So, on Tuesday, El 3atal and I finally started the process to transfer my American driver's license and be a legally licensed driver in Amman. For those of you who are not aware, this is a costly (although that doesn't bother me so much) and VERY time consuming process. And, it was made more time consuming based on the fact that I moved from a part of the US that tops the governmental laziness here (in limited ways admittedly). So, the first step in this process was several hours spent at the Department of Statistics. During this process, you take your governement ID (or iqama I presume) and your American license. You go to the building in Jubeiha and go back and forth between the same three rooms at least three times each. First you go and get a form completed, then you take that to the guy who blocks and tackles for the office director. Then you go back to the first room where they look at the signature and fill out another form, then you go back to the director (through his lineman) where he signs it. Then you go back to the first room to get the final paperwork. Basically this is a letter asking the DMV to allow you to get a license. Honestly, I've got no clue why this process is in place, as it really doesn't add value. It does give 4 or so guys (plus their attendant office boys) a job, so maybe that's the purpose.
After obtaining the much-coveted letter, we proceeded to the DMV office near the 7th circle. We wandered from room to room to room to room getting stamps and initials and my details typed into the computer. The highlight of this process was the visit with the "Doctor" who was very nice and helpful. He even asked me if I wanted my license to say that I have to wear glasses. The way he said it made it clear that he'd be just as happy to not put it :). Good thing I can trust that all those licensed drivers here have adequate eyesight. Finally, at the very last stop (after my American license had been seen aprroximately 100 times, the last guy says, oh, sorry you have to go to Marka. WHAT!?! And, here's where the laziness of one government brought to a crashing halt the inefficiencies of another one. So, let me give you a little background to put this in perspective...
We moved to Jordan from Louisiana. For those of you (okay that's like everyone, I know) who may not be familiar with Louisiana, let me describe it to you. It may seem oddly familiar somehow. In Louisiana, the largest industry is the government (is this sounding familiar yet?). Governmental officials are openly corrupt (this even extends to the man who was in jail for embezzling state money and still re-elected to his office). Government contracts are awarded on the basis of who knows whom, who did what favors, and who has more influence. The general population embraces mediocrity seeing no reason to work towards excellence. So, is this sounding at all familiar to you? Sound like any other place you might know?
Well, this governmental laziness tranlates itself rather unfortunately into the driver's licensing process. In Lousiana, when your driver's license is about to expire, you receive a little postcard from the state. It bascially says, your license is expiring and you must do one of three things. First, renew on-line, second renew by phone, third come in if you have had any changes to your personal information. If you have not had changes and choose one of the first two options, Louisiana sends you a sticker to place on the back of your license that "renews" it for another four years. It saves them the money of reissuing a license and the time of having you bother them in their place of work. So, about 3 years ago, I received my little sticker and placed it on the back of my license.
Fast forward to Tuesday and the last guy in the long procession of people to see my license at the DMV says, well because it's a "label" not on the actual license, they have to give permission in Marka. Needless to say, we became even less convinced about the process. We got in the car and headed over to Marka (ugly in the best traffic) and finally arrived. When we got there, we waited to get into the parking lot. Mind you, they let us pull in. But, there were no spaces. They were actually letting people pull into the parking lot and then simply rounding two corners and sending them back out the other gate. Why, oh why do they even let you in? So we wandered a few blocks away and found a space big enough for the bean-mobile. We walked down to the buildings and were directed to the clerk. He looked at the license and directed us to the Mudir's office. We spoke with him for a few minutes at which point he asked us to go to the American embassy and have them write a letter stating that it is still valid. C'mon, have you ever BEEN to the embassy? It also runs like a Jordanian governmental organization.
Needless to say El 3atal argued quite vehemently against this (in Arabic of course with some, I suspect, unfortunate references to Abu Ghraib). Finally the guy in the Director's office (who was not in fact the Director, but was VERY nice) went off to speak with the Director. He came back a while later after pleading our case and was successful in getting a waiver. While he was processing it, the Director came into the office. He was also very nice and I was generally impressed with both men. After that the processing flowed rather smoothly going from window to window to window to get the various things completed and the payment made. However, perhaps my favorite moment of all was when we got to the counter where they actually issue the license. They have a semi-state-of-the-art camera with the adjustable arm so that they can take your picture onsite and drop it into the license. However, we'd been advised that we had to have a picture with us. I thought perhaps I'd be taking a picture, which I would have been fine with. But, in fact the fine man took the picture we brought, set it on the desk under the camera that was angled for this already and took a picture of the picture!
When El 3atal commented with amusement on this (the poor fellow asked what we were saying since El 3atal and I were clearly talking about it), he mentioned how funny we found it that they took a picture of the picture. He went on to tell El 3atal that the citizens of Jordan are never happy. It seems that originally, they had been taking pictures of the people who came in and theyc omplained because they didn't know and weren't ready for it. So, they started taking pictures of the pictures people brought in and people complained that they didn't have one. How usual, I suppose. We're never happy with what we've got. In the US, it's expected that you'll have an awful driver's license picture. It's even a badge of honor that people compare (look how bad mine is). This is owed mostly to the haste of the governmental employees who have a stool for you to sit on and who snap the pic as soon as you sit. Typically this means it's mid-speech or mid-blink. So, Americans are used to it. But not here, it seems ;).
After all of this (two days and at least 8 hours), we finally got my new Jordanian driver's license. I hope I don't have to deal with any other areas where Louisiana's laziness will negatively impact Jordan's inefficiencies. I'm not sure I take many more of the 4 hour detours :). It was a bit burdensome and certainly didn't meet up to the sign posted in English that indicated that they were "seeking Excellence". Seeking maybe, but not finding...