24 March 2014

Driving. . . or lack thereof

There are several interesting aspects of living in Saudi, but arguably one of the most unique is the fact that I can't drive.  Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving.  Fortunately, the company Ben works for provides cars and drivers.  (Ben also doesn't drive over here as the company considers the driving conditions unsafe.) 

So if I want to go somewhere, I call the dispatcher and arrange for a ride.  It is generally a minimum 20 minute wait for the car to come, although it's best to arrange rides a couple hours ahead of time so that you don't have the unlucky situation of calling and all of the cars are already booked (doesn't happen too often). 

Generally the car that picks us up is a while Toyota Land Cruiser.  Saudis seem to have a thing for white cars as there is an abnormally high percentage of white cars (as well as Toyotas) in this country.  (See picture.) 

In fact, I still remember the first time I went to the grocery store by myself.  When I exited I started to panic. . . which white car is mine?  And what exactly did my driver look like again?  (The drivers generally drop you off at the door and then go park after you walk in.)  Fortunately my driver was watching for me and remembered what I looked like! 

Living in this country is definitely a mix of benefits and drawbacks.  For me, the driving situation is one of the things I don't feel I've totally adjusted to yet.  Before I came, I thought it would be weird to always have a driver (ie stranger) in the car.  Ironically this hasn't really bothered me.  Sometimes it is nice to just ride quietly with someone else thinking about driving.  When riding with the kids, it is nice to talk to them and listen with my full attention.  (I'm also not allowed to sit in the front passenger seat since I'm not married to the person who is driving.)  And on longer drives we've had some nice (although at times heartbreaking) conversations with the drivers and have been able to learn more about their home countries and the families they left behind to come to work in Saudi.

But. . . the part that is hard for me has been the loss of freedom.  It is hard for me to not have a car that I can just jump in and go whenever/wherever I'd like.  I dislike the feeling of 'asking permission' (ie calling the dispatcher) before I go anywhere.  I also miss being able to be a bit more spontaneous.  For example, one weekend evening--spur of the moment--we decided it would be fun to go out to eat.  We called for a ride only to find that a driver wouldn't be available for 3 hours.  Since the kids would be in bed by then, we had to stay in for the evening.  While this was certainly a minor inconvenience, it still reminded me that I have lost some freedom by living in this country. 

But despite the all of this being said, I am very grateful for the drivers--without them I would be even more home bound!