There was a time in Egypt, only a few short years back, when a person might have his driver’s license registered to one address, his car license to a second, his passport to a third, and his national ID to a fourth.
When I first arrived in Cairo in 1986, my father wanted to make sure we got into Cairo University. That meant that our place of residence needed to be in one of the
neighborhoods whose residents are allowed to go to it. Back then, we didn’t have a house. And my grandfather lived in Matariya. Matariya residents went to Ain Shams University. So my father made some sort of an agreement with a friend of his who lived in Agouza (a neighborhood whose residents could go to Cairo University) and they somehow managed to get my Egyptian passport registered to Uncle Anas’ apartment. I never saw Uncle Anas again. Ever. I don’t even know if he’s still alive. But for years my passport and then my car and my driver’s license were all registered to that address.
When my father eventually bought a house, my national ID was registered to where our house was: in Al-Manyal. But I kept my passport and car registrations in Agouza because I really liked their “upscale” transportation and passport authority offices. Agouza was a more upscale neighborhood and the government offices there were relatively cleaner.
When I got married, I changed the address of my national ID to where my mother-in-law lived, because then all my papers would be in Agouza, albeit at different residences. Shortly afterwards I had to issue the new Egyptian national ID and it had to be where I actually lived. So it was registered to my address in Haram. I then renewed my passport and changed the address to my mother-in-law’s address as well. While renewing my driver’s license a few years ago, they noticed that the address on both my national ID and passport was different from that on my driver’s license. Short story, I gradually started changing the registration address of all my documents to my real home address.
Today I discovered that there was one document I hadn’t yet synchronized with all the rest: my car license.
Having to go to any government office is a nightmare. Having to renew your car license is the worst of them all.
Give me a mountain to climb every day but do not send me to a government office in Egypt. It is a humiliation of your very soul.
So I went to the transportation authority in Haram where my driver’s license is registered only to discover that my car license was still registered in Agouza. This meant that I had to go to Agouza and go through the excruciating process of transferring my files from one authority to the other.
When I got to the Agouza transportation authority I spent about one hour waiting in the closed confines of the fines’ office in the sweltering temperatures of a Cairo heat wave amongst the stench of men I am certain had just emerged from their village’s chicken coop.
I was very lucky to find a fine only of 296 Egyptian Pounds. After all the double parking I had done in the past three years, I had expected much more.
I then needed to find out how to move my file from one neighborhood to the next. I asked at window number 7 (the only one without crowds in front of it). Go to window 26, I was told. “They’ll know what you need to do.” Window 26 in turn told me to go to window 14. The woman standing at window 14 saw me in the back of the crowd of men standing at her window and directed me to window 13. I heard her only a short time later argue with man-at-window-13 telling him she would not “do” women today because they cause problems.
After standing for awhile among the crowd of window 13, I eventually managed to make my way to the front of the crowd. Man-at-window-13 took my car license and scribbled something on a piece of paper. “Go to the archives,” he said.
I look around and find a sign at the back of the area that says “archives” and assume that must be my destination. I stand at the door of the archives and give the piece of paper to a young uniformed man. His job was to burrow deep into the bowels of the dusty archives – I could see the dark, archaic room in front of me – and dig up my file from among thousands of others. I have no idea what kind of a system they could possibly be using to locate said files. He directed me to go back and wait at window 13.
On the way back to window 13, I stepped in a puddle of some sort of a wet substance that I can only hope was dirty water. And then I waited at window 13 for them to call my name.
And I waited.
Eventually I stood at the window and asked man-at-window-13 if my file had arrived. It had. I poked my hand that was holding my car license through the steel-barred window and handed it to him. He took it, filled in some papers, and told me to go get something called an “information certificate” and “information stamps”. Where do I get these, I asked? Outside, he curtly replied.
Needless to say, I took him literally and went outside and could find nothing but a small shop. I asked the guy at the shop and he said to go back inside and I could get the certificate and stamps from near the cafeteria. Near the cafeteria was a small post office and I assumed that was where I’d be getting the stamps, but after standing in line there and reaching the front the guy told me to get the certificate from the small shop next door. I did that and was told that I could buy the stamps at the accountant’s window. Where’s the accountant’s window, I asked? First window on your right “inside”. It was the first window on my left. At the accountant’s window I was told to pay 500 Egyptian pounds. For what?? He didn’t know. That’s what man-at-window-13 had on the invoice he gave me. So I paid 500 pounds, hoping that an end was near.
Back at window 13, I slowly made my way again to the head of the crowd in front of the window. Man-at-window-13 took my certificate and stamps and filled in more papers. He threw all the papers into an old archaic folder and slapped the folder on the desk next to him. He started looking at the man beside me so I quickly edged in the words: “What do I do now?” With very little patience he looked at me and said: “What do you want?” with an edge of anger in his voice. “What do I do now?” I repeated. Go to Window 12. So I went to window 12. Man-at-window-12 asked me for my car license and national ID, added those to my folder, scribbled some more things in my folder, and threw the folder elsewhere. “Your folder is now being copied,” he said. “Wait till we call your name.”
Needless to say, no one called my name. So after waiting for awhile I went back to the window. “We’re still copying your file,” the man said. I repeated my window visit three times and on the third time I was told to go to window 14 where I’ll find my folder.
At window 14, the woman who does not deal with women took my national ID and drivers license out of my folder and returned them to me. She then started doing something else. So I asked her, “Is there something else I need to wait for?” Yes, she replied. And in a few minutes she had handed to me a laminated signed and stamped sheet from the Agouza Transportation Authority that I assume allows me to change my car license address to Haram.
By then it was 2pm and everyone in Agouza was telling me they closed at 2:30pm. So I thought I’d try to rush to the Haram Authority and get anything done to make the following day a bit shorter.
Next on my list I was supposed to get my car checked. There was a huge line of cars in front of man-who-checks-cars. I asked one of the car drivers what papers are required for the car check. “A car-checking paper,” was the reply. So I left my car in line and ran to the Haram Transportation Authority to buy one, which I did (I think). But by the time I had run back to the line, it was closed down for the day. “We close at 2:30pm,” I was told.
And so the saga of renewing my car license will continue another day.
The good news: I got back home without shedding a single tear; something that usually happens when I visit Egyptian government offices.