I will preface this post by admitting that I Googled "driving in the Middle East" before starting to write. Google showered me with 156,000,000 (yes, that is 156 'MILLION') hits.
There truly is THAT much to say about driving in the ME. There truly is THAT much that has been said.
What light can I possibly shed onto a topic that has generated such an impressive commentary? No more than has already been said. But this is my page. I get to rehash any subject I please.
So bear with me. Today, I want to introduce my readers (I think I'm up to five) to the Magical ME Invisibility Cloak. It can be worn at all times, but is most useful when driving.
This is no joke. There are people driving here who believe that the very fact of being seated behind the steering wheel renders them invisible. I am witness to it every single morning as I face off in traffic on my way to work.
It starts as I try to leave my compound. I exit onto a single lane slip road that leads to the main 4-lane thoroughfare. In the early morning rush to work, drivers try to beat the rush on the main road by speeding down the slip road two cars deep. Inevitably, when they reach the end of the slip road, it narrow significantly, resulting in a bottleneck as drivers try to squeeze their way back into traffic.
I cautiously nose my way out into the jam. And then the Land Cruiser in the second imaginary lane on my left eggs forward, as if I am not there. I raise my hands in supplication at the driver. "Can you not see me?" No reaction, he continues to move forward. I start to get irate. "Seriously, I can see you, you're headed straight for me. I seeeeeeee you!" No reaction. His bumper is on my door. He stares straight ahead, sometimes straight at me, eyes unseeing. It's as if he thinks I cannot see him if he does not acknowledge me. Like he thinks that magical ME invisibility cloak is working.
Traffic starts to move. In Middle Eastern fashion, I raise my hand cup-like (hand up, thumb and fingers together) and wave it slightly at the driver in the next lane as a signal to take it slow and please let me in. Usually four or five cars will go by before I am able to snake my way in. The drivers are all wearing the invisibility cloak. If they don't acknowledge me, they don't exist. I cannot speak to them, I cannot reach them. They are invisible. My problem is I still DO see them. How do I get them to understand that the invisibility cloak doesn't actually work?
Make my way into traffic. Get to the end of the slip road. Do my best to merge onto the thoroughfare. This is a foreign concept in the Middle East. I have actually never seen a merge sign in Qatar. You either swipe or sweep your way into the lane to your left. Or you floor it and cut in where you get the opportunity or simply move left and force the car on your left to do likewise, pushing him into the next lane. Goodness knows what pressure I exert on my heart every morning as I squeeze my way into that madness.
Once on my way, it's usually pretty smooth sailing. Until I reach the first light. This is where a multitude of invisibility cloaks converge. To my left, an invisible driver is anxiously and ambitiously picking his nose. He can do that, you see, because in his mind I can't actually see him. The driver on my right coming out of the next slip road has rested his bumper against my passenger side door. I am supposed to pretend I don't notice this. Because he's rendered invisible by the cloak, you see?
The driver behind me obviously thinks I am wearing an invisibility cloak as well, because he is honking continuously, despite the red light in front of me and the cars to my left and my right. Obviously "invisible me" is occupying a space meant for him. For some reason, his vehicle is unable to physically occupy the same space as mine at that precise moment, and he can't quite understand why. So he carries on honking.
The light turns green. The car on my right slides in behind me. Then the car behind him exiting the slip road carries out the most amazing of all ME invisibility cloak feats. We refer to it as the Saudi Sweep. He starts in the slip lane, speeds up, and cuts me off to cross not one, not two, but three lanes, as if no one else were sharing the road with him this morning. How can he manage this, you ask? The Magical ME Invisibility Cloak of course!
This goes on all the way to work. The fifteen minutes in my day that turn my heart muscle into the most convoluted of sailor's knots.
A bus stops without warning in front of me to drop off passengers. Why? Because he's invisible.
A driver coming off a side road cuts me off without glancing or slowing down at the stop sign. Why? Because he's invisible.
The next instant, an abaya-clad, veiled driver in Jackie O sunglasses is on my tail. RIGHT ... ON ... MY ... TAIL. I'm confused. Am I invisible, or is she? I actually can't see her, but her Porsche Cayenne fills my rear-view mirror.
Almost there. If I can make it to the office, I'll be safe from the invisible threats for eight hours at least.
I'm at the last stoplight. Almost there. As I'm waiting for the light to turn green, I sense movement, glance to my left. Dude in the Mercedes is waving his phone at me, smiling, motioning to roll down my window.
I turn away, wait for the light to turn. In my head: "Sorry dude, I can't see you." I have to admit, there are times when I actually appreciate the Magical ME Invisibility Cloak.