Friday, May 11, 2012

Fear Factor

Although i have never watched a full episode, i have seen snippets and get the ridiculous concept of the show Fear Factor.  Contestants are presented with grueling or disgusting challenges that make the viewer want to either vomit or crawl out of their skin.  i've always wondered what sort of crazy person would freely volunteer to put themselves in those situations and in front of an audience none the less.   That is  how i felt about driving here in the UAE even before arriving.  You might as well have asked me to eat a live bug.  It ranked pretty much up there with snakes slithering all over me and to top it off there is not even prize money involved.

i was perfectly content to let Dubai Taxi take me wherever i needed to go until i realized even that option could result in an immediate elimination.

2 minutes into a cab ride one day i learned that people in Nepal (including taxi drivers new to Dubai) drive on the opposite  WRONG side of road.  (Not only were his driving skills lacking so was his English.)        

Him:  Yes, ma'am only here 6 months.
Him: Yes, Nepal only 6 months
Me: SEE THAT CAR COMING?! (My hands are now frantically flailing over his shoulder to communicate what words obviously are not.)
Him: I drive there, new to Dub.... OH!!  (Oncoming car finally brought about an understanding of the immediate situation.)
Yes, it was all fine in the end as we were on a quiet road but my heart was still hammering out of my chest.  (Hindsight i am wondering how on earth with all my yelling and frantic motioning of hands he thought we were having a "So, where are you from?" sort of conversation.)   

After about a month of taxi service i was DONE and ready to get behind the wheel and plunge into my Fear.  As a licensed US driver, i showed my California driver's license to the local governing authority, paid a fee,  presented my husband's letter of consent allowing me permission to drive and in no time i am an official UAE licensed driver.  Other nationalities are required to take and pass an expensive driving course which is vigorous and extremely difficult to pass (yet once capable of doing so STILL drive on the wrong side of the road).  i could write endless stories on the driving rules madness, but to spare you the details, let me just list the most important and most often practiced rules of the UAE road.

1.  You are not to exceed 120 KPM UNLESS you flash your headlights on and off to warn drivers directly in front of your immediate approaching, in which case there is no longer a speed limit.

2.  Lanes painted on the road are only suggestions.  Straddling the painted line is most advisable.

3.  Many children should be placed in your car without restraints.  They should be free to move, run and jump about the vehicle at all times.

4.  Horns should be loud and used with much frequency.

5.  Roundabouts are to be considered a daily game of pin ball.

6.  In order to guarantee arrival from point A to point B head in the complete opposite direction, make a U turn and come back.

(True and accurate directions from point A-B) 

7.  Backing up on a freeway is completely acceptable to avoid rule #6.

8.  Pedestrians are allowed to run cross 5 lanes freeway traffic at any point or hour of the day.

9.  Consider yourself LUCKY if you arrive at a new destination for the first time without getting lost or calling for directions.  If you accomplish this task on time you will have witnessed a rare phenomenon.

10.  Signage depicting a blue circle with 2 arrow typically translates as;  Pick a lane any lane, where you end up nobody knows.

11.  It is both possible and likely your car will be totaled while in a parking garage.

12.  Do not be alarmed if you find yourself completely lost in a mall parking garage.

13.  All parking stalls are extra small.  It is most advisable to back into said stall so that upon exiting you will have an unobstructed view of the cars about to hit you.

14.  Speed bumps are the safest point of crossing for pedestrians as it forces speeding sports cars to slow down.

15.  If at any time you don't feel like abiding by rules 1-14 create your own path by off roading through the sand.

(Shortcut to school)

Considering the road rules above and the fact that within 21/2 months i have changed rental cars 8 times... 8 TIMES!... you may understand my slight fear of driving.  (In case you think i jest, the car rental run down;  Jetta,  Toureg,  Audi,  Audi,  Landcruiser,  Toureg,  Ford,  Mitsubishi.)

In addition to fear there is the "make you crawl out of your skin" part of driving... Directions.  As in there ARE none.  Most places don't have addresses or even street names so when you need to get somewhere you have to know the nearest land mark and hope you get lucky.  At times this can be absolutely maddening.  Like the time i received this text.

i dutifully looked up the Media City Post Office for "directions" and found it was located in BUILDING 14 in Media City.  After scrutinizing for 15 minutes every angle of Google Maps to find out what Building 14 was next to,  i drove my little temporary rental car to "Building 14."  When i pulled up i asked the parking attendant if i had truly arrived at "Building 14?!"  i mean i got there in record time without getting lost or even asking for directions.  He assured me this was indeed Building 14 in Media City.   (Yes, i pretty much did a little happy dance right there in my car!)  Gathering up all my necessary paperwork, and strutting up the steps to Building 14 i am relishing my fabulousness.  i mean, i have great mapping skills, my ability to navigate Dubai roads and directions is amazing,  and i am patting myself on the back for figuring this place out and am starting to think driving here really isn't THAT bad.  i reach the building's security guard and ask him to point me to direction of the Post Office.

Him:  Oh Madam, you are at the wrong location.
Me: This is Media City, right?!
Him: Yes
Me: Building 14?
Him: Yes
Me: (Pulling out my phone and holding it up to his face.) i was told i had to be here to pick up my ID card.
Him: Yes Madam, this happens all the time.  The Post Office hasn't been in this building for over a year.  Everyone comes here first.  You really have to go to Knowledge Village Building 7.
Me: (Blank stare) Yes, of course.  That makes perfect sense. 

Without having my trusty Google Map App and a GPS that doesn't recognize "Building 7" as a valid address, i wander around a few kilometers away thankful that i may have actually been near this Building 7 during a previous errand.   After asking for several directions and parking in what would be an illegal spot in the states, i located # 7 in Knowledge Village.  i enter with absolutely no expectations of achieving my goal.  But low and behold i find the right room, i have the correct paper work and in return they hand over all the necessary cards i need!  As i am about to leave i decide to kindly suggest to the man in the kandora behind the counter that if they update the texts sent out it would be so helpful for those of us receiving them.  "Did you know the text told me to come to Media City not the Knowledge Village Post Office?"  He waves his hand and says, "This is Media City!  It's all one area, everyone knows this!"  Uh... OK everyone but me and google maps!!  (Yes, i sound all big and bad in my head!) Who am i, a 2 month expat, to argue with a national?  So, i really just sigh and walk out the door.  Luckily the door is far enough away that as i am walking i overhear an Arabic woman stand up and come to my defense and tell the man in no uncertain terms the text they send are ridiculous and these are NOT the same area.  The conversation is complete with lots of hand motions and loud voices.  And although i have come to learn that Arabic conversations can often sound like someone is getting a major tongue lashing when in fact it is just a friendly conversation, it makes me feel better going with the idea that she really let him have it.  On the way back home i was stuck in traffic directly in front of this sign.  Blue sign from traffic rule #10 and evidence that i am not crazy, these are two different areas

After 4 months of driving i no longer have sweaty palms on the steering wheel and my heart doesn't hammer when i have to drive on Sheikh Zayed road.  i take on new locations with no directions like some great explorer off to discover the great unknown.  When i use the horn now, it is no longer the polite short US, "Yoo Hoo, do you see me on your left?" tap on the wheel but a long drawn out Arabic, "Move out of my way" signal.  i have come to accept that i may never have a quick enough draw on the accelerator at a stop light.  (If i am waiting at a red light and watching for the green like a hawk waiting to pounce it's prey, in the amount of time it takes for my brain to register the light is green and i move my foot from brake to accelerator, i am honked at as if i have been sitting at the light answering emails on my phone.  i felt better yesterday when even the Dubai Police were honked at for waiting 1 nano second before punching through the green.)

Arriving at destinations now become huge accomplishments.  The kids have learned driver's  frustration mode and know it requires complete silence if they want to arrive sometime before the birthday party ends.  Even quick trips to the store are filled with prayers asking for safety, parking spots and quiet roundabouts.  Thankfully my fear has waned and although a drive in the car will never be considered a "joy ride" i no longer consider the task at hand a grueling challenge that will make me sick to my stomach.  

Now i'm off to research "directions" for today's birthday party.  Wish me luck!

Addendum:  Took us 1 and 1/2 hours, 3 separate maps and numerous "Where are we!?" to reach the party.  (For the record Google Maps said it should take us 38 minutes.  i'll tell you what,  Google Maps has never driven in Dubai before.)  Luckily, we were only 30 minutes late which according to US standard time is clearly LATE but since we currently live on Arab time we were actually 15 minutes early!  My other consolation... A 10 year Dubai resident found her way to the mall straight away but got lost in the parking garage! and arrived 10 minutes after i did.