Day one (Friday): My colleague and I went to police administration building where some of our Mzungu friends mentioned was the place to get a Ugandan driving license. Upon reaching the pale yellow building without any signs, we inquired from a nearby policeman standing outside where we were supposed to go. He chucked to himself and said that “ah, getting a driving license is a long process.” We should have known then what we were in for. He directed us to the Driving License Office on Kampala Rd which was 10 minutes away. We signed in at the guard gate and went in to talk to them and see what we had to do to get a license. At the office, the gentleman said that we would need to go to the URA office to fill out some forms before coming to them, but that we wouldn’t need to take a test since we had valid american licenses. We headed off to the URA office and found the entire office in a meeting. They told us to come back 30 minutes later. In thirty minutes we returned and they were still meetings. Someone broke away from the group and told us that we had to go to an online webpage to register the payment for the driving license. She wrote down the address. Upon reaching the Hostel where we were staying, I went online to the address. There was no where on the front page that said anything about driving licenses. I searched around for 30 minutes. I finally found the page for a payment registration for non-tax revenue (NTR). When I went to register, you have to select what the revenue is for from a list. The list had about 30 abbreviations of which I didn’t understand which one I needed to pick. There was no help or explanation and no phone number to call. Dead end. End of day one.
Day two (Monday): First thing in the morning we drive back to the Driving License Office to inquire from them which selection we had to make. They answered that it was the “Exchange D/P” selection from the list. We complete it in front of them online, but then they said we had to print it out. No printer available. So we drove into town to an internet café. We found that the power was out and that we would have to wait for it to come back on. Got lunch. No power. Ran some errands. No power. When power finally came back on we rushed back to the café to print the form. 4:15pm. We rush across the street to the bank to pay the assessment (all government payments have to be made at a bank). The bank had closed at 4pm. End of day two.
Day three (Tuesday): First thing in the morning we go to the bank to make the payment. Unfortunately, no one told us that we needed to have two copies of the payment slip, one for us and one for the back. The teller had mercy on us and went to make copies. We made the payment, had it authorized and went back to the Driving License Office. The gentlemen at the driving license office asked were our URA forms were. We showed them the payment receipt and they said, no, we needed to also have the application. We drove back to the URA office. Told them what we needed. They said that the one who takes care of it would not be back for a few minutes. We waited. Then when he came back we showed him what we had and told him what we needed and then he asked us where our police forms were from the driving test. AHHHH! We told him that the DLO told us that we didn’t need a driving test because we already had valid foreign permits. He disappeared for a few minutes to confirm this. He walked us through the first application. Then he said that he didn’t have copies of the second application that we needed. He handed us a blank and told us to go make copies. We came back with the copies and got everything filled out. We then went and made copies of everything we had incase we needed something else. After this we went back to the DLO to get the permits. Upon arriving we were excited to find out that we had everything that we needed. Jessica, my colleague, went back to get her permit picture first. 40 minutes later I went back to see what was taking so long and the machine was refusing to accept her left finger print. Finally it worked. Then my turn came. Right finger print. Left finger print. Picture. Sign the pad. Then she told me again: Right finger print. Left finger print. Picture. Sign the pad. I repeated this a third time and asked what was going on. She said that the system was networked to the capitol and if the network failed everything had to be repeat. This happened a total of 6 times. 45 minutes later it was done. Went to pay for the permit. Found out that they actual just give a piece of paper as a temporary and I’ll have to pick up the real thing in about a month. Exhausted.
The other day someone asked me some of the cultural differences between American culture and my Ugandan host culture. This is a perfect example of the difference between a low context (american) and high context (ugandan) culture. A low context culture is where everything is explicitly stated to you – whether by a person, a set of instructions, a website. A high context culture is one where you understand things implicitly because of the context surrounding the situation – which is a context which you have grown up in. Neither is inherently right or wrong. The experience getting a license is one where there is a clash of expectations and an example of the frustrations that can be experienced when you traverse from a low context to a high context culture. It’s also a primary example of why things can take a long time.
Experiencing this difficulty brings me to a place of wonder at how Jesus crossed a much wider gap in coming to earth in obedience to God and to die on the cross in our place. The birth, life, and death of Christ becomes even more majestic in this light. Pray that God would enable me to transverse cultures much as He did through the incarnational ministry of Jesus Christ.