In the land of camels and Ferraris, the commute to school can be a little treacherous. I seriously needed to up my anxiety meds just to drive the 15 minutes to Mini’s school. I have traveled many places in this world, and this, by far, is the worst place to drive. Any road at any given time can turn into a speedway. This place is such a hodge-podge of cultures that there is no norm. Some Emiratis LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to drive fast and erratic. The Indians will drive the wheels off of any can of kaka that they can steer into the license bureau and the Pakistanis have trouble seeing through all their auto embellishments such as the flowers and beads they string across their windshields as they drive with their toes curled around the dashboard. And, on top of it all, nobody follows traffic rules so therefore you will see people passing on both shoulders of the road, down the center lane, and through parking lots with their lights flashing and horns honking as everyone goes about the city commute. On the highways between Abu Dhabi and the other Emirates, camels crossing the roads are a serious hazard so the country has spent an enormous amount of money on camel barriers to keep both people and animals safe. All of this combined is a true white knuckle experience that will make any new expat think about going home on the first available flight during the initiation month of August when most expats make the voyage to the Middle East.
Driving is by far the UAE’s favorite national pastime. These people LOVE their cars — and who wouldn’t when you drive a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati etc. My theory is that since there is limited access to drugs and alcohol and the national religion prohibits partaking in these activities, driving at high speed on public roads is the next best option for adrenalin junkies and teen drivers. Why not take mom’s Porsche that she’s never driven out for a test drive? The hired driver wouldn’t notice it is gone. And if he does, what is he going to do about it? So off we all go on the morning commute. Local ladies with their veils obstructing their peripheral vision, Chinese ladies who’ve never driven before, The Brits who typically drive on the OTHER side of the road, the Australians who treat every road like it’s the Outback, and then there are the Americans whose road rules are so deeply entrenched that any deviant behavior sends us into a road rage filled with colorful language and hand contortion, which, I might add, is against the law in this part of the world. No hand gestures, no cussing, and no screaming. This leaves me snorting, grunting and groaning all to myself and Mini most mornings. Sometimes I miss freedom of speech and sometimes I don’t. (Insert sarcasm) It depends upon whose freedom is being infringed upon.
So what is it like to live in a country that wrecks Ferraris on a regular basis? Well, it is a little surreal. I’ve become used to seeing high priced cars as normal. I live near the Formula 1 race track on Yas Island where they let amateur drivers bring their sports cars and race around the track at high speed. My guess is that due to the number of accidents the UAE had to come up with something so they decided to build a race track that offered a double purpose solution by addressing a problem while still sticking with the tourism initiative. Although many young and wealthy drivers still prefer to race on the open roads, particularly on the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai or some of the other less traveled highways, the UAE knows there is a problem but seem to be reluctant to take away the driving license of offenders. Speed is a legal high that appears to be as intoxicating and addictive as many of the streets drugs in the USA.
Another issue in the UAE is unrestrained children in automobiles. Last week I stood outside my villa as I watched a 5 year-old sitting alone in the driver’s seat of a running car. As I stood there in disbelief I was just waiting for the little guy to drop it into gear and run over the dog and I as we prepared to begin our daily walk. Leaving unattended children in cars is not uncommon here in the UAE. Due to the melting pot of cultures there are many parents whose home countries have not adopted the strict child restraint laws the USA. Last week a large Hummer pulled in front of Mini’s school and out popped two small children from the front seat. Mini about had a cow. “Did you see that Mom? That mother didn’t have her children strapped in their car seats!” I responded, “Yes, that is true but at least they weren’t driving her.”