Most of my teen years were spent in Tanzania from 1963 to 1966, from age 14 to 18. As with all teens, these were transformational years for me, and what a great place to spend them. Tanzania had just gained independence. Actually, it was Tanganyika when we moved there; Zanzibar rebelled against their Arab rulers in 1964 and subsequently merged with Tanganyika and was renamed Tanzania.
My family moved there from Denmark because my father had taken a job with the Danish foreign aid agency, which was building a high school in Kibaha, about 25 miles from the capital, Dar-es-Salaam, in cooperation with Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The first year we lived in the Central Highlands in Iringa at a boarding school built by the British, called St. Michael’s and St. George’s School when we arrived, but quickly renamed Mkwawa High School after a chief who in the very late 1800s rebelled against their German colonialists. The rebellion failed, mainly because the magic potion, water, failed to protect the warriors against German bullets, and poor Mkwawa’s skull was kept in Berlin until it very recently was returned to his homeland. The school entirely transformed over the next two years from being extremely British: almost exclusively white students and teachers, and teachers wearing gowns and mortarboards daily, to still an almost exclusively white teacher body, but the student body being almost exclusively native Tanzanian.
At the end of the first two years, the rest of my family moved to Kibaha, 300 miles away. But I stayed on for a term as a boarder because the Scandinavian-built school in Kibaha wasn’t ready to accept students. Kids either really enjoy boarding school or hate it. I loved it. My younger brother went to a different boarding school in Nairobi, Kenya, and hated it. The only thing I wasn’t happy with was that as a white person and the son of a former teacher, the staff went to great lengths to not show any favoritism towards me, on the contrary.
Well, I digress and better start writing about cars. While I was a boarder in Iringa, I turned 16, the age at which I could get my driver’s license. I was able to talk the headmaster’s wife into letting me drive her car, a VW Beetle, around the school grounds, with a big L sign on it. After a couple of weeks, my birthday came up, and since I was now confident in my driving skills, all done at 20 to 30 MPH, to make an appointment for my driving test on my actual birthday. For some reason, the headmaster’s wife’s Beetle wasn’t available, so I had to borrow another teacher’s car, fortunately also a Beetle. Driving tests were conducted by the police, and after I paid the fee, 5 shillings, approximately 80 cents in the US, a cop joined me in the passenger seat, had me drive around the block, and then parallel park. I passed!
To my surprise, the paperwork given to me authorized me to operate any land-based vehicle with wheels, including motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses. I chose to have the actual license issued for motorcycles and cars. Much to my later regret, but because the truck and bus license required a picture, which I didn’t have. I could, however, use the original paperwork to upgrade my license later, which I didn’t, to my even greater regret.
My parents were blissfully unaware of my shenanigans, and when the term ended and I rejoined my family in Kibaha, I showed my license to them and asked if I could borrow the family car. To my huge surprise, my dad pulled out the keys, handed them to me, and said, “here!”
That 80 cent license got me a Danish driver’s license for almost nothing, and that, in turn, got me a US driver’s license for almost nothing! I did, however, have to take the written test, which the Danes hadn’t required.
The pictures are of my family taking a lunch break under a Baobab tree on one of our many vacation trips (I am the tallest kid), and of the lowest grade of road that we encountered!
I challenge all of you to write a better story about getting your driver’s license. To accept the challenge, write it up in a Word document and send it to [email protected]!