x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

To get on the open road, navigate the bureaucracy

Our intrepid would-be motorist is eager to get behind the wheel. But first, he has to dig himself out from under a pile of paperwork.

Kareem Shaheen takes one of the vital steps that will lead to his personal freedom.
Kareem Shaheen takes one of the vital steps that will lead to his personal freedom.

ABU DHABI // I probably should have known it was not going to be simple. I had always assumed that the biggest obstacle to taking that first step towards being a licensed driver would be psychological. But I had underestimated the bureaucracy. For starters, I foolishly thought I could do all my learning and testing in Dubai, the emirate in which I live.

The Emirates Driving Institute's website said I needed a passport copy, personal photographs and a no-objection letter from my sponsor. I didn't fully understand why the company I worked for would have qualms about me seeking some self-sufficiency through driving, but the prerequisites appeared simple enough. I knew I was wrong when I detected mild hesitation in the voice of the institute's representative at the other end of the line as he started listing all the documents I would actually need in order to enrol.

Did I work in Dubai? Well, no. I work in Abu Dhabi, but I occasionally do stories out of Dubai. In that case, I was going to need a copy of the company's trade licence, a document indicating that I worked from Dubai and a letter from the Abu Dhabi Traffic Department stating I hadn't opened a file there. Roads and Transport Authority requirements, I was told. It was time for my anxiety meds. Breathe slowly, I counseled myself.

Increasingly confused, I called the RTA to find out why this was going to be such a hassle, and to get the definitive list of documents for what was starting to feel like the process of applying to graduate school. Sadly, the RTA staffer told me that if I worked in Abu Dhabi I could apply in Dubai only if I were a doctor, an engineer or a manager. Facing the prospect of making either a long-term, radical career change or trying to get an unlikely, immediate promotion, I realised this was not going to work.

I would be heading to Abu Dhabi. First, I hit the Traffic and Licensing Department, a short distance from The National's newsroom, where I was met by a pleasant officer who took a quick look at my documents. We instantly hit it off. He liked the new Egyptian passport I was sporting, a much more elegant booklet than the older, oversized monstrosity. He also liked a new beard style I was trying out, a notched Italian look that made my face look like a football. We decided it was appropriate for the World Cup. He signed off on my papers and asked me to go to the traffic department branch of the Emirates Driving Company in Musaffah.

I put on my game face and raced with a friend to EDC, beating the 2.30pm deadline by about 20 minutes. It was rush hour. Walking past lines of workers holding their documents, I strolled over to the registration office, beaming. A gentleman glanced at my papers. "Is this the no-objection letter?" he asked, holding the envelope. It was, I said, smiling. I got another comment on the beard, which I said was for the World Cup. The World Cup is almost over, I was told.

"Is this letter in Arabic?" asked the gentleman. A sinking feeling in my stomach. "I hope so," I replied. "Let's pray that it is," he said, slowly opening the envelope. I don't think I had prayed so fervently since the eve that my high school exam results were due. But the letter was in English. Please come back with an Arabic copy, he said. Feeling dejected, I left. Armed with a new letter, I was back a few days later. All the documents checked out. I got a number slip for my eye exam. I wear glasses; I have done hundreds of eye exams. I was going to ace this.

After the exam, I was handed another number slip to open my file. It finally hit me - this was real. I was excited. My details were entered into a computer by a pleasant young officer, who sympathised that I had to commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi for work, and told me I should try to get an apartment near Musaffah, where the rent was good. File details in hand, I went to register for my driving theory classes. I held the paper like a badge of honour. One security guard even told me "mabrook" as he ushered me to the reception. Euphoric, I quickly filled in the registration details, signing up for the intensive theory class.

I was finally in driving school. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae