In her blog Donna has recalled her experience in learning to drive ("Now -- weave through this obstacle"). Many of her readers responded with their own memories, and in fact her post had been inspired by one of those same readers, who had described her own life with cars more fully. Which brings me to my own memories of one particular driver's test.
August 1988. Lois and I had been in Zambia for five months, teaching at TCCA in the Copperbelt, waiting for a work permit to enter Zimbabwe. Then the call came: we had a week to drive to Bulawayo from Ndola and take up our work permit. We did so, and drove back just after to wrap up affairs in Ndola. Then flew back to Bulawayo (and that is another story). But here is where the fun started.
We learned on a Monday that we needed to drive south by Thursday. We used the Stuebings' Toyota Hiace van (which we were keeping while they were on home assignment in the States) to go from Ndola to Choma; but we needed a Brethren in Christ Church vehicle for the second stage, from Choma to Bulawayo. (Short version: to cross the border at Victoria Falls, we needed a vehicle with a letter of permission from the owner: thus, the Hiace owned by the BICC in Choma.)
In order to use the BICC Hiace, I had to have a valid full driver's licence from Zambia. I had been driving on a temporary licence, so I had to go take the driver's test at the VID (Vehicle Inspection Department) on Wednesday. I went there duly when the VID opened Wednesday morning, and they told me to return for the test at 2 pm, bringing with me a small photograph, taken at a specified shop in Ndola. I went to the shop for the photo, and the Asian shopkeeper told me it would be ready the following morning. No good! I pleaded with him for faster service; he relented, sort of, and said: 4:30 pm. Still no good!
As I sat for the picture, the photographer stepped beside me and said, "Meet me at the Post Office at 1 pm." I did so, and for the equivalent of US$1 received a set of prints from the sitting. (Later, at 4:30, I returned and received the official set for another dollar!)
At 2 pm, illicit pictures in hand, I went back to the VID. I took the deacon of our Brethren in Christ congregation in Ndola with me, not knowing that he was later to become the mayor of Ndola. Maybe that explains what happened at the VID. As we arrived I saw the driver before me trying to back his car through a row of drums set just far enough apart to allow a vehicle to back between them. (Remember, I had a 12-seater Hiace: no fun for backing!) The driver before me hit the fist drum with his car. The VID inspector got out of the car, yelled something over his shoulder, and went back into the office.
I asked my companion (Mudenda) what the inspector had said. M said: "He told the driver to go home and not come back until he has learned to drive." I wondered if I should have had an envelope with some compensation inside to hand to the inspector and wondered also how we were going to get to Bulawayo without driving down!
we were next. The inspector came and got in the car. We drove out of the VID compound. He motioned to turn left; then three rights; then left again. A triangle of three roads, ending up back at the VID. "Here it comes," I thought, anticipating backing through the drums. instead, he got out, walked into the office, stamped my driver's licence (with its illicit pictures), and handed me my valid Zambian Driver's licence. Good for life!
We drove south, through Zimbabwean Immigration (no trouble there) and Customs (well ... I only lost the computer, which we got back a month later), and headed on to Bulawayo. We arrived after dark, the needle on the gas tank resting on E, drove to Youngways, and started the process of moving to TCZ for the next two years.
I wonder what that VID inspector thought: here was Mudenda, with some muzungu (white guy), with a need for a quick licence. And no extra mula? When I told the story in Zimbabwe, people familiar with the VID in both countries expressed surprise at my good fortune. I just say thanks!