You will recall, please, that visit number one was to the police station for a temporary driver’s license. A permanent license had to wait for my residency visa to be processed.
A week after my temporary license expired, I returned to the Police station to upgrade to a permanent license. After the first exercise in dealing with officialdom, I thought this one would be easy. After all, they had everything on file except my residency visa.
To avoid the rush, I attended the police station as early as I could – 8:15 to be precise. This was my first mistake. I had forgotten it was Ramadan and Ramadan hours were being kept. The licensing office would not open until 9:00. Ahh well, it was a bright, warm morning and I joined a score or so of Indians sitting on a concrete wall.
At nine, I was ushered immediately to the same man who had processed my temporary license. He was very pleasant and accommodating – to a point. Looking through my papers he enquired as to whether or not I had filled out an application form. Indeed, I had not. So much for smooth upgrades. Did I bring a picture? No, I thought you already had one. Did you get your sponsor to sign your application? No, I thought my situation with my sponsor was clear to you and, of course, I had not filled out the application in the first place so my sponsor’s stamp and signature could not possible be there.
“Aaaahhh, you will have to get the picture and fill out the application and get your sponsor to stamp and sign it. Then everything will be okay.” He hands my documents back to me. I stare dumbly as if surprised the system had beaten me back so quickly. Should I not have expected this?
Finally, I smiled and returned home to plan my next approach. I have 3 photos taken at a cost of fifteen dirhams. I ask my wife, who is my sponsor, to also accompany me. I fill out the form. Two days later, we return.
I approach the same man. Today, he smiles and greets me. I would ask that you now remember this as STOP ONE. Reviewing the application, he asks, ‘Did you bring a photocopy of your Canadian driver’s license?’
‘No, I didn’t know I had to – you have a copy on file.’
‘You must go next door and get a photocopy. We must have it.’
I walk out of the driver’s license section and into the Vehicle Licensing section. I approach the information desk. STOP TWO. ‘Can you tell me where I can get this photocopied?’
‘Over there.’ He points. I look. It could be one of a dozen possible destinations.
‘There?’ I gesture stupidly in the same direction, hoping he will perhaps be a bit more specific.
‘Over there.’ I frantically try to follow his point, but it is too quick, too brief. I head for where I think he meant. It is through a door marked ‘Insurance’, surely no guarantee it is the one I want. It is an austere concrete room with a curved desk at one end. I espy a photocopier. I approach. STOP THREE.
‘Can I get this photocopied, please?’
A grizzled veteran of the bureaucratic wars grabs the license and places it in the photocopier. Brandishing the copy and my license, he barks, ‘One dirham.’ I dig into my pockets. My smallest piece of currency is a ten dirham note. I offer it to him.
‘One dirham. ONE dirham.’ he exclaims.
‘It’s the smallest I have.’
‘No change. Go to cashier. Get change.’ He places the license and copy out of reach.
There are three cashier wickets outside the Insurance office. I wait in line and am served.STOP FOUR. ‘Can you change this?’ He looks at me as if I had asked him to share his wife.
‘No, no. No change. Look.’ He opens his cash drawer. Sure enough. No change. So far, a man who charges small amounts for his services does not have any change, nor does the man whose job it is to make change. I walk back to the driver’s licensing section and approach my wife. STOP FIVE.
‘Do you have one dirham? Yes, that’s right. One dirham. Do not ask.’
I return to the Insurance office. STOP SIX. He scoops up the money and gives me my photocopy. I return to my new friend in the temporary licensing section. I have everything. He reviews the documents once again and inputs a batch of data into his computer. RECORD ONE. He bundles it all together and tells me to go back to the processing (data entry) booths and start over again.
We wait in this line (there are five lines) for a few minutes. These booths are manned by uniformed policeman and, as I watch, I notice how skilled they are at glancing at documents and then waving the applicant away with a curt sentence or two. Soon it is our turn. STOP SEVEN.
A policeman with two stripes, a Corporal, I assume, looks over the documents too. Carefully. ‘Where is your letter from the consulate verifying your driver’s license?’
‘You have it. We brought it in when we obtained our temporary license.’
‘It is not here.’
‘Well, it has to be. You have the documents. You have my file.’
‘You go back to that man and ask where it is. I wait.’
We return to my old friend. STOP EIGHT. ‘We need the letter from the consulate.’
‘I gave it to you.’
‘No, you did not. Please, would you check.’
He rifles through a batch of papers on his desk. ‘No I do not have it. I gave it to you.’
‘No, I do not have it. You must have it.’
‘Oh, just a minute.’ He disappears into the back room. We wait. He reappears in a few minutes with my file. The papers on his desk were evidently not me. He walks directly over to the Corporal and hands it to him. Back we go to the Corporal. STOP NINE.
He rearranges all the papers and puts a batch of information into the computer. RECORD TWO. He asks a few questions. ‘Have I owned a car before in Dubai? Have I lived before in Dubai? Am I sure? ‘No, there is no one else with a name the same as yours. I only want to know. Okay, take this to the cashier. Aaahh, we think. We’re making progress.
STOP TEN. One hundred dirhams later and more information keyed into a computer – RECORD THREE– and I am sent, with my papers and my receipt to yet another desk.
STOP ELEVEN. A new police officer takes the file and inputs a batch of data into the computer. RECORD FOUR. He is finished quickly and sends me to the photographing section. STOP TWELVE. Why did I need the photograph that I brought with me? I do not know. I wait in another line until a loudspeaker calls my name and bids me enter a room to have my picture taken. Without ever seeing my photographer, I am instructed to sit in a chair. My picture is taken and I am told to go outside and wait.
The receiving wicket is next door to the photographer so we sit there and wait for the license to be processed. STOP THIRTEEN. After a short time, the gentleman behind this counter comes out to meet us directly.
‘Do you have your passport?’ He asks my wife. She replies in the affirmative.
‘We need a photocopy of it to attach to the file. You are his sponsor.’ This is a new request and one we hadn’t planned on. Hmm. Another trip back to the Insurance office to get photocopies. We make sure I am armed with 2 dirhams so he can photocopy both the passport and the work visa.
Back to the insurance office. STOP FOURTEEN. This time there is a lineup. The desk also sells license plates and whatever. It takes ten minutes to get him to photocopy. ‘Two Dirhams!’ Back to the Driver’s licensing section. I give it to the man. He looks over the papers carefully and then staples them to the rest. He hands me my license. We made it.
Fourteen stops in one building. Four different data inputs. For one driver’s license. Just how badly did I want to be able to drive legally? . 
Robert Alan Davidson