Thursday, May 08, 2014

2 Days at the Honduran DMV

Driving in Honduras is an adventure to say the least. And we found out this week that getting a driver's license is an equally interesting experience.

How to Get a Driver's License in Honduras

Step 1: Get the Appointment. We went to the bank with our friend and co-worker, Saul, to purchase an appointment at the Honduran equivalent of the DMV. But we quickly learned that the appointment didn't mean much in terms to a date and time and accomplish anything. 

Note: This was payment #1.

Step 2: Invite a Translator. We were nervous about taking the test because we knew we wouldn't understand some of the questions. So we invited one of our Spanish teachers to come along in the hopes that they would allow her to translate if necessary.

Step 3: Gather the Paperwork.
We needed copies of our residency cards, our drivers' licenses, the receipt from the bank and passport photos which I took and printed out on our home printer. We didn't have an official paper stating our blood type, but we hoped they might overlook this.

Step 4: Arrive a day early.
The appointment wasn't important. What's important is taking the mandatory class and written exam before the time on the slip from the bank. So we arrived early the day before our appointment date with our paperwork in hand.

Step 5: Take the physical.
When we arrived, we were directed to one of many trailers housing businesses specializing in providing the necessary examinations. Here, a secretary took our payment and looked over our paperwork. She asked for our blood type. We told her. And since I'm not exactly certain of mine, I hesitated for a split second. She looked at me skeptically, but wrote it down on an official card anyway before sending us into the doctor for the physical. The doctor asked for our names and ages and wrote it on yet another form. And that was the physical.

Note: This was payment #2.

Step 6: Take the eye exam.
To his credit, the doctor was a little more thorough on the eye exam. We were required to read the bottom row on an eye chart while he smirked at our pronunciation of the letters in Spanish.

Step 7: Take the psychological exam.
After his approval, the doctor signed our paperwork and sent us next door to take the psychological exam. I'm not convinced that this exam had anything to do with psychology. It was more like a personality profile. For example, we were asked to identify whether we are more detail-oriented of prefer to focus the big picture and whether we like to arrive early for appointments or are sometimes late. Thankfully, the proctors allowed our teacher to translate for us.

Step 8: Attend the mandatory driver training class.
Next we returned to the offices and found a spot the classroom.

Step 9: Become the teacher's pet.
Prior to the class, the teacher checked over our paperwork and had us sign in. Then we chatted a little with him and he seemed to find us amusing. He allowed our teacher to sit with us and translate his lecture in which he pointed out his favorite gringos to the entire class (as if we weren't obivous enough!) and used us as examples throughout.

Step 10: Pay attention.
Despite having driven for years, we knew it would be important to understand the lecture in order to pass the exam. The first hour or so was a critique of the horrible traffic conditions in Tegucigalpa and the infamous taxis and street vendors that make life for a driving instructor so much more difficult. The remainder of the class focused more on safety like wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or using a crosswalk when walking. There was also a substantial portion of the remarks relating to consequences of improper paperwork and the circumstances under which a driver can be arrested. Very little instruction was given on how to to drive or how to observe the laws. It's worth noting that this is the likely the only driving education given to young people seeking a license for the first time.

There was one interesting fact we learned. Although it is very common to see entire families on a single motorcycle, it is illegal for two men to ride together on a motorcycle. That's because of the rise in violence contributed to men on motorcycles who assault and rob pedestrians and make a quick getaway on motorcycles.

Step 11: Have snack and some coffee.
Midway through the talk, the class took a recess and we took advantage of the coffee house trailer to refresh ourselves. Steve opted to buy a Pepsi out of the trunk of a vendor's car.

Step 12: Go to church.
We were absolutely shocked when the uniformed officer took over for the instructor and pulled out his Bible and began preaching a salvation message to the class. We didn't know what to think. While we fight over displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses that are supposed to uphold them, Hondurans are taking the opportunity to share the Gospel daily to any citizen who exercises one of their most basic rights in the country—potentially a million drivers. Amazing!

Step 13: Take the written exam.
Thankfully (and probably because he liked us), our teacher allowed our translator to help with the exam. It was not multiple choice as we expected, but instead required written responses. This made things more difficult as our vocabulary is limited in this particular area. I don't know what we would've done without her help.

Step 14: Wait around.
After the test, we were told to wait outside. We waited for a long time before noticing that our fellow classmates had all drifted away. So we poked into the classroom to ask for our results. Our new friend assured and re-assured us repeatedly not to "worry" about it and instructed us to come back the next day.

Step 15: Come back tomorrow.
When we arrived early the next morning, we were directed a another office by a uniformed guard who remembered us from the day before. We must've made an impression because he was eager to give us direction.

Step 16: Collect exam results and paperwork.
We presented our residency cards to the secretary who retrieved our paperwork which now included the final exam with passing grades!

Step 17: Receive the driver's manual.
That's right. You don't get the manual until after you complete and pass the exam. The secretary sent us to another cubicle where we paid to receive our manuals and provided seemingly irrelevant information to the clerk who typed it onto yet another form using an old typewriter. 

Note: This was payment #3.

Two cultural notes: First, it is important to accurately describe someone. For example, on my typed form I am described as having a round face and a straight nose. I am also "grande" which I have decided refers to my adult stature and not my weight. Second, accuracy is not important on any other part of official paperwork despite the numerous signatures and official-looking stamps. For example, spelling a name incorrectly or writing the wrong date is acceptable even when a written paper from which to copy has been provided.

Step 18: Get the paperwork stamped.
We were then sent to another office where a man behind glass took a glance through our now robust stack of papers before stamping and signing them and sending us on to another waiting area.

Step 19: Get photographed and fingerprinted.
We turned in our papers a final time and were photographed and fingerprinted (once with ink and once electronically).

Step 20: Get your license!
Finally, we came to the end of the process and received our official licenses to drive in Honduras!

Here we are with our new licenses and our still inky fingers.

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