Earlier this week, friend Dave called to say he’d finally gotten the code for his radio and it’s working great. See last week’s post for that dramatic episode.
His experience reminded me of getting our newly purchased car licensed shortly after I went to work in a small African country. It went like this …
I’d been told that the process might take two entire days. Okay, I’d be patient. I entered the Traffic Commission, which we’ll call Position A. Four staff were engaged in an animated discussion. I waved the Change of Ownership papers given me by the car dealer and twice asked for assistance. No response; the discussion simply got louder.
I spied a pile of forms. Aha—fill out four copies. I began doing just that. An agitated hand snatched the papers from beneath my pen. I was told to first go next door.
I shrugged and retreated outside. Another door, so I entered—Position B. Six employees greeted me with a “What are you doing here?” look. I wanted to appear confident but they knew I was a newcomer. Someone thrust an Application for Roadworthy Certificate form in my hand and demanded I move my car inside the fenced yard.
I moved the car, completed the form, and returned to Position A. A sign on the door announced “We don’t take cheques” so I paid in cash. The clerk gave me a receipt and stamped my form. She turned back to her companions without another word. I blurted, “What … what do I, ah, need to do now?”
A pained look wreathed her features—something like: “Did you have stupid for breakfast?” Instead, she said, “Go to your car.” My face felt hot, but I went.
The morning chill reminded me that the Position A ladies had already put me in a sweat, and I’d barely gotten started. My shirt hung like chilled armor under my jacket. An examiner checked the engine, lights, hooter, and tires. After the road test, he proclaimed our Peugeot a fine car and signed the Application for Roadworthy Certificate form on the back. Piece of cake, I’ll be done in no time.
I took the signed form back to Position A and was hastily directed to Position B, where eight women crowded the office, ignoring my presence. A stylishly dressed lady entered, pushing a clothes rack on rollers. The women began grabbing dresses off the rack.
Out of the hubbub, one noticed I was still there. She grabbed my papers and rapped on the outside window. The examiner returned. Without a word, he took my Application for Roadworthy Certificate and signed it—on the front.
There I stood, the only male in a room of frenzied females buying dresses. “What now?” I croaked.
A voice said go to CID—Criminal Investigation Division. I finally located it and gave my “getting the car registered” routine. Computer problems with the South Africa Border Police (SABP), so I was directed to a local dealership, my eleventh stop. Back at CID, I handed over my papers. It being nearly tea time, they quickly got a signature authorizing the police to register our car.
Back at Position B, I proffered my latest offering. One of the women returned my Roadworthy Certificate and then took the remainder of my precious papers and left the office. To my relief, she returned but minus my Certificate. Said I’d have to go to Customs at the border (car theft being a big problem). She grabbed my documents, kept my receipt for the Certificate and returned the money they had demanded that morning. What?
At Customs, a uniformed official with three stripes on his sleeve listened to the fifteenth recitation of my monologue, then delegated me to a one-striper who fruitlessly searched for the engine number. A two-striper stated the car would have to be examined by the SABP but I’d first have to go back to CID for the request form to present to SABP.
More stops … Late in the afternoon, I returned to Position B—the Traffic Commission—and asked what was next. The major matron announced, “You must come back Monday!”
I checked my odometer—thirty-eight kilometers (six miles) and twenty separate stops on the first day.
I’m proud to say it took only six more stops on Monday, for a total of nine miles zig-zagging around the city, but I got our car registered. I’ve pondered the motivations behind those government employees I encountered. I’ll discuss that in a future book
After I’d run the gauntlet, I was able to laugh about it—and to appreciate public servants who do their job efficiently and graciously. When we returned to the States, I considered going in to the state DMV office and hugging the first employee I saw.
You’ve heard the expression, “Stuff (or a similar word) happens.” We think that refers to the unintentional or the accidental—never malice aforethought. The next time “stuff” happens to you, try to view the incident from God’s point of view. He’s working on attitudes—ours and those of the people on the other side of the counter or the other end of the phone line. It’s an opportunity to receive a blessing … and maybe to give one. Remember, our ultimate objective is freedom, not control.