Riding in Cars with……Drivers

“Wow. You get driven around like a princess.”  That’s what some say about not driving in Saudi Arabia.  Well, that’s fine for my mom who we like to call “Miss Daisy.”  She never liked driving and always opts for letting someone else do the driving.  For those of us who don’t have that option, we may have to depend on a driver.

I know I touched on this a bit in a post about women driving, but riding in a car with some of these drivers is an experience all in itself.  For one, some of them quite simply can’t drive.  I may as well be in the car with Toonces the Driving Cat. For those of you unfamiliar with Toonces, here’s a clip.

Toonces the Driving Cat

I find myself praying a lot when I’m in a taxi or with the driver.  They literally drive like they’re in a video game, dodging other cars and weaving in and out of traffic.  For some of them, okay all of them, they’re probably in a hurry so they can pick up another customer.  But why do they risk their lives and ours with their psychotic driving?  I guess no one really knows.

As if the driving wasn’t bad enough, then there’s the “communication” issue.  Once again, because of the way I’m dressed, they assume that I speak Arabic, which I do.  But they don’t know that.  The problem is, what they’re speaking can only loosely be called Arabic.  It’s some sort of mix of their language with some Arabic.  My favorite is when one of them says, “Fayn rooh? Fayn enta?” The driver’s trying to ask where you’re going and where you are right now.  Enta, is the masculine form of “you” which all females must endure.  We’re all “enta.”  Then there are those who I really want to strangle because they don’t understand anything I’m saying.  I say go right, he goes left.  I say straight, he asks, “Right or left?”  It’s exhausting.  Since neither Arabic nor English are working for me, I think I need to learn whatever they’re speaking.

For a little more than a month I had an Arab driver.  That didn’t work even though we could actually communicate with each other.  What was his problem?  He was too darn nosy and he proposed to me, or perhaps he was proposing to my passport.  Once I guess he was trying to see if I’d be jealous and told me he was getting engaged.  I couldn’t have cared less.  How many times did I have to ask, “Are you gonna be here at 7 or what?” Then he would say he could take me somewhere and later he couldn’t.  Why was I paying extra then?  So he could get on my nerves?  These nutty drivers can really drive a woman nuts.

There’s one driver who likes to play music from time to time.  Sometimes it’s Indian and sometimes it’s Arabic.  I don’t want to hear either.  I just want to get to my destination safely.  If his head’s bobbing to the beats, how can I be sure he’s paying attention?  Not only that, his car is a stick shift and sometimes he’s trying to shift while talking on the phone.  I love being in a car with a driver who can yell, “Look! No hands.”

God help us!

Dana Mall, a Shopping Experience You Won’t Forget

You would think that going to a shopping mall would be about the same no matter where you are in the world.  You would think.  Let me be the first to tell you that that is NOT the case here in Yanbu at Dana Mall. There are shops a plenty, relatively speaking that is.  It’s a one-level mall which in itself is strange.  Usually one-level is reserved for strip malls and/or plazas.  But walk inside and you will be amazed, and not really in a good way.

Let’s start with the entertainment.  There’s a place called HappyLand which is great if you have kids and want to keep them occupied for a while.  But why spend money in there when the entire mall is HappyLand?  You have kids driving around in little battery operated cars, on roller blades and whatever those skateboard/pogo stick with wheels things are.  They zip through people like nothing.  And I gotta say, they are dangerous.  Walking through the mall is scarier than being on the road, especially after isha prayer and weekends.  At least when I’m in a car there’s a buffer between me and the other vehicles on the road.  These kids will run you down like a hit and run.  So when you see them coming, get out of the way!  And quick!

Something else I so love about the mall would be the security guards.  Some of them look like they’re about 12 years old.  Maybe they are.  Hmm.  Do their parents know they’re out of the house?  Anyway, what do they call themselves doing?  Well I guess they do man the doors to keep teen boys out on certain days or at certain times.  I don’t really know which of the two it is.  I guess no one really cares, including me.  But there are a couple who I’m really impressed with.  And by impressed I mean not impressed.  The only thing they know how to secure is a seat since that’s all I ever see them doing, sitting.

One of the more fun experiences would be the food court.  If you recall, I talked about wavering between using Arabic and pretending I don’t understand.  Well, it’s funny how I speak English and they speak something that’s supposed to be Arabic.  Then there’s the oxymoron question that someone will ask.  For example, I asked for soup and the man asked, “One?”  I looked around and thought to myself, “Well buddy I don’t see anyone else, so I’m gonna go with, yeah, one.”  Did I ask for two?  And then you might ask for pizza and they ask if you want Pessi.  Which is, Pepsi?  Good times.

The last thing I’d like to mention is maneuvering shopping carts.  Perhaps some people have mastered the art, but I have not.  I don’t know if it’s the wheels or because of the marble floors, but for the life of me I can’t make the cart move straight.  I find that I’m putting all my weight on one side trying to get the cart that has a mind of its own to move forward and not to the right or left.  I talked about kids on wheels being a danger, but these carts are also a danger.  I’m waiting for the day that I crash into someone or someone crashes into me.  That oughta be fun.  I can just see the headline: “Crazy foreigner attempts to bring a class action lawsuit against Dana Mall for its dangerous carts.”  You read it here first, folks.

Language Lies

I’ve been speaking Arabic for a number of years.  And although I spoke mainly one dialect, I have been blessed to understand almost all of them.  Let me emphasize the almost.  There are a few I don’t understand at all and others I don’t understand some of the words they use or how they use certain words.  In any case, I am able to speak and understand.

Initially, I wouldn’t let people know that I understood, except for those who knew me and had actually spoken to me in Arabic.  Later, my secret got out and I started using it more often and with more confidence.  But when I got to Saudi Arabia, things changed.

First of all, we were told not to use Arabic in the classroom.  “It’s and English only environment.”  So, I tried to follow that, even when I thought that it may be beneficial to use it from time to time.  What was funny and interesting though was the fact that my students didn’t know what to make of me at first.  I had this Arabic name so they thought I must be Arab.  My name is the only Arab thing about me.  Oh let’s get that out of the way right now.  I legally changed my name, my entire name, when I converted to Islam.  Now back to the story.  I watched my students covering their mouths when they spoke for fear that I could read their lips.  I can’t read lips in English let alone Arabic.  Eventually, as time went on I started letting people know that I did in fact understand and speak Arabic.  I don’t do it often so it’s become a bit of an obsession for some.

That’s at work, but what do I do when I’m out in public?  Oh I feel so guilty sometimes, but I also find it funny.  How else am I to entertain myself here in Yanbu?  There are two places where I never use Arabic though, the bank and the hospital.  I don’t want to screw up my money or health because I misunderstood something.

Anyway, because of the way I’m dressed, it’s assumed that I speak Arabic and depending on my mood, I will.  But there are times when I really act a nut and pretend I don’t understand.  For example, I went into the Body Shop and said a few words in English.  The man working there quickly said, “No English!”  What did I do?  I walked out, lol.  It’s not like I couldn’t have spoken to him in Arabic, but I didn’t.  Even as I walked out, I wasn’t sure why I didn’t just speak to him in Arabic.  What did I have to lose?

On another occasion, the salesman spoke and I shrugged my shoulders

Finding Mr/Mrs Right….

Recently, I had a twitterussion (twitter discussion) with a couple people I follow.  I was having difficulty falling asleep and decided to see what was going on on twitter.  The conversation started out in Arabic and my Arabic skills after midnight might be spotty at best.  Through my misunderstanding, the discussion took a turn.  The topic was causes of divorce.  We were still talking about divorce but we also talked about how people get married, particularly here in Saudi Arabia and how it affects marriage and/or divorce.  With what takes place to get married, it’s no wonder that the divorce rate is so high.  So, how did you meet your spouse?  And if you’re not married, how would you like to meet your spouse?

Some people prefer following their traditions.  A man may want his mother to choose a bride for him.  I remember meeting a woman when I first came to KSA six years ago who got married that way.  Her husband asked his family to find him a bride.  He wasn’t in the country at the time and he hadn’t seen her.  And if I remember correctly, he actually saw her for the first time on their wedding day.  Doing something like that means taking a huge leap of faith.  Let’s be honest, we all have tastes, likes and dislikes.  Knowing that, why wouldn’t you want to see the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with before getting married?  What happens if you see him/her and you are in someway disappointed?  Now you’re married.  For a Saudi groom, you’ve paid out the wazoo to get married.  You’d probably be pissed if you saw her and didn’t find her attractive.  For either one, if they’re not pleased, how do they get out of it?  That’s the thing, they can’t.  Why?  Because it would be cultural suicide.  One family or possibly both would want them to stay together if for no reason other than saving face.  It’s possible they could grow to love each other, but maybe they won’t.  And it’s the ones that don’t that are more than likely to end in divorce.

So, what should people do?  There are those who truly believe that an arranged marriage is the best way to get married and there are those who believe that arranged marriages don’t work.  Coming from a western culture, once again I find myself unable to say yay or nay.  If I base it on my own experience, arranged marriages suck!  I was introduced to a man and my “guardian” was responsible for finding out what kind of person he was.  Do you think people are completely honest or forthcoming with information I had a right to know?  No, they weren’t.  We were polar opposites.  The only thing we had in common was the religion and even that we couldn’t agree on 100%.  Nevertheless, I was patient.  And I know for a fact that I was more patient than most.  His own family wanted to limit their time with him.  So, once it was finally over, I was a little angry, bitter.  I wondered how people could recommend him and then sleep at night.  Does this mean that all arranged marriages are destined for divorce?  No.  I’m sure that there are success stories out there, but I don’t personally know of any.

Young people today aren’t so keen on arranged marriages.  Perhaps seeing failed marriages is part of the reason.  Perhaps they are not slaves to the culture as the generations before them were.  I often hear that they’d rather get to know a person first.  It’s understandable because when you get married the way I did, you feel cheated somehow.  And I’ll never get those years back.  It would be nice to know the person’s personality so that you can decide on what you can and cannot live with and/or what things you might be willing to compromise on.  How can you guarantee that the person you are getting to know is the real him/her?  There are no guarantees in life I suppose so no one way is going to be foolproof.

How do you feel about getting to know your spouse before taking the plunge?  If you agree to this method, what is the best way to go about it and how can families be sure that the would-be couple will not cross any lines or step outside what is permissible by the religion?

Women 2 Drive

Sometime back, there was a lot of hoopla about women driving in Saudi Arabia.  Things have quieted down considerably but that doesn’t mean that the debate hasn’t continued.  As a female expat, I’ve been on the fence about the issue ever since I first learned about it.  Let’s get one thing out of the way, the debate no matter what people say, is not a religious one.  It is completely cultural, if we can call it that. There is no verse in the Qur’an and no hadeeth from the sunnah that says that women are not permitted to drive.  If I am wrong, I invite anyone to show me otherwise.

When I first came to Saudi Arabia six years ago, I didn’t care much about not being able to drive even though I’ve been driving since I was 16 years old.  I didn’t know anyone and there weren’t that many places to go here in Yanbu, so I wasn’t in a hurry to drive.  Then there was the arcade game people refer to as “driving.”  A video game is the only other place people can drive like that and get away with it.  For example, you rarely see people use signals.  The no U-Turn sign is apparently a challenge because no one adheres to it.  Red light?  I laugh at your feeble attempts to stop me.  And before the light turns green, people start driving and are so impatient they beep their horns because the cars in front of them are still stopped.  And don’t get me started on the lines on the road.  What are these “things” and why can’t I seem to stay in between them?  So I thought, why would I want to share the road with these people?  A road I must also share with kids that need a step stool to get in the car and sit on a pillow so they can see over the dashboard.  So, for a good while I was in no hurry to drive.

But, let’s think about what they say about women driving.  There are those who say that if women drive, it’ll promote and/or facilitate immorality.  That is one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard.  Do they think that women riding in the car with complete strangers promotes morality?  How can men feel comfortable ultimately handing their women over to strange men?  I am not a child and I actually had a driver propose to me.  What the….?  He had to be fired.  Anyway, the potential for immorality is more likely in these situations than if women were driving themselves.  Twice I’ve gotten in a car with a driver who was also driving others and I saw the same girl, if I can call her that, uncovered and obviously smoking.  If her mother could drive her, would she be so quick to uncover and light up a cigarette?  I think not.  At the end of the day, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  If someone wants to do something, no matter how many restrictions and roadblocks you put up, he/she will find a way to do it.

Considering these things, I started leaning toward wanting to drive while I’m here in KSA.  I got sick of waiting, and I’m still waiting.  Husbands, fathers, brothers, drivers, etc., are in complete control.  We are dependent on them for simple things that don’t require a man.  I always think about being home in the US and not having to ask anyone to take me anywhere, not having to wait to go somewhere.  I get in the car and go.  I don’t want to have to beg to go get groceries.  I don’t want to beg to have someone take me to a friend’s.  And I shouldn’t have to.  I want to drive.  Am I scared of the idea?  Absolutely!  With all the car accidents and some sick men out there, it is frightening.  But how long can this last?  At some point, things have to change.  That’s just life.  I hope to see the day when women can safely drive in Saudi Arabia with confidence.

What do you think?

Trying it out…

Greetings everyone!

I have always wanted to have and keep a blog.  To be quite honest, I don’t know if I’m really cut out for this but I’d really like to give a go, again.  Whenever I got started in the past, something always kept me from continuing and sometimes even getting started.  Usually it was work and my home life.  Thank God some things have changed and I’m ready to talk.  I have a lot to say.  Most of what I have to say is based on my experiences while living in Saudi Arabia.  

My next post will be my first “real” post and I hope you’ll find it interesting enough to read and comment.

And we’re ready for takeoff…..

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