me to get back in line. I didn’t hear my name again until 6.30 p.m. after everyone else had gone. And then the cop that was issuing permits made some thinly veiled banter before asking for … a favour. And I don’t mean the kind with dead presidents on it.
I was pretty panicky, because it was getting dark and he was really, really big. I was keeping a straight, defiant face – because monsters smell fear – while subtly looking for doors and windows, assessing escape routes. Just then, the ‘mean’ cop lady from my test walked in, grabbed my permit off the creep’s desk and handed it to me. Then she held onto my arm and aggressively shepherded me outside.
She didn’t mention her boss or what he was trying to do. But her voice was much softer when she told me what a good driver I was, and advised me to get more practice because I’m too easily rattled. I thank God for that woman. In so many ways.
Whenever I tell that story, I turn it into a joke. I say I got my driver’s license by breaking down in tears. I skip the part about the big scary cop with the power to issue permits. The one who made me cry in the dark without ever touching me.
I didn’t get behind the wheel again till 12 years later. I was having a driving lesson with my brother, my daughter, and my stepmum. There was a ‘little accident.’ Luckily, I wasn’t driving at the time, but it kept me off the road for another few years. Mostly because after the dent, I was no longer allowed near that particular car.
A few weeks ago, it was announced that my office was moving to a less matatu-friendly neighbourhood. It was also suggested that I might consider getting a car. And learning how to drive. I’d been eye-ing my mother’s vintage beetle for a while. Since I was a kid, actually. I tried learning to drive it when I was twelve. It didn’t end well. But now, with less than a month and not a lot of cash, it’s time to revive JE.
Step 1 was getting permission to reclaim it, which was a lot easier than expected. Step 2 was finding the money for minimal repairs. It took some arm-twisting and belt- squeezing, but the funds availed themselves. Step 3 is to do some actual work on the car. Which might have to wait because the man who has the car keys … and the wheels … and the engine … is currently on vacation. In Rwanda.
In the meantime, I’ve been taking driving lessons at night. We have a van that’s in less-than-stellar condition. Some days, it can carry thousands of litres of water. Which us quite helpful, because I live in Lang’ata. On a bad day, it makes disturbing noises and freezes in the middle of the highway.
Also, it has a little problem with insurance. Which is why we only drive it 10 feet from the house. The upside of learning on a car like that is that once I’m done, I can literally drive anything. The downside is … you know … freezing on the highway.
I’ve been driving the van for a few weeks now. My first lesson was the most exciting, because I realised I can actually drive! I know the car well enough now that I can tell her standard kettle noises from the sounds we need to worry about. I still cruise her at 20 km/h, and I once spent 30 minutes trying not to smash into the pump at the petrol station … to buy fuel worth 200 bob. It was 11 p.m. The man was not amused.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve renewed my driver’s license every three years, to make sure it was active when I needed it. And as I took my lessons, I kept meaning to check and make sure it was still valid. Turns out it expires in October. Uh-oh.
Of course my first port of call was Google. Which told me that manual renewals were no longer accepted. No more lining up at NBK or visiting Huduma Centres, at least not according to Google. There was a rumour in the office I could try the local Post Office. It’s half an hour away from the office, and generally pretty busy over lunch.
I already have an e-citizen account, so I figured I’d try that. I logged in, requested a renewal, and was promptly informed that the government does not have my records, so there’s no way to renew it online. Okaaaaaaay. More Googling. Nope, it has to be done online. No manual options. Crap.
A workmate had previously renewed his DL online, so I asked him for advice. He told me to try the NTSA Facebook page, so I did. The first thing I found was a thread that said lots of people had my problem. Their advice? Inbox Page Admin. Haya.
After five minutes, there was no response, so I checked the thread again. There was a guy’s name at the end that said, ‘Inbox us and we will fix it.’ So I inboxed him. While I was waiting for his reply, NTSA responded and asked for my details. I gave them my ID but I couldn’t remember my DL reference number.
More Googling. Apparently, there’s a 6 bob mobile service that can give me DL details. (Dial 22430 to register) so I signed up for that and 12 bob later, I got the same reply – no records. Drat.
The guy from earlier now replied, asking for my ID. I gave it to him, along with a copy-paste of what I had sent NTSA. It did cross my mind that it was weird to give my details to some stranger in FB – especially since he had a very FB-sounding name. BUT … his profile said ‘Web Developer’ and had his government-issued name in brackets, so I Googled him and felt a little better.
At this point, I remembered that a lot of my documents are scanned and emailed during job interviews, so I checked my inbox to see if my DL might be there. Eureka! I sent the scanned copy to both FB accounts (NTSA and Mr. Web Developer) and waited. Maybe an hour later, I got the A-OK on Facebook, so I logged back into e-citizen and renewed in my DL in minutes. All I have to do is print it, snip it, and stick it in my little red driving book. Soooooooo preeeeeeeetty.
I do have a few concerns though. two, actually. One, do cops know about this online DL thing? Coz I just know I’ll meet one who’ll want a bribe. I bet he’ll claim my new DL is fake. Because it’s colourful and bright instead of faded and yellow. Two … why do I keep arming Big Brother’s online case file? I mean, I know it’s inevitable with digitization and stuff, but between iTax and Huduma Centres, we’ll soon be living the Minority Report, and netizen or not, that makes me very, very uncomfortable …
♫ It’s been a while ♫ Staind ♫