Friday, February 14, 2014

Quiz Time!

What has been the single most frustrating thing about being Mission President in Peru?
     1.  Trying to get an oven the right size for the mission home?
     2.  Getting the electricity turned back on when the main fuse blows in the apartment?
     3.  Peruvian drivers?
Not even close.  Without a doubt, it has been the process of obtaining a Peruvian driver´s license.
A current foreign license counts for the first six months, as we were reminded at the police checkpoints every time we drove very far, which is often.  Recognizing the need for a local permit, I started the process in November, two months ahead of the deadline.
My 1st Counselor and I went to the area where the exams are given, which was packed with little driving schools offering the medical exam, photos, etc.
For the medical part, I told the tired old doctor that I was a doctor, and that I had O+ blood, and he signed it off.  For the psychological part, I checked off that I was not crazy, did a maze with a pencil,
and drew a person.  OK, mine was better than this.  Really.
Next, we tried to schedule the written test.  All was well until I couldn't prove that I was an actual resident of Huancayo.  I guess it's more exclusive than I had realized.  So, off to a notary.
And then to several others.  And then to the folks with copies of our paid bills.  And then to another notary.  And then to get a copy of our contract for the apartment.  And then to the regional government building.
And after another trip, we finally got a document that says we live here.  As I said, people must be trying to sneak in to Huancayo or something.  Can't be too careful about who lives here.
OK, then with another trip to License Land, I got to schedule the written test.  For another day.
The written test was administered by computer, after an hour-long extensive instruction by the proctor.  My computer didn't work for another hour until they fixed it.
In my first victory, I scored 48 out of 50 questions such as "You cannot park in a place where a) it is not allowed to park."  I am not making this up.  OK, so I missed two questions.
By then, I had run out of time (remember, I was also trying to be Mission President), and I had to come back another day to sign up to take the driving test. But first I had to pay and get a receipt at the bank.  I learned this after standing in line.  OK, off to the bank.
After waiting in the line with my fellow men who had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they lived in Huancayo, I finally got my receipt and got back in line to schedule the test.  Only, the bank had told me the wrong amount, and I had to get back in the bank line (see above picture, pretend it's the second time).  Then, I had to get back in the test-scheduling line.
I finally scored my time and date to take the driving test.  Yee Hah!
In most civilized countries, a driving test involves actually driving with someone.  However, this is how it goes here.  (Note: that's the actual driving course in Huancayo, for those of you who can prove that you actually, really live here.)
After arriving promptly at 8:00 AM and wading through the usual signing-up, fingerprinting and passing through the Department of Redundancy Department, I was assigned Number 47 to take the test that morning, which meant I climbed in the car at noon.  Luckily, I had sun-screened my head.  Unluckily, I had made a tactical error.   
Note the height of the back window of the mission vehicle. Now compare it to the approximate height of the striped sawhorse I wasn't supposed to hit.
When I shrewdly stuck my head out of the window to avoid hitting the barrier, I got yelled at and flunked for sticking my head out the window.  OK, considering how people drive in Peru, maybe sticking anything valuable out the window is a bad idea, but I was devastated.
I was also out of time.
Meanwhile, Paula took the written test, in Spanish no less, and only missed three questions.  I think one of them was "A road is a place for the passage of..." and the correct answer was "Motor vehicles, pedestrians and animals."  Again, real question; I am not making this up. 
So, another day, another trip to License Land to schedule Attempt #2.  If you're counting, we're now up to ten trips or so in the whole process.
OK, I was not going to be flummoxed this time, no siree!  I submitted myself to Marco's driving school's practice course and practiced the simulated course for a half hour in one of his SMALL cars.  
The nice proprietor showed me tricks as to where the mud flap should line up in the rear-view mirror to nail the parallel parking part, etc.  I was ready!  That was trip number 11, if you're counting.
On trip #12, I finally climbed behind the wheel of one of Marcos's little cars and when #27 was called, again at noon, I eased on to the course, waiting to be told to begin.
In my defense, I think I would have done better if two things had not occurred.
1) While I was nervously waiting to be told to start the backing-up part, one of my fellow contestants smashed in to my little rented car from behind, causing significant damage to both.  In most civilized countries, causing a wreck while taking your driving test would be a no-no.  Not here.  The examiner shrugged and waved me on to the course.
2) Marcos had supplied me with a different car with a different turning radius.  And, the mud flap was now in a different position thanks to my fellow contestant.  My tire touched a line, and I was outta there!
Just to put a punctuation mark on the day, a taxi ran in to me from behind on the sad drive home.
However, Paula had meanwhile fired up the computer and discovered that, after all was said and done, I didn't have to take the driving test anyway!!  According to Reglamento Nacional de Licencias de Conducir Vehículos Automotores y No Motorizados de Transporte Terreste, Title 7, Article 31, I didn't have to take the driving test anyway!!  That's right:  an out-of-towner like me, even having proven that he lives in Huancayo, who possesses a valid out-of-town license has to prove that he can draw a person and that he's not crazy (mostly), and that he is actually one of the lucky residents of the fair city, but he doesn't have to take the driving test!! And that's a good thing, because one more flunk and I wouldn't be able to apply for a license again for three more months.
We excitedly contacted the North Carolina DMV,
and they quickly and nicely got the required proof-of-license issued, which our renters FedEx´d on down for only half the cost of an air fare, and with that and the printed law in hand, we marched confidently down to License Land.  (Note that this is excursion #13.)
However, they have a saying here in Huancayo License Land.
And that's what they said.  "First of all, your documents weren't notarized, and they had to be apostiled in North Carolina, and then the same process has to happen once they arrive in Peru.  Second, we don't do that kind of thing here. You have to go to Lima," and then scribbled the address for us.  In Lima.
Next, we called Lima about taking the test there ("One day to get your license!! Step right up!!") and they said, NO, if you've started the process in Huancayo, you must finish it there.
So... we went on the 14th excursion for me (only #5 for Paula) to License Land, and got an appointment for my third, and her first try at the driving test.  Oh, and on the way there, we got hit by another taxi during the trip.
Once those were scheduled, we began the search for a small rental car.
No, I mean a SMALL rental car.
While one of those would have been great, we did find a Nissan Tiida, which is small enough, but then the Peruvian Catch 22 got us again.  "No you can't rent the car to get your license because you don't have a license."
Next, one of the great OyM guys (Church Operations and Maintenance) who knows everybody in town took us to the local branch of the Peru Driving Club (Top Ten in World Oxymoronically Named Organizations), where they gave us good news that our International Licenses were good until June, but also gave us the bad news that we'd have to go to the U.S. of A to renew them after that.
Meanwhile, he found us a Driving School with a smaller car, and their own miniature version of the exam course.  There are a number of these clustered around License Land.
They have all placed the flags and parking places and lines like in the real course, and have set up their car mirrors, mud flaps, etc., so that you can get through the test.  Things like, "OK, when the red flag is in the center of that front little triangle window, then spin the wheel all the way to the left," or "when you see the yellow rock disappear, then count slowly to 4, and spin the wheel all the way to the right," and my favorite, for parallel parking, "when the bottom of the mud flap is even with the back of the white line, STOP!" 
Knowing that this was my last chance before extreme measures, like going to Lima or waiting three more months, and with Paula nervous about her first try, we went three times for an hour's session with Moises or Betty in their Driving School.  We were ready.
So, you show up at 8:00 AM as instructed when you went to License Land to schedule the test, (now I'm up to 21 trips for something), then with calling names, taking finger prints, sitting there stupidly doing nothing, by 10:15 AM you actually have a number to take the test.  My first time I was #47, second #27, and third, lucky #32.
You then wait with all the other candidates until your number is called, and with shaking hands you drive on to the course.
I did perfectly, just perfectly! until the very, very, very last thing - I didn't turn off my flashers in time after backing out of the last parking place.  The guy shook his head, and with a smile, informed me I had flunked.  I begged, I pleaded, to no avail.  I was outta there for the last time.
I admit that I didn't take it very well.
Paula's turn didn't come until the afternoon, so after lunch, we went back for my #21 trip, only her 11th.  She got in the little car and went on to the course.
Meanwhile, Moises and Betty from the Driving School were commiserating with me, and said, "Three months?  Are you loco, gringo?  Just request your documents, pay the 25S/. and sign up to do it again."
So I did, buying a copy of the document to request the document for 50 cents and turning it in.
Meanwhile, Paula exited the course, shaking her head disappointedly.  She had flunked also.  We were so bummed that we went home, did some work, ate scrambled eggs for dinner and watched a PG movie we had brought from home.  
Trip #22 to License Land was to schedule our next try on the test.  However, when I turned in the document to get my documents, I waited for several minutes, one of the managers came in with my documents, and said, with a big grin, "You don't need these; you passed!!"
When I regained consciousness, he confirmed it, and told me I just needed to give him the receipt for about $10, and another small picture.  I sprinted across the street, got the picture taken, and before they could change their minds, threw it across the counter.
"Just come back tomorrow and pick up your license."
Look, we're still not sure what happened.  I did not pay anyone off, nor was the idea ever raised by the examiners, to the surprise of several of our Peruvian associates.  The possibilities include an unknown friend (we don't need to know who) who made a phone call, or divine intervention.
I should not scoff at the latter; in last week's letter to the Mission, I mentioned the difficulty in obtaining my license, and made a brief comment about such challenges.  I was touched by how many in their weekly letter said they would be praying for me.  
So, Trip Number 23 to License Land finally bore fruit.  
I am now officially licensed in Peru, and can join my fellow drivers in ignoring every single law and point of common sense and courtesy conceivable on the byways of this land.
Next up:  Will Paula score a license also?  
We hope that your license is current also (you have one, right?).
Dave & Paula

4 comments:

Tracy said...

On HEAVENS to Betsy!I can't imagine how frustrating that was -- but you prevailed!! When you return to the good USA you need to frame it and hang it proudly in the Living Room!

Brian Williams said...

In the olden days, a 1,000 Inti bribe would have gotten your license in an hour. Plus a few hundred every time they pulled you over.

Tabb and Michelle said...

I will NEVER, EVER, COMPLAIN, about NC DMV again!!!! *Be sure to look at WRAL's website to see photos from last week's mega driving disasters from the Snow Storm. It may be safer to drive in Peru! Congrats on getting your license. I'm sure your determination will be rewarded, but I'm not sure how! :)

Patti said...

The thing I'm scratching my head over is with such an agonizing process to get a driver's license, why are they such terrible drivers? (see references to car crashes above)