So, a lot has happened since my last post. One minute, we were on the trip of a lifetime in Namibia, and then….BOOM!
Australia burned down, Iran and the US got into some kind of tiff, well known rapist/basketball player Kobe Bryant died in a horrific helicopter crash, a bunch of uptight weirdos got all butt-hurt over Shakira and J. Lo’s butts at Super Bowl LIV, Kim Jong-Un died, but not really because he came back to life and cut a ribbon at a factory or something, we found out that UFO’s are totally a thing for realz, Gwyneth Paltrow’s already super kooky company claimed its rightful place as kookiest of all when it released a candle that smelled like Gwyneth Paltrow’s hippo yawn, and the Vancouver Canucks didn’t win the Stanley Cup for the forevereth time in a row (at least they have an excuse this year).
Hey 2020, could you just…NOT for like 5 freaking minutes?
Oh ya, and also the zombie apocalypse happened.
Speaking of which, I got wind something was going down and made last minute plans to return to Canada 2 days before South Africa announced the lockdown, and we left the day before the whole country paused. But more on that in another post maybe if I feel like it.
The week before THAT, I was sitting in a room full of teenagers and a stern-faced woman ensuring everybody kept their eyes on the screen in front of them. And here’s the backstory.
Last year, we made plans to visit Canada from April 9 to May 3, with a little stop at Disney World in Florida along the way. The timing was partly because my Canadian driver’s licence (which was legal to use in South Africa) was set to expire on April 30. No problem; I’d renew it on my return visit and everything would be lekker.
But it wasn’t lekker.
Before the airlines officially shut down, we already decided to postpone our trip because of the ever growing threat of Covid-19. And that meant I wouldn’t have a valid driver’s licence in South Africa. And knowing my luck, that meant I’d be properly screwed.
I called ICBC, the issuing authority for driver’s licences in my home province of British Columbia, and they very helpfully informed me that there was nothing they could do without me being there in person. They clearly didn’t know who I think I am, but whatever.
I found out that it would be a relatively simple process to convert my Canadian licence to a South African licence IF I was permanent resident. The only problem with that is that I wasn’t a permanent resident. As hard as I stared at my visa, willing it to change, it remained a temporary resident visa.
If I wanted to continue driving legally in South Africa, my ONLY option was to start with my South African learner’s licence.
So I started the path down that rabbit hole.
Learner’s Licence: Day 1
In some South African provinces, the process is as simple as going into the nearest licensing office, paying a fee, and booking your learner’s licence test. But Gauteng is ahead of the curve. Because Gauteng is so technologically advanced, you need to book your learner’s licence test online.
And of course, for the first several hours I tried, the official website was down.
Just as I was about to give up for the day, the page finally loaded, and registering for my learner’s licence exam was a relatively simple process. However, because South Africa has an uncanny ability to take perfectly good ideas and unimprove them, you can’t actually confirm the appointment online. You need to pay in person at a licensing department, and at that point, your appointment you made online is confirmed. Which begs the question, why do you need to book online if you can’t pay online? Doesn’t that just turn a one-step process into a two-step process? Yes. Yes it does. And if you still question why logic rarely rears its head in South Africa, you haven’t lived in South Africa long enough. Things like this just…are.
So off I went to the licensing office. Once there, I was met by a guard who told me there was nobody there because there wasn’t any hand sanitizer. I wasn’t even mad. I’d rather see people take Covid-19 seriously rather than just be all willy nilly about it. I asked him when he thought they’d be open again, and he just gave me an all-too-familiar shrug and said, “maybe tomorrow.”
Ok, cool. Maybe tomorrow morning rolled around, and I rocked up to the licensing office just before opening. I was happy to see it was open, because my learner’s licence exam was booked for the next day.
I wasn’t so happy to see giant masses of people milling around the gates.
The employees in the licensing office were taking social distancing very seriously and only allowing a handful of people into the office compound at a time. That would be great, but then the hundred or so other people just jammed up against the gate waiting for their turn to get in and be socially distanced. There was nobody telling people where to stand, so everybody just kind of crushed up against each other, and I had no choice but to join the wannabe orgy.
All I could think about as I was waiting, able to feel the breath of the person behind me on the back of my neck, was that I wished my wife liked touching me as intimately as the people surrounding me seemed to enjoy it. Personal space isn’t really a thing in South Africa.
After about 2 hours of futilely asking the people around me to back up even the slightest little bit, I was somehow lucky enough to be selected to enter the gate. From there, it was easy. I had to show my unconfirmed online booking appointment for my learner’s licence (which I had to print out) and pay a fee, and I was booked! Easy peasy.
Off I went to get my eye exam done at the mall, because I had heard from some very helpful sources that having it done ahead of time saves several headaches. And I’m a fan of avoiding headaches.
The next day, I showed up at the licensing centre to see the exact same scenario as the day before. But this time, I had an appointment. I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd (I’ve learned a trick or two in my time in South Africa) and told the security guard that I had an appointment for my learner’s licence at 8am.
And just like that, I was in!
An official gathered all the people writing their learner’s test together and brought us into a room. She clearly explained the instructions, and then set us loose on our respective computer screens, glancing up from her desk every couple of minutes to ensure none of us were up to any shenanigans.
After a few minutes, the computer told me I passed. I was the first one finished, and the examiner asked if I already had an eye test completed. I said I did, and the helpful examiner said in that case, I just needed to go to the eye testing centre (in the same building, just down the hall) and get them to stamp the certificate, at which point I could pay and be on my way with my new learner’s licence!
But of course it didn’t work out that way.
I went to the waiting area and was confronted by a security guard, who for the purposes of this post, I’ll affectionately refer to as Booby Brains. Or BB for short.
BB: What are you doing here? I didn’t tell you to come in.
Me: Sorry about that. No, but I just finished writing the test for my learner’s licence , and the examiner told me to wait here to get my eye test stamped.
BB: You must wait in the queue with everybody else outside. Why do you think you’re better than everybody else?
Me: Huh? I don’t! I promise you. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression.
BB: Are you wearing a badge?
Me: uh…no. No, I’m not wearing a badge.
BB: (proudly pointing to his badge): I’m wearing a badge. I’m in charge here. You’re not. You must go wait outside, then you can come in when I say you can.
Me: *Inwardly losing my will to live, yet outwardly forcing a smile anyway: No problem. I’ll go.
After 2.5 hours, it was my turn to enter the gates again. I smiled at BB, went and got my eye test certificate stamped, and was told by the person who stamped it to walk the 7 steps to the cashier to pay.
So I walked the 7 steps and stood in line. And then BB appeared again.
BB: Why are you back here?
Me: Good to see you again! The lady right there (I point and smile, she smiles and waves back) said to come here to pay.
BB: Oh, so you have a badge now? Let me see your badge.
Me: No sir. I still don’t have a badge. I was just following instructions.
BB: Why her instructions? Who do you think is more important? Me, or her?
Me: Obviously you.
BB: Then get back outside and wait in the queue to come back in to pay.
Me: *soul quickly dying, trudges back outside.
This time the wait was just under 2 hours. But I got it done.
So just to recap, I had to book my exam for my learner’s licence online, but I couldn’t pay online. I had to go in to pay in person to confirm the appointment I already made, which kind of defeats the purpose of booking online.
Then I had to go stand in line to pay. Then again the next day, instead of doing everything all at once, I was forced to go stand in line again and again for each step of the way.
And if any of this sounds even slightly exaggerated, just ask a South African who has recently obtained their learner’s license.
Anyway, this all happened on a Thursday. The following day at 8pm, we decided we were heading home in 4 days’ time, so the whole thing was an exercise in futility.
But at least I got a story out of it. And a learner’s licence that I’ll never use.