I have had sufficient time to examine these people and their racing striped, plastic covered seats (no matter the vehicle age), and faux- fur covered dash board automobiles. I am not exaggerating when I say that driving in this city has taken years off my life. It is the only huge stressor in my current existence. Yes, I know I can be a bit dramatic at times, but I am neither exaggerating or embellishing here. It does not matter where I sit in the car - driving, passenge-ing, even in the back seat - my stomach still lurches at big roundabouts, and I say my Hail Mary's silently when I glance out the window at a smushed-up abandoned SUV left on the side of the road like a tin can, after what could only be a major accident.
I am currently working on perfecting my mind reading skills. It is a tall order. One has to be more than a mind reader when driving here. I will glare into the eyes of a Qatari woman pulled up next to me at a roundabout or red light - often that is the only part of her I can see at all... sometimes I am forced to glare into the black space where I think her eyes might be, as her face is completely covered - and try to decide if she looks like she may tramp on the gas and cut into my lane, or if she plans on sticking it out in her own lane for a while longer. A fleeting thought enters my head- I wonder if she can even see me at all. What is a gal's peripheral vision like with a cloth over her eyes and Louis Vuitton sunglasses over that cloth? I can only guess. Shudder.
The men are the worst by far - so very unpredictable. So much so in fact that when a Qatari man slows and gestures to me to go ahead and enter his lane (a nice thing to do for another driver), I begin to doubt his sincerity. Shame on me.
The Indian drivers are in a class of their own, and may take the prize for being the best Wolves-in-Sheep's-Clothing. If there is a speed camera within 10 miles, they are the picture of safety and precision. Hands at ten and two. Eyes straight ahead. But when no one is looking, they will sneak up on you and create their very own lanes (the shoulder of the road or straight up the middle of two lanes will do just fine), and can squeeze the largest SUV into the smallest of spaces. Impressive really, if it weren't so frightening. They love being snuggled right up to your bumper or side mirrors. No room to breath the hot desert air at all.
In our short three months here (yes, it has been that long) we have seen many fender benders and far too many close calls. I know the other drivers must look at my car and think to themselves, "Strange. That woman's car blinks". You can spot an expat a mile away (literally) when you see their vehicle switch on a signal light. No one else seems to know what a turn indicator is for. Certainly not to signal your intention to move your vehicle in the direction of the blinking light. Really though. Blinkers in Doha are for the weak. It is far more heart racing and adrenaline pumping to have to guess who is going to go in what direction at any given moment. My spidey senses are tingling constantly.
A note about Colin... My gentle, patient husband (who is never ever seen 'losing it'... unlike his wife!) has, on occasion, been transformed into a complete stranger before my very eyes when caught up in the craziness of the Doha roads. He sighs. He grunts. He shakes his head and makes clicking sounds with his tongue. He occasionally SWEARS. He blows his horn. He does not, however, make any hand gestures of any kind (we could get in some serious trouble for this one). The colourful phrases he has muttered while saving us from getting side-swiped or rear-ended would make a sailor blush. His stress (so rarely seen) amplifies my stress. Oh, it is bad. Real bad. I feel like I am on a ride at the fair that flings you every which direction and when you get off, your stomach is fluttering and your head is swirling. It makes me need to take a nap.
I should clarify here that it is not always like this. Sometimes the roads are just fine to travel on. Often, I get to and fro without any issues whatsoever. These trips are glorious. I feel accomplished and energized. Yes, we made it! Friday mornings are the best for driving, but a cruel irony... the stores are all shut. I must say that some Doha drivers are very conscientious , law abiding citizens. I should not paint everyone with the same brush, I know. Please forgive me, but I do speak of the majority. I am hopeful this will change.
We really just have to be careful anytime before or after lunch time, supper time, Thursday nights, Friday nights, Saturday nights, driving near a wedding tent, a mosque, the Corniche, the souqs... you get my point. Trying to park could give you a stroke if you aren't careful.
I realize that in the whole grand scheme of things that the Qatari's are actually doing wonderfully considering that Doha has risen up out of the sand as a vibrant and booming city virtually overnight. It wasn't that long ago that you would be hard pressed to find a car amongst the camels. They are doing very well, considering.
I have been given the hand gesture for 'patience' more times than I can count. Strange, it is always when I am yielding (at a yield sign) and a Qatari honks, flashes his lights, and then, as he pulls out and speeds ahead of me into the rush of oncoming traffic, he looks back and calmly gestures... "patience". I could choke on my tongue when this happens. Makes no sense! You, my dear sirs, YOU need the patience.
I was recently purchasing something in a store owned by a Qatari man. We were making small talk and he was asking how I am enjoying living in Doha. My reply was a positive one, but I mentioned the driving was mad. He laughs. He agrees. I ask him about the hand gesture I have been recieving. Indeed, it does means 'patience'. Why then, I ask, are they giving it to me, when I am clearly being 'patient'? He answers: "The Arabs... they are crazy." Then he chuckles. Enough said.
We will be okay, Inshallah. (http://www.grapeshisha.com/culture/inshallah.html) Hopefully, we will navigate through all the craziness and stay happy and healthy during our time here. Blog readers, say a prayer or two to your guardian angels for us. We need them all.