The Wrong Shoes or The Wrong Visa

Having brushed up on my Highway Code and Cycling Proficiency, I had decided I was ready for my driving regulations test and so was ready to head for the Licensing Office. I had the paperwork (passport, UK driving license and the always-on-hand  marriage certificate and husband’s work permit) and the ID photos taken with a very particular coloured background. I headed down to the office near the port. Luckily, I had been given advice upfront and did not need to make use of the Shop of Everything. The Shop of Everything exists to rent out various articles of clothing or shoes or anything else required to enter a government building. The climate here lends itself to fairly minimal clothing so most people, unless they have a need to dress more formally are quite happy going about in vest, shorts and sandals. Indeed, most days you can find me in a sundress and flip-flops. However, government buildings have a strict dress code and this includes the Licensing Office. You must wear trousers, a shirt with sleeves and shoes. Shoes must be closed-toe and cannot be sandals (or slippers as the Handsome Dutchman would call them. Slippers are really sloffen, but I digress…) If you arrive to take your regulations test and do not have suitable attire, you must go to the Shop of Everything and rent what you are missing. You might imagine that this is somewhat different from hiring a dinner suit or a kilt and I suspect they do not have quite the same attitude to laundering. 

Anyway, I was prepared, so I could avoid wearing someone else’s shoes for this exercise. It is important, though, not to get ahead of ourselves… step one in this process is not to take the test – step one is to make the appointment to take the test and this was my aim for the day.  I made the rookie mistake of attempting this on a day following a public holiday. There are many, many public holidays in Trinidad. Being quite a diverse and tolerant country, holidays of 4 different religions are celebrated as well as a number that are non-religious. It adds up to a lot of days off and this is compounded by holidays on Thursdays extending to Fridays and holidays on Tuesdays incorporating Mondays. Indeed, a Trinidad asked me recently, “when does the weekend start?”  The correct answer being Wednesday night – that being the night that many clubs offer free drinks. Foolishly, then I chose to go to the Licensing Office on a Friday, when there had been a holiday on Thursday. This meant service was even further reduced than normal and of the five possible desks, only one was open. There were at least fifty to eighty people already in the waiting room when I arrived at 8am. I was in for a long wait.

I had plenty of time to observe what was going on and I slowly began to notice the huge number of filing cabinets and enormous notebooks stacked everywhere behind the counter. The penny then dropped for me this was not our local licensing office but rather, this was the licensing office – for the whole country, in fact, the Ministry of Transport. There was not a computer in sight and the office was operating on a purely paper based system. There appeared to be twenty to thirty years of paperwork in the filing cabinets which I could see and possibly far more kept out of sight. Some poor soul appeared to have lost his license and was laboriously making his way through the notebooks one by one for the year his license was issued to prove he had a license.

I was just beginning to wonder what would happen in the event of a fire when I reached the front of the queue. I produced all my paperwork only to be informed that I had a tourist visa and not an accompanying spouse visa. With the wrong kind of visa in my passport, it was declared that I simply was not eligible to take the test and so I was not allowed to make an appointment. Even showing the work permit did not help. I desperately pulled out the marriage certificate but to no avail. They did not, it seems, doubt my marriage or that the Handsome Dutchman had a valid work permit but the visa was the deal breaker. I was advised to speak to the supervisor and so I moved to yet another waiting room – soon, I will have an in depth experience of all Trini waiting rooms – but the supervisor only confirmed the issue. The Handsome Dutchman and I travelled into Trinidad separately and we had been concerned that this might lead to a mix up but we had been assured that as long as I had a copy of the work permit, there would be no issue at immigration. In fact, I spent a long time at the immigration counter and they took down a lot of detail from the work permit and so, at the time, I was under the impression that I had secured all that was needed. However, it turns out that they still only gave me a tourist visa for 90 days – against which the clock is ticking. It also turns out that the only way to resolve this is for the Handsome Dutchman and I to leave the country together and re-enter together to get the correct visa stamp in my passport. Until that is done, no appointment, no test and no ability to lease a car. Time, then, to leave the country…

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