We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Saga of the License

The Saga of the Driving License. An epic experience. An organizational fiasco of fantastic proportions. This saga is actually nothing particularly unusual here and a fairly tame account compared to the experiences of many others, but herein begins my account of trying to obtain a Tanzanian driving license. We had planned to leave at 8:30am, leaving the girls with a detailed schedule of schoolwork to accomplish in the teacher's absence. Due to unforeseen reasons, we were delayed an hour. Now before I begin, take a moment to appreciate the wonder and luxury of online (or even postal) forms and online payment.

Tim and I arrived at the Tanzanian Revenue Authority (TRA). Tim embarked on his (straightforward)task of getting a new car tax disc. I began at Reception and was then directed upstairs to Room 120. I was given a form to fill out and sent to Room 113 for photocopying. I returned to Room 120 with copy and was sent to Room 106. Here my form was copied into the computer and I was given a number. This number I took back to reception. I was then sent with my number to Room 6 where I waited for my turn to be fingerprinted and photographed. After that I was told to wait. Some time later I was called back to the desk and given instructions to go to the bank with another form (I now have a small handful of papers) to pay Tsh 10,000 into the TRA account. At this point I noticed that my form was for a Provisional (3 month learner's license), but when I questioned this, the man assured me not to worry, that I would actually get a full license. OK. So it was a five minute walk to the bank. Now Tim was with me, so we took turns waiting in the bank line while I went to withdraw money from the ATM, while he went to get my passport stamped at Immigration in the next building and then while I went to buy mangos down the road. It was a long line.

Then we traipsed back the TRA office. I went back to Room 6 where I was told I would have to wait over an hour until the computers cleared the payment. We decided to go home for some lunch to pass the time.

I returned alone after lunch to Room 6. Now I realize that I have actually got a provisional license. But I am assured that it is all part of the procedure. One cannot get a full license without first getting a learner license. Even if just for an hour or so. So then I was told I need to pay another Tsh 3000 (the fee for a driving test, which of course is a necessary part of obtaining a license, only I didn't actually have to take the test, just pay for it). So it was another walk to the bank. And another long wait in line (but by myself this time, so no mangos). And it was during this standing half hour that I reflected on how my respect for "The Line" runs so deep. If there is a Line, one does not form a separate line but goes to the end of The Line. One does not budge into The Line. And one does not crowd another person in The Line. But as I stood there watching others squeeze in front of me, I was forced to relinquish my "personal space" in front, even as the person behind me had their phone pressed into my spine to check her messages. Just smile and wait.

When I had paid for my test at the bank, I walked back to TRA and was stopped at Reception. I said that I was getting my license. He said something about the police. A little confused, I said (in Swahili), no, I didn't need a policeman, just a driving license. He told me to go to Room 6. There was now quite a crowd in Room 6. Finally, I showed my bank receipt to the official at the desk and asked for a full license. "Ahh ... but for that you must go to 'Trafiki.'" Now I had been told earlier that the trafiki office was in this TRA building, but at this point I realise that the answer given was only the answer that they thought I wanted to hear. Well, yes, I did want to hear that the office was here, but not if it wasn't. And it wasn't. I had to go back, back past the bank and five minutes on. So I went to find the trafiki office which as it happens is in the Police station. (Aha! Now I understand the polisi conversation at reception!) So round the back I went, as prisoners were being taken past me and locked up behind the bars back there. I didn't get locked up, but I didn't get my form. The trafiki officer there said it would be five hours before the money had cleared (now we are talking about £1.30 here and at this point I would have gladly given him another £1.30 to get out of there). But it was now 4pm and he said come back at 8am the next day. So I did.

Now at this point, I thought all I had to do was pick up my form, go to pay another fee at the bank and return to TRA for the license. I was optimistic for an hour and half and then school with the girls could resume. But after an hour and half, I was still sitting in the back of the police station waiting for the man with the key to arrive. I asked so many policemen if they could unlock the door or find another copy of my form. But it was always "subiri" (wait!).  Finally at 10am, I asked specifically where the man was and discovered he was on traffic duty at the dala dala station (local bus depot). So I went to find him, to politely demand my form. I found other policemen and asked them where he was. They took me on to the big bus station. No success, but I got the name of a senior policeman to talk to. So I returned to the police station intent on finding Stephano to help me. He was coming ... I waited. And waited. A policeman suggested I go to TRA for a form (which I could have done 3 hours ago, I now think). So I marched back to TRA insisting they must have a copy of this form for me. Without going into all the details here, I was eventually given a form and filled it out. 11am. Then wouldn't you believe it, I had to go back to that police station with my form. More waiting in the back. More stamps and signatures. More slips of paper. Then a dramatic exit with an entourage of prisoners coming out with guards waving sticks and carrying guns (with me in the middle as I was too frustrated and upset at this point even to notice I was in the middle of something) being loaded onto a guarded truck. No, I didn't end up on the guarded truck. I marched back to TRA Room 6 with my signed form. And then back to the bank to line up again to pay another fee, (this time for my full license). Back to TRA. Room 6. Hungry and exhausted, I was then told to return the next day to pick up the license. Hungry and exhausted, I went home. Without my license.

In the two days all I seem to have done is paid Tsh 53,000 (in three transactions) and filled out two forms (both with the same information and one for a license I didn't need anyway!) And walked countless times back and forth between TRA, the bank and the police station, all the while picking up slips of paper, blue and pink, and various stamps and signatures! Oh, for an online form and pay by credit card button!

Today: Result! I have just picked up my Tanzanian Driving License! So thankful to be at the end of this story!


  1. Oh Rachel, I laughed at your comments about 'The Line'. Kate learned a whole new way of standing in line while in China. Returning to Langley one summer, she found herself suddenly looking into the face of an irate woman who had been unhappy with Kate standing so close behind her that she could feel Kate's breath on her neck! For the next while Kate was quite intentional in keeping her distance whenever she found herself in a line. Driving in Langley after driving in Beijing also had its challenges. You, now a driver, may find the same thing upon your return to the UK or Canada! I so enjoy your postings. You have a lovely gift of expression.

    1. Yes! It's funny how small things can be so different! And yes, driving back in Canada and UK was funny at first! I have been driving here on my international license (which makes the whole procedure seem all the more frustrating as nothing changes at the end of it!!) and so did feel strange driving a little car on straight tarmac roads between The Lines! And all the cars drive and park and stay in Lines!!

  2. Haha... Do watch this little Asterix clip 'The place that sends you mad' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtEkUmYecnk) as it could be the place you described!

    1. HAHAHAHA!!!! So funny :) Yes! That's it! And I think I went a bit mad just like that!!! Thanks, Linda!


Please leave us message! We love to hear your news and thoughts too!