During my security briefing in Khartoum prior to my deployment into South Sudan, I was reminded that international staff are not supposed to drive and therefore no local driving licence is required. “Local drivers speak the local language. They know the local driving customs and terrain. They know where to run for help if need be.” This is what I was told. “Fair enough, something less to worry about,” I thought.
A few days later, I arrive in my new Southern Sudan duty station and receive a warm welcome from one of our local drivers…. For the rest of the week, I end up without any drivers. I am the only one in the office who knows how to drive. The nice chap who picked me up from the airstrip seemed to have disappeared and all other drivers are on field missions. I assume the policy “to always use a driver” was more of a “general guideline”. “Maybe I should start thinking of a driving licence. Just in case…”, I think.
It is a thought that recurs when one of the young drivers comes back from his walk-about. I ask him why he had disappeared for a week without permission:
– “Nothing special.” he tells me, “A chap wanted to marry my younger sister, but couldn’t afford the dowry of 35 cows we’d negotiated. So, he decided to kidnap my sister. My family and I chased them up. We –euh—‘renegotiated’ the dowry and they’ll soon be married,” he concludes, nodding with a satisfied smile.
– “So, do you have more unmarried sisters?” I ask.
– “Three more” he says.
– “Good for you. That is a lot of cows!”, I compliment him
As I walk away, I am thinking to myself: “I really, really need to get me a driving licence!”.
The next time I visit the regional capital, Juba, I fill in the application for a local driving license.
– “Not a problem, sir!” says our Juba head driver. “You only need to pass an eye test!”
He takes me to a place which looks nowhere like a hospital or even a place where they practice medicine… He explains this is where eye tests are carried out. A middle-aged lady takes me to an empty room. Our head driver and the lady exchange a few words in the local language. She fills in a form, stamps it and gives me the receipt.
– “Let’s go, sir!”, the head driver announces abruptly.
– “How about my eye test?” I protest.
– “It’s all done, sir! She looked into your eyes and didn’t see anything wrong.”
A few days later, I am the proud owner of a legal Sudanese driver’s license. Now I can drive legally, while my drivers are out chasing their future brothers-in-laws.. Procedures are followed, my eyes are fine and life is good.
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