The expiry date on our drivers’ licences was “23/3/2010”. That’s in the Ethiopian calendar, and that was yesterday. We had them renewed last week, and with Haile’s help it only took three hours of a hot and sunny Thursday afternoon. But first, let me tell you about the Irish problem.
There is no reciprocal agreement between the Irish Republic and Ethiopia with regard to providing drivers’ licences. Hence a family from the Irish Republic that arrived at Bingham in August cannot obtain licences - which is enormously frustrating for them, being experienced and qualified drivers for many years who undoubtedly have better driving skills than most of the drivers on the roads of Addis. With admirable grit and determination, the dad is going through the Ethiopian process from scratch. He has obtained the “Drivers Manual” – a book in Amharic and English that contains everything from a detailed list of road signs to exploded wiring diagrams of car electrical systems. In order to apply, he had to produce a notarised and certified copy of his university degree certificate. He will have to do a theory test, a practical test and then maybe, just maybe, will be awarded a licence.
Rejoicing in the UK’s reciprocal arrangement, we headed off last Thursday with Haile to have ours renewed.
First stop a photography shop, just over the road from Bingham. 30 minutes later we have multiple passport-sized photos of ourselves, both printed and saved on a CD just in case. Next, we head to a government office that Haile knows can provide the forms we need and will do so without a big queue. We wait in the car while he goes and finds the forms which are entirely in Amharic and are something we could never have completed without his help.
Our third stop is a clinic that Haile knows won’t be busy. This is a big compound with several buildings and numerous tripping hazards, including large open drains. Haile does mystifying things at several windows, we complete the forms, obtain a couple more, and head off round the back of some buildings to have a medical. Now it starts to get weird.
A remarkably grumpy young man in a grubby white coat whose profession is not clear takes our forms. He instructs me (no words, just pointing) to cross a big ditch so I can stand approximately the right distance from the eye chart he is now holding against the wall of the building from which he has emerged. He points to a few tiny letters at the very bottom of the chart for me to read. He then gesticulates to Chris to do the same thing, but turns the chart over to display a chart for people who can’t read English, consisting solely of the letter “E” in various orientations and sizes. Chris is expected to point to show which way up each “E” is; again, he starts at the bottom. (I use an eye chart like this in my clinic, but I have a large laminated “E” for my non-English speaking patients to use to show me which way up the “E” is. No such luxury here.) Why Mr Grumpy makes Chris use this chart is a mystery – unless he thinks she has surreptitiously memorised the chart I had used so she could cheat. We could have explained two things about Chris: firstly, she can read; secondly, she doesn’t cheat.
Mr Grumpy then summons us (by gesticulation) just inside the door of his office, which contains a desk, a couple of hospital beds, some IV equipment and not much else. He produces a commercial paint colour chart. He points first to red, then to yellow, then to green. I tell him the colours in Amharic. He’s not impressed. “What do they mean?” a young woman standing next to him demands. Remembering that this is about driving, I announce “stop, get ready, go!” This seems to satisfy Mr Grumpy, so he completes the form and repeats the process with Chris who also passes with flying colours (as it were).
Haile thinks we’re finished. We got to a window round the back of another building and chat to a remarkably smiley and engaging man who puts stamps on various bits of paper including our photos, and we head off back to the car.
I snapped a picture of the form Mr Grumpy completed. Check it out – mostly in abbreviations he wrote that my vision is 6/6 with glasses (it was 6/5), that my pupils are normal, that the hearing in my left ear is normal, and that he physically examined my head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, chest, abdomen, extremities and genitourinary system and found no abnormalities. I still can’t come up with an abnormality in my genitourinary system (that he might have found had he actually examined me) that could possibly impact on my ability to drive.
Our fourth and final stop is quite a way out of the city on the third floor of a newish office block. This is the usual bustle of people, incomprehensible systems, roughly cut holes in glass windows and dangling wires but we leave a short while later, new licences in hand. Down at the entrance to the office block a woman sitting behind several photocopying machines is multi-tasking in a quite remarkable way, and for a few Birr laminates our flimsy licences. Job done – thanks Haile!
Back to the “Drivers Manual” briefly. In the “Behavior Science of driving” section it lists the following (completely unedited) as features of the “Behaviors of drunk drivers”:
- They don't remain on their own row.
- Driving with high speed.
- Driving with slow motion.
- Taking a wider space in order to make a U-turn.
- They are unpredictable's about their speed.
- Drives very close to the cars that are in front and alongside
- Being hesitant and don't show signals when necessary.
- Being forgetful about the headlight.
- Losing the strength to handle the steering wheel.
- Not obeying trafﬁc rules.
I’ve no idea how I’d spot one…