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Dreams of driving in Dubai

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Monday, 18 April 2011 | Views [1364]

At 5.20pm tonight I was chopping baby chat potatoes in my kitchen, loading up a tray with yummy vegetables to roast, and pondering the state of my daily routine.  I had already unloaded my work stuff, read the newspaper, checked my emails, facebook, twitter and runner’s site, and was in my gym gear, ready for a quick training run after dinner was prepped. This, I realised, was a phenomenal feat that could never have been accomplished just ten months ago.

You see, in Dubai, I cannot drive. Ten months ago I had a job at a school that was a 50-minute drive away from home, which was always precluded by Andrew having to drive thirty minutes to pick me up. He works only twenty minutes from our home, but had to add an extra eighty minutes of driving on to every day of work, just to get me to school and back around his own work schedule. It was an actual nightmare, driving on one of Dubai’s more hazardous roads for that long EVERY day and never arriving at home before 6.30pm, despite having left at 6.30 that morning. Fast-forward to now: I work closer to home than he does, and we often manage to get home before 5pm on a good day. I am so grateful every evening that I now have the time and energy to go running, prepare meals, and (good heavens) even do some ironing.

All that said, the driving thing still bugs me. It’s not that I can’t legally drive; I can. I need permission from my sponsor to do so, but I could hand in my licence (had it not expired), pay some exuberant fee, show my ‘permission slip’ and pick up a fancy schmancy UAE licence. It’s disempowering as a female in the Middle East to not feel as though I can drive, but it’s an even bigger battle in my head to do so. I came from driving a cute little automatic buzz box on the left hand side of the road around the city surrounds of Melbourne, to suddenly being thrown into the throngs of Dubai driving.

When we arrived in Dubai, a colleague of Andrew’s very kindly offered a loan of his small BMW convertible; a very low-to-the ground, manual convertible that was prone to a hiccup or two on the road. Ever reckless and not one to concede defeat, I jumped in the driver’s seat before Andrew as, in Australia, I was the driver of the relationship. Three stalls, the wrong side of the car, the wrong side of the road and fifteen minutes later, a panic attack ensued and I had to get out of the car. How on earth were we going to manage in this country when Andrew’s driving was erratic and out of practice, and I couldn’t sit in the driver’s seat without freaking out? None of it even takes into account the fact that Dubai is overrun by epic-sized SUVs, 4WDs and speeding lunatics on 12-lane highways. Nor does it consider the 50-odd different developed and undeveloped countries that the many, MANY drivers come from before getting on the roads in Dubai.

Amazingly, Andrew’s driving skills, regardless of my many criticisms, have turned out to be quite suitable to the driving situation here in Dubai. He handles the crazy idiots, cut-offs, people flashing lights and tearing across lanes without indicators. We’re 15 months into our time here, and he still hasn’t had an accident in a country notorious for pile-ups that occur in the tens of cars, rather than four or five. We may have had a hiccup on a now infamous roundabout in Bahrain, and there’s been plenty of times that the ABS in the Mondeo have been tested, but touch wood, we get around here ok and I’m chauffeured around morning, noon and night.

That doesn’t help the fact that I can’t sneak out to a mall and buy covert birthday presents, shoes or pretty clothes that are a surprise. Each Thursday night, if Andrew and my finishing times don’t match up, I can find myself stranded for two hours at a time as taxis won’t drive out for the trip. Often, I feel the powerlessness that comes with not being able to drive my own vehicle, let alone just go for a drive for fun. Sure, I can get a cab, which is considered public transport here, but I’ve had a run-in with one of those guys too. It’s these days that I stand chopping vegetables, looking listless and thinking about the lovely drive along Port Phillip Bay that I used to take to work and back each day, often stopping off for a coffee in St Kilda to watch the sun go down. Sure, I’m home early, and have time to ‘have a life’ of an evening, but sometimes it would be nice to know that I can get behind a wheel and move the car further than halfway across an empty parking lot without freaking out.

It’s funny, the things we think about sometimes....

Tags: driving, dubai, thoughts

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