Monday, February 16, 2015

Behind the Wheel in Qatar

I recently realized that I must have put you all in suspense.  You never heard that I officially passed my Qatar driver's license back in November.  I am certain there has been eager anticipation for this earthshaking announcement!  My dear neighbor and friend, Abier, picked me up at 5:00 am to go to the driver's school two times (You can read a post about her that is called 'Unexpected Sisters' in November). The driver's school opens at 5:30 am, yep, that's right--not a typo!  Life starts early around here.... 

In order to get a driver's license in Qatar, you must pass medical, written, and two practical tests (in parking and driving)--plus a test about the parts of a car engine.  Abier, who has endeared herself to me now forever, arranged for me in Arabic to have a driving test 2X before I actually took the formal driver's test.  The director of the driver's school assured me, "You will do fine.  You look like a driver."  I am not sure what a driver "looks like," but I hoped my tester would agree.  When I heard that I would receive my very own driver's license here, I felt about the same elation as when I finished my master's thesis--no joke!  It can be difficult, even subjective, to obtain.

As a new driver in Qatar, you have to learn a whole new array of signs.

The only difference from this picture is that often hundreds of cars are waiting to zig zag through the roundabout.  No exaggeration!  The inner lane has priority here, and many people just zoom in front of you--crossing over to another lane or spoke of the wheel to exit.  Sometimes there are three lanes with bumper to bumper traffic, as all the cars converge into a two lane roundabout. Most of the time no one uses a signal or "indicators," as they are called in the UK.  Each time I hit a rush hour roundabout, I take a deep, calming breath, and put my radar up in all directions.  Everyone in the car suddenly becomes quiet; often times there is a nail-biting silence until we have safely passed through the serpentining roundabout.  Cars are buzzing, honking, and squeezing around each other.  I resolutely try to stay unruffled in the mayhem surrounding me. 
In busy traffic, police direct cars at each spoke in the wheel (I am sure it is one of the most dangerous jobs in Qatar).   One must keep their wits, humor, and senses sharp to drive in this place--especially as a few cars give thunderous honks behind and/or at the side of you.  Sometimes I feel like I am almost in a rodeo; it takes some grit and guts to get behind a wheel here.  Every time I return to my compound, a sense of peaceful tranquility envelopes me--relief that I made it home!There are very few countries in the world that a driver can spot a sign to beware of camels crossing....  I chuckle to myself every time I see these camel signs.  If I ever forget that I am on the other side of the world, these road signs immediately remind me. Ha!

These signs are in front of the schools--reminding people to turn off their cars!

Another favorite....  I call them "speed bumps", but here they are called "speed humps" in Qatar--maybe because of the abundance of camels?

A favorite neighborhood--in the embassy section.  You need to know where you are going when all the signs are in Arabic!

These are the signs to watch for pedestrians--showing the thobe (men's wear in Qatar).

A beautiful sunset, about 30 minutes out of Doha.  It is a small country, but the vistas, bays, oceans, and everlasting horizons of sand evoke peace--even when it can be a bumpy ride to your destination....

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