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I went to renew my car license today as this was its last day. I cannot drive the car on the desert road with an expired license, so I really had to go myself to do it. Here in Cairo there are numerous people who, for a fee, can do that service. I just don’t know any of them, so I went to do it myself.
This being a summer month, and Ramadan as well, I thought I would try to get there as early as possible. So 9.30 saw me there ready to start my day’s adventures. As I was navigating the car towards the area where it is given its mechanical check-up, a good looking young man knocked on my window. When I opened it he asked me : Are you here to renew? I said yes. Do you have a mechanical check-up? I said yes. Do you have insurance? I said I have nothing yet, I am waiting to park to start the rounds. So he said to give him my car license and he will get my insurance. He was not in uniform but he had a tag with his name and the logo of an insurance company, so I just handed him over my expired license. By the time I was half way to the parking area he had come back with the insurance policy, returned my license and asked for the insurance money. Not even a tip, just the exact amount of the mandatory insurance policy. Before I could withdraw my hand holding the license, another older man asked if I had all the papers, the fire extinguisher, the medical kit and all the forms needed? I shook my head. He plucked the license out of my hand, asked for an amount of money and disappeared. By the time I reached the parking area where the car is given a mechanical once over, this man was back with all that I needed. The motor serial number was printed, the chassis number noted, I was shooed to a nearby table to get the pertinent signatures of both the officer in charge and the Chief Engineer. In two minutes that was done. I was ecstatic. If it took me only as long as it takes to park the car to do all that, then things have really changed in Egypt and no longer will these “helpers” have a job.
I took my papers and went into the building to get the paperwork done so my license can be renewed. I found the window marked for Ladies. But under that was also written that it was also for both “the elderly” and “the handicapped” ! Never mind, at least there won’t be any pushing and all those there would be mindful of one another. When I approached the window, there was a queue for women, and another for elderly men. At least the women’s queue was quite short and in no time I had handed over my papers to a veiled lady sitting there. She looked through them then said to go get my file from “Archives”. As I have two cars, both files needed to be brought because taxes differ when you have two cars. She gave me the two slips and I went hunting for the Archives. There was a fairly large number of people standing next to a minute window, all trying to hand over their slips of papers to the mysterious entity that inhabits the Archives. After a few minutes I managed to wade through this body of humanity to the tiny window and a large brown hand took my two slips of paper and a huge black mustache asked me if both were in my name and I said yes. Then he disappeared. The people standing around told me to go sit near the first window as the files will go there then the papers would be completed. So off I went, was lucky to find an empty plastic seat and sat to wait the advent of my files.
It seems that the moving of files from point A to point B which is literally 12 steps away, is something of a miracle. How long did this take? Forty five minutes. Well, at least I was sitting down. Finally, the veiled lady called my name. In my naïveté I thought she would hand me my renewed license, but no. She asked if I had paid the tax? No, where do I do that? She said to hold till she calculated it, then gave me the whole batch of papers to go to the “safe” and pay the tax. On asking where that was, it turned out to be outside the building, around the corner and up one flight of stairs. I got there, and again being a woman, had no queue at all so went right up to the window and paid right away.
On returning with my taxes paid I thought that would be that but then the veiled lady asked: Did you get clearance of your traffic tickets? I said no, where do I do that. She said upstairs, and while I was at it to buy one of those bag-like files for my papers. Ok. Now where is upstairs? Again I had to leave the building, go around it, bypass the “safe” to another flight of stairs. But this time it turned out to be three flights. By the time I reached the top I was out of breath. All I could say was ” Wh..where?” And a kindly office boy pointed me to the window. Another veiled lady took my papers, checked on a computer, asked for ten pounds, stamped my papers and gave them back to me. Relieved that I had no tickets I went to buy the needed file before going back to the first window. When I got there the first veiled lady asked me where my tickets were and I said I had none and I have the stamped sheet. She said, no, go back, you are supposed to get another piece of paper from a second window there stating that you have no tickets. So out I go again, around the building up the three flights of stairs and got there just in time as they were calling my name, took the paper turned round, down the three flights, around the building and back to the first window. By then I was out of breath, dehydrated and dreaming of home and a cool shower. The lady finally let me off the hook and told me to go get a seat near window 12 where they will hand me my renewed license. I went there and collapsed in another plastic chair to await my new license.
These waiting periods are probably the equivalent of layovers in flights. After long arduous activity, we need time to recuperate so we can carry on. How long was I there waiting for my new license? One whole hour! When I started getting impatient I went to that window and asked an elderly gentleman if my license had arrived? He asked for my name and I gave it to him. He looked through a pile of licenses then called me. I turned eagerly to him and he said, no not yet. My look of disappointment must have been so obvious the man started commiserating with me. Then the absurdity of the situation hit us both at the same time and we both burst out laughing. But ten minutes later when he called my name and when I got to the window he again said it wasn’t there, that was not really funny, but he immediately realized his mistake and quickly assured me that it was there. My relief at finally getting my new license made me forgive his untimely joke. I smiled, thanked him, took my license and vowed to get as many names of these “helpers” as I could for next time.
22 June 2015

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