The Art of Getting a Driver’s License

Ch-1-RGB 2From: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

Peace Corps volunteers in The Gambia were urged to get a drivers license. Most of us would never drive while in The Gambia, but you never knew. My husband Bruce and I were in Banjul, the capitol city, taking care of the many details before we went to our assigned village. We had opened a joint checking account and now I needed to get my drivers license. Early on, when we stayed in Banjul, Bruce was issued his license so he could drive project vehicles. He now had to catch a bus to the Yundum shop to take care of business, so he walked with me to the police department building where I would get my driver’s license. At the police station, we walked down dark dingy stairs and along dirt-streaked hallways.

He squeezed my arm affectionately. “Brace yourself. This is going to take awhile.” He left to catch his bus.

As it happened, no one was in front of me in line, but still I waited for a long time for someone to help me. Many people milled around behind the counter, but it was hard to tell if anything was actually getting done. One woman slept, draped over her typewriter. Finally, I was given a form to complete and I showed the man my Washington State driver’s license. He left for several minutes, then handed me my paperwork and told me to go to another room where they would attach the picture I’d brought. I did as instructed and waited again.

Back and forth I went to four different counters. At the last one, which was also the first, I stood at the window and watched the fellow “process” my paperwork. He shuffled the papers around, then looked at something else on his desk. He went over to another desk and talked with that fellow, glanced at me watching him, returned to his desk, pushed papers around some more. His desk was piled with papers and I could imagine mine getting lost. Like the shell game, I kept watching to keep track of the pea, my application. Seething at this senseless delay, I said nothing but never took my eyes off my paperwork. Finally, he stood, shuffled over to the counter and, without a word, he slid my license toward me.

Three of the five items on the license were incorrect: my date of birth, my middle initial, and the spelling of my last name. I let it go, not willing to make this an even longer exercise.