It was Thursday night and I was a bit tipsy from taking NewsCafe cocktails. I can’t remember which cocktails I had that night, maybe 7 Deadly Sins or Bull Frog. Two glasses of any of their cocktails and you’re set for the night – the high sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
Not Thursday night
I had been ‘talking’ to this guy I met online: ‘talking’ is what we millennials call it, when what we really mean is texting and WhatsApping someone as you figure out what it is that y’all want. He was planning a trip to Mt. Longonot with his friends and a couple of other people, Showcasing Kenya through Travel. He asked if I was interested in joining them and of course I said yes. I hadn’t been to Mt. Longonot in a year or two and I also have the tendency to make rash decisions. Plus who doesn’t love a trip out of town? Nairobi has the tendency to stifle and drive one crazy.
My dilemma was that I neither owned a vehicle nor had a driving licence. I have never set foot in a driving school, save for when I was trying to close a deal with a couple of them around 4 years ago when I worked at a tech startup.
I never closed any deals.
I was given the run around until I gave up and moved to a different market vertical. It was frustrating, why is it that Kenyan business people have a problem making up their minds? A simple yes or no will suffice. A hundred emails and meetings later, and time and money wasted because someone doesn’t want to tell you no.
I know how to drive though.
The first time I ever drove a vehicle was in 2002. I was 9 years old. It was my Mum’s white Toyota Corolla, the second vehicle she owned. Bought with her own money. She’s always drilled into us the importance of being independent and buying things using money that one had earned. This stuck and to date, I get pangs of guilt when someone uses their own money to buy me things. This is not to say that I don’t like it when people buy me things, I am human after all.
Mum drove from her veterinary shop and we got home in less than 10 minutes since Narok is such a small town. It is growing quite fast though thanks to devolution. I marvel every single time I go home, there’s always a new building going up, lots of traffic and huge crowds of people.
Images courtesy of Places to Visit in Narok, Kenya
When we got home and Mum left the vehicle to go open the gate, I got my chance at last. I was going to drive and park the vehicle. I jumped onto the driver’s seat, started the car, fiddled with the gear and clutch as I had seen my Mum do numerous times, stepped on the accelerator and watched as the vehicle snaked its way into the compound. I parked the vehicle and got off feeling very proud of myself.
I had driven a vehicle. Incidentally, Imani did this to my Mum a few weeks ago. Let’s just say the déjà vu was not fun for her.
My reward was a sharp pinch on the cheek and a fast spray of words that felt like an artillery attack. I was given a lecture for hours and I didn’t get money to buy candy and samosas for the next week. To me, no candy was capital punishment!
I was 14 years old and in high school the next time I drove a vehicle. I asked for permission this time around so obviously the punishment 5 years ago worked. I was allowed to drive to and from town during the school holidays.
I went college straight out of high school and never got round to taking driving classes. Back then, there was always something more interesting to do with my time and money than driving classes.
So all this to say, here I am, tipsy, in the upstairs bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror as I attempt to call my friends to see who has ties to a driving licence and is up for an adventure. I tried Fiona first, she didn’t answer. I tried Betty, she answered on the first ring.
“Hi, what are you doing on Saturday? Let’s go climb Mt. Longonot. Nanii will be there and I need backup.”
Being the best friend that she is, she was in. “Sure, I know a guy who rents vehicles and I have a driving licence.”
Come Friday afternoon, we discover that Betty’s driving licence had expired and there was no time for her to go to Huduma Kenya to renew it.
I had seen a report that people could renew their driving licence online so we crossed our fingers and prayed it was true and not another Kenyan service that should work but doesn’t. A few Google clicks led us to the e-citizen portal, where we discovered that any Kenyan citizen could renew their driving licence, pay via MPESA, download and print the new licence and Voila, get behind the wheel and get on with your life.
A one-year licence will cost you KES 650 while a three-year licence will cost you KES 1450. There is a KES 50 mandatory ‘convenience’ fee that NTSA charges which feels a lot like a TKK (Toa Kitu Kidogo) fee.
The ease and simplicity of getting the driving licence should be replicated across all government institutions. Kenya has the fastest internet speeds in Africa with 39.4 million out of 48.4 million Kenyans being internet users. Kenya is also home to over 20 accredited universities that offer Computer Science, Computer Engineering and a variation of similar IT programs. These are but two strengths the government can take advantage of to ensure that all their services are digitized and available from wherever one is at, whether in the country or city.
We did hike up Mt. Longonot and I met my person. Remember the guy I was ‘talking’ to? ‘Nanii’? Yeah, that’s a story for another day.
Here’s to getting a driving licence without visiting Huduma Center.
Here’s to a seamless passport application process.
Here’s to my mom not having to travel to Nairobi to get her clearance certificates.
Here’s to adventures and friends who always have your back.