Friday, June 3, 2011

Arabic Rules of the Road

As you have probably noted, my blog posts have been a bit few and far between!  I love keeping in touch with you all by writing this blog but I actually have been quite busy with my life here and somehow the time is gone before I realize it!   All of the expats that live here actually think there is a time warp here that makes the time go by faster.  We call it “Arabic time” – the clock just runs faster here and the days, weeks and months go by at lightning speed.
Days at work are usually filled with the usual meetings and emails and problem solving on the fly.  When I first arrived I was struck by how there seemed to be a complete lack of planning in any area of the organization.  I assumed that was just because up until about 2 years ago the hospital was run by an engineer from the oil production side.  I reminded myself that this is an oil company, not a healthcare company and the hospital and clinics only serve as a service to the employees that actually produce the oil.  FACTOID:  Oil production in approximately the first four days of each month pay for the monthly operations for the company – all remaining production is profit (predominantly to the Royal Family)!
Evenings are busy too!  I try to Zumba at least twice a week and walk at least twice a week.  I am starting to relocate my “girlish” figure – I thought I had lost it forever!!  Sometimes a group of us will go to a movie or have dinner together.  I always find time to check email and Facebook.  The evenings at home alone are hard and that is the time I am most homesick.  Keeping busy and staying out of the house until near bed time makes the homesickness tolerable.  Days off can be hard too – anytime with too much time to miss my husband, dogs, house and family is dangerous – I have to keep myself occupied!   Shopping in Khobar is good for killing time since you can go grocery shopping or just wander around anyone of several big malls.  The malls are kind of strange because they are designed with no real plan.  They seem to have a million stores selling the same things all located in the same area and most of what they are selling isn’t really something you want to buy.  A popular kiosk is the one that sells canned corn in little cups.  This is really interesting to me and I have often wondered if a cup of canned corn that has been sitting in a steamer has less nutritional value than a large chocolate chip cooking sandwiched with white frosting?
This brings me to the real subject of my blog today:  The rules of the road in Saudi Arabia.  I have hinted before that driving is probably the scariest thing you could ever do.  It would make a camel ride look tame!  So here is what I have noted:
1.        A speed limit is only a suggestion.  If you are in a hurry and need to go fast you can totally disregard the signs and drive as fast as your car can go. 
2.       If there is a traffic jam and the cars are all stopped, simply go around the other drivers on the shoulder of the road.  You can go on the left or right, it doesn’t matter because the only object is to be first!
3.       Red, green and yellow lights have only one purpose – they decorate “holiday trees”.  Since the Saudis don’t celebrate that “holiday” there really is no need for the lights so whatever those light thingies are – ignore them.
4.       A “stop sign” even written in Arabic is still a red octagonal sign but its purpose here is unclear.
5.       The white lines that are painted down the pavement that divide it into areas we call “lanes” in the west are simply there for decoration.  Straddling them, crossing them without warning, weaving back and forth between them is all perfectly acceptable and should be no cause for alarm.
6.       Seat belts are way to constricting.  They make it difficult to maneuver at high speeds, especially when you are passing other drivers on the left side between the mysterious solid white or yellow line and the concrete barrier.  By the way, what is a concrete wall doing dividing the traffic moving in opposite directions??   Oh, seat belts, yes, I forgot, don’t bother…
7.       If there is traffic all around but you want to turn, just do it!  It is fun to watch the other people slam on their brakes while you speed off in front of them!  Right hand turns across three lanes of traffic or left hand turns with no signal hone the skills of the other drivers!
8.       There is no need to queue when you drive.  Any more than there is a reason to queue when you are at a store waiting to check out.  If you all just muck in together sooner or later someone will move.
9.       If there is a pedestrian in the cross walk, speed up.  They will get out of the way.
10.   If the car in front of you is approaching a driveway on their right, even if they have a turn signal on and have begun to slow down, zoom around them on the right side.  It is too much trouble to stop and wait for them to make their turn.
These rules are not only handy for driving but they also make shopping at a crowded mall or grocery store very interesting.  A couple of weeks ago I went shopping at a very large supermarket call LULU (something like a Super Wal-Mart).  I wanted some produce from the produce section and my unfortunate luck was that I didn’t get to the section until the call for prayer.  As I have said before, when the call for prayer happens, all the workers take a break.  The customers are often allowed to continue their shopping and this was the case at LULU.  Produce has to be weighed and labeled at a counter in the middle of the produce department because the check-out stands are not equipped with scales to weigh the produce.  Thursdays are the first day of our weekend, so as you might imagine the grocery store was bustling.  People from all nations are looking for their five fruits and vegetables for the week.  Bananas, pears, oranges, peaches, nectarines, guavas, star fruits, mangoes, apples, grapes, and fruits I have never seen before were being grabbed up and bagged for weighing.  All types of lettuces and greens, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, fresh herbs, potatoes, squashes and other vegetables were also being bagged for weighing and the scene looked something like a shark feeding frenzy.  Once the prayer ended and the workers came back to the weighing stations you might have expected people to queue up orderly and get their produced weighed and labeled.  NOT TRUE!!!!  It looked more like rush hour on a weekend night and I was taught a very important lesson:  It’s a good thing women can’t drive!  It also confirmed something I began to suspect early on in my arrival – this is a society that does not plan.  There is no plan for how to organize a business, how to take care of patients at a hospital, how to manage the traffic flow on the highways, or even how much oil to produce.  It is seemingly all done in a random fashion without a plan.  Alas, the fact we get anything accomplished is proof it is the Magic Kingdom!!!

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