Sunday, July 23, 2006

Qatari License Part One

I have been in Doha for two months now and it is definitely feeling like home. Last week, however, I was reminded again that I am in the Middle East whilst attempting to get my Qatari Drivers License.

The short version is that it took me a long time and involved two days off work, about 150QAR in taxi fares, becoming best friends with the Director of Qatari Traffic and Patrol, an assault and an extreme case of dehydration. If you are happy with the short version, scroll to the end now. The long version is as follows:

Upon receiving my Residency Permit three weeks ago, I submitted photocopies of my Australian license, RP, visa, passport and three passport photos to the immigration department so that they could organise my license. The process is that they collate all the paperwork together, get Directorate sign off and then organise for you to go to the Qatar Traffic and Patrol offices with the paperwork the following Monday to take an eye test and purchase your Qatari license. Simple enough.

The first Monday passed and I was not told to join the others on the bus to the traffic office. I went and saw Immigration who could not find any of my paperwork. I was a little annoyed but it wasn't the end of the world so I went and got three more passport photos, photocopied my documents again and gave it all to immigration.

The following Monday passed without me hearing anything so I went and saw them again. I am currently working about out of town, so each visit required waiting in the heat to hail a taxi and a 20 minute trip to DAGOC headquarters. Once again they informed me that they had lost my application. I explained to them that this was the second time and it was impossible that they could really have lost it so I would give them an hour to find it and then I would be back. I came back after an hour and they had found it but it was yet to receive sign off from the Director. They promised they would get sign off and that I would be able to go on the bus to the traffic office on the following Monday.

On the Sunday afternoon, I thought I would check and make sure they still had all my paperwork and that it had been signed off. Unsuprisingly, it hadn't but they promised it would be by tomorrow morning in time for me to go to the traffic office the next morning. Based on this, I went to the car dealership and got myself a car, promising to come by tomorrow afternoon with my license to pick it up.

Monday morning at 8am, I thought I would just double check that it had been all signed off and that I was right to get on the bus in the next half an hour. Suprise, suprise! They had lost the application. The immigration department seems to be made up only of these two very young Qatari girls with clearly no prior administrative experience. Neither of them ever actually turn their computers on and they have piles of random paperwork and passports spread out over four desks, a few bookshelves and a cupboard. When they tell you that they have losts your application, they smile at you and shrug their shoulders saying the excuse, 'we have lots of paperwork, sometimes we lose it'. These are the people that you have to hand your passport in to when you first arrive to get your RP.

Needing to get my license ASAP now that I had gotten a car, I caught a taxi home, got three more passport photos, copied all my documents again and went back to immigration. I then sat with them and told them to put together my application and get it signed off while I waited. Within a couple of hours I got my license application and so caught a taxi to the traffic office.

The reason they organise a bus and chaperone to take all DAGOC employees to the traffic office to get their license is that it is the most random, unorganised place in all of Doha. No one there speaks English, there are no lines, just hundreds of Indian-looking men pushing and shoving to get to the front of a line that most of them don't even know the purpose of. I joined in the lines and managed to get directed to where I needed to get my eye test done. I passed the eye test and proceeded back down stairs to pay for my license feeling very proud of myself.

I handed my paperwork to one of the women working behind the counter. She looked at my photocopies, looked at me and said, 'Expired'. I looked at where she was pointed and noticed that my Australian license had expired a few days ago. 'Okay', I said, 'What do I need to do now?' She looked at me blankly for awhile and then gave me back my papers and said, 'School, school'. I informed her a few times that there was no way I was enrolling in driving school until she walked away and found someone who could speak some English. He directed me to a man in a room up the hall, who then directed me to the Director of the Traffic and Patrol arm on the Qatari Ministry of Interior. The man sitting in the room yelled at me in Arabic and directed me back to the original lady who went and got her interpretor again who took my back to the Director's office and told me to wait ten minutes and the Director would return.

Half an hour later the Director returned. I explained that my license had expired only a few days ago and that I was a very good driver and shouldn't have to go to driving school. To which he said in broken English, 'License expired, driving school, 15 lessons then you get your license.' So I said, 'No, I am not going to go to driving school, my license only just expired', to which he said, 'Driving school, 15 lessons'....

This went back a forth for about ten minutes with the other random Qatari's who were sitting around the office watching BBC News laughing at my agitation and telling me to move out the way of the TV. After ten minutes, the Director said to me, 'I will make deal, you get one test, you pass, you get license, you fail, no license. You test with me'. Happy to be avoiding lessons I agreed and he told me to meet him a Al Rayya Driving School in 2 hours.

That will do for part one of my attempt to get a driving license.

On a lighter note, below are some products that I have noticed in my local supermarket:

The above product is clearly my favourite, after all these years of trying to obtain a tan, I come to Qatar where they want to be pasty-white so much that you can actually buy whitening cream. It is huge business with hundreds of different brands. I have definitely found my home!


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