Thursday, April 10, 2008

Driving at Long Last!

Interesting that just when we’re about to head back to Saudi Arabia, Hning and I are learning how to drive. What could it mean? Mind you that this is not meant to portray either of us a significant Saudi female, on the contrary, we’re pretty late compared to many Saudi girls who acquired their driving license much earlier; a couple of months after they’ve arrived to their foreign/scholarship destination.

Many of my mother’s generation who were sent out in scholarship programs just as we are now, had also acquired their license regardless of their religiousness or ideological stance. Another argument as to why the issue of “
women driving” inside Saudi is non-religious, non-ideological, but rather a battle point between liberal and conservative parties within the country to prove which one has dominance and authority over the society, a battle which gained an exaggerated importance merely because the gov’t has not stepped in much earlier to resolve it. Now, any immediate resolution by the gov’t, if not played tactfully, will indicate “taking sides”.

When I was 17, I had a rather unsuccessful attempt at driving. My dad took me on the road in Canada. I will spare you the details and just say, we arrived at the building from which we started with my dad’s temper as burnt as the breaks.

When he asked me to open my door I freaked, “Ha, what, how?!"
It was the straw for both of us.
“The door. The! Door! Can’t you even open a door?!”
I quit on driving right there and then.

This might be why I postponed driving thus far. Other reasons are sharing the same car with hubby, driving almost everywhere together, and
TriMet being amazingly convenient and accessible almost anywhere I need to go. But boy, do I regret waiting out on the experience of OWNING the wheel!

Please don’t think of yourselves when you were 17 or even 19 and learning how to drive. There’s something different to learning at 25. Something not cute, but rather serious and self changing. Being in charge of the thicker key chain. Enabling and disabling the family's access to the car. Sitting up front-on the left. Leading others to a destination, with you playing the active role. Eyeing cars on the street with a sense of equality; a sense of authority; of being responsible for your own safety as well as theirs.

Something about the way I walk changes once I step out of a driving session. I begin to perceive myself in mechanical terms such as: start, stop, yield, turn right, turn left, slow down, make haste. My eyes start spotting life at a higher level; the level on which signs exist. Yellow, red, orange, white, numbers, little cautionary notes. People, streets, traffic, thoughts, ideas, images, fall into organized and coherent categories.

My chest feels much stronger as it takes in the air around me and releases it. My inner muscles slowly expand, like they’re being called by name and raising head to identify themselves in response.

I was lucky to get a good instructor. Found him via
Oregon Driver Education Center. Despite all the crappy signs I received at first, with the center drawing the tuition from my bank three times. Despite the delay between registeration, and scheduling, I am happy with the instructor I got (another reason as to why you should NEVER rely on marketing in the US as an accurate measure for product).

He says he trains cops, car racers, and I believe him! He’s also training other instructors; one has joined our driving session this week. Along with the scratch in the face and the cool blues of his eyes, you can immedialty spot how he owns the car to the extent that he doesn’t need to micromanage the student- I am too conspicuous to him with all my awkwardness and probable moves that he smoothly steers me in the direction of learning.

Hubby is playing an amazing role as well. He’s not melting in his seat as I drive nor holding to the edge of it. He's pretty mellow and cool. Today, he took me in my first highway ride EVER! He has me understood so well, that he’s got the right formula for where to compliment and where to suggest.

I hope to be able to get my license before returning home. I also hope that it will be more useful than a card in a wallet.

And I wonder what the streets of Saudi would be like if women shared the right and responsibility of way…

* 4/17/08:
Yepppyyyyy, I got my License! Passed with a border line of 75/100 :P


american bedu said...

Congratulations! And it is always best to be prepared for when women receive that green light to go behind the wheel.

There are some interesting trends in the Kingdom if you are not now gets pulled over and fined if found driving and using their mobile. One now gets pulled over, fined and jailed if traveling in excess of 140km. There are those who say these new and stricter enforcements are in preparation for women taking to the streets. Time will tell!

Look forward to having you back in the Kingdom!

American Bedu

G.E&B said...

congratulations! a recent visit to Riyadh reminded me how independent being able to drive makes a person! There's no feeling like it in the world (except maybe piloting a jet?!)

Cairogal said...

Mabrook! I'll look for you to be tooling up and down I-5!

Saudi in US said...

Congrats Aysha,

Your husband is a brave man. I know from experience as I taught driving to a few of my sisters and nieces while on summer visits. It is still a scary prospect even after having all that practice :)

I hope you can drive in Saudi soon.

Stranger in this Dunya said...

Good luck with learning to drive!

American_Bedu... you mentioned the stricter enforcements that are set in place now but the problem is in how they implement them! They are still using the ineffective method of police on the roads so one speeder gets caught whilst 50 others go speeding and weaving by. I wish they would catch onto the idea of speed cameras that are now so common in the UK for eg and that way everyone speeding on a certain stretch of road would be caught.

I wish I had the choice to drive here because it would make things easier re: the kids (school/dr appts/dentist etc) but I'm sure it would be a most nerve wracking experience. :?

Umm Ibrahim

Muneeb Saeed said...

but beware: the saudi shabab [students] have a very bad style of driving.. its not like what u'd c in South asia but speeding n flashing, honking n overtaking from the wrong lane r all to b expected [not necessarily in that order]

n american bedu: most of the strict enforcements start from the major cities.. n come to 'smaller' cities like Dammam after sometime..
n by then most of the drivers r aware what to look for

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Al-Humdulillah your husbands not freaking out while your driving. I've been driving the same amount of years as my husband, have been proven a better driver than him time after time and yet, when I'm the one driving he has the nerve to feign nervousness. You betcha he doesn't do that with even his 17year-old little brother and I've been driving longer than that kid's been alive!

That's how I've ended up teaching 4 Saudi women how to drive; they all went to their husbands first and all came to me afterwards because of their bad tempers. I keep my cool even when my pregnant friend was driving us into a row of hedges while teaching her to drive on a side-street in England.

The sad part is, it'll be harder once your back home and your newly sprouted wings will be clipped.It's more frustrating than if you'd never learned to drive.

Aafke said...

It is such a useful accomplishment. I klove driving, and I love my car!

I so hope you'll be able to drive, and to drive safely in KSA soon!

Trevely said...

My dad was going to have a heart attack trying to teach my how to drive, hey would sit in the passenger seat and stomp at some imaginary break pedal and drive me crazy. Well.. it got to the point where we were going to break all ties, so he got me an instructor.

Anyway, I think we can face it.. driving in saudi is going to take decades. I don't get why it's a religious battle.. people need to get from point A to point B, a piece of metal on wheels happens to accomplish that task. End of story. No 3awlama/western evil influence/devil's work in it..

Aysha said...

American Bedu,
True, it is better to be prepared. I truly hope that the rules of the road will be enforced better than in the past. Also, that policemen/cops will be trained and prepared well enough that they are respected and feared amongst people.
I look forward to being back and meeting you Carol!

Aysha said...

Piloting a jet! :D You are hillarious. Cannot agree with you more on the independency factor that comes with driving. Taking it to the extreme, though, lots of women from my mom's generation regretted driving in the US for the simple reason that they became tooo independent that their husbands became much too dependent on them for almost everything. Like a friend of my mom put it: "we became the maids, drivers, nannies, besides the students and wives of course." That poor generation took so much upon itself :P

Aysha said...

Just mentioning the hwy name, I felt an immediate and surprising familiarity with you. Like we were truly steps away from one another. Like the scenes I see with my eyes, are the scenes you see, and if I look out the window I might as well see you and recognize you too! IF that is not smart communication on your behalf, what is?! :D
Thank you!

Aysha said...

Saudi in US,
Thank you!
You bet it's nerve wracking. You are brave to do the training yourself, because the regular trainers usually take courses to reach the point where they can sit back without losing actual control over the vehicle.
After 2 classes with a trainer who had actual brakes under his feet, I was comfortable enough to drive with hubby who had only the imaginary brakes Trev pointed out :P
Viva the men who impower sisters :D

Aysha said...

Umm Ibrahim,
I agree with you. The streets in Saudi, the way they are now, are just an accident waiting to happen. Being on the road there demands defensive, alert and sometimes agressive driving just so one is compatible with the other drivers.
Heheh, maybe if women were driving on the road, we'll have less zigzaging and overspeeding, and drivers will take the time to look both ways and in their mirrors constantly :D

Aysha said...

Muneeb Saeed,
You are quite accurate. I'm grateful to have my first experiences with driving here, where rules do regulate how people around me are functioning on the road, thus minimizing the amount of surprises and fast decision making that I have to make-while still a beginner.

Christian said...

Thought your story was really interesting, Aysha. Posted about it on my blog about TriMet. The post is here:

Be well.

Aysha said...

I loved this "your newly sprouted wings will be clipped."
I never understood what my mom meant by "wait until you know how to drive and have to ride behind drivers who never lived in a city let alone driven before."
Now I understand because I am more aware of things happening outside the car, even if I were a passenger. I just don't know how I'll react to a driver as he takes me right into a potential crash :S
I love your description of Saudi society. You have that sharp humor that only arises from saying the truth and nothing but the truth so help you god :D

Aysha said...

Thank you so much! I am beginning to flirt with cars on the street, thinking "if I were to own/drive a car back home which one would be mine?" Yeah, a car does not look like someone else's property anymore, it can be mine too :P
* what's your car?

Aysha said...

I was waiting for you :D
While writing this post, you sort'a crossed my mind and I thought "damn, I want to hear her story about driving." You are totally the kind of person I would imagine in a sport car, taking a prologned yawn, while going vrrrrrom on the gas pedal! Cartonically speakign of course :P

Aysha said...

Thank you for finding me! You totally made my day. I love TriMet, and the details as small/big as "poetry in motion". For me as a foreigner, trimet is especially useful as a mean of bridging the cultural gap, and listening in on the city as it heads to work and returns back home full of gossip and chatter.
Thanx again.

betsymn said...

Aysha, I'm glad you're getting to learn how to drive, and I hope so much that Saudi Arabia will soon allow women to drive. I bought an RV 3 years ago, and have put on about 20,000 miles on it. I love to get in that thing and go on roads I've never been on before. My 21 yr. old son is handicapped, and this is the only way I can travel with him. My RV is my little bit of freedom.

Aysha said...

Thank you so very much! I just passed by your blog, and thought your beads to be fascinating work. There's that sense of freedom that the car brings especially if you're an experienced driver and the technicality of driving doesn't take your mind off of enjoying things around you-and company you have in the car. Glad to know you.