Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Driving in Dubai

I honestly never saw myself as one of those people who drives a car in foreign countries. I thought that maybe it was one of those things that American moms don't do (though I did know an American lady in Moscow who had some serious skill in a Subaru Outback). Then in Jordan, I met a woman at church who had four kids and a minivan and she drove it around Amman herself. In Egypt, I met still more moms with kids who drove in that crazy city.

And now here I am in the UAE, driving around with my kids. I didn't think I would be capable of it but it turns out it's one of those things that you just dive right into and DO.

So far, the things that I love about driving in and around Dubai are the flexibility and the unpredictability. With the very great exception of speeding, the driving rules around here are very flexible. (On speeding - there are speed cameras all over the place and the best part is that you don't get your ticket in the mail. It just shows up as a fine the next year you go in to renew your registration. Lovely.) If there's no one around in a traffic circle, feel free to drift into a more comfortable lane for taking the turn. Stop signs can sometimes be yield signs if you feel like it. Road shoulders can be their own lanes. Empty fields can be parking lots. Heck, lanes of traffic can be parking lots if you really need it.

As for the unpredictability, tell me it isn't thrilling to never know what the person driving in front/back/to the side of you is going to do next. I see people do some variation of the cut-across-seven-lanes-of-highway-to-juuuuuust-barely-make-that-exit so often and it never ceases to amaze and terrify me. Just go to the next exit, dude. But still, it's an interesting mix of admiration for the sheer amount of guts it takes to pull off a move like that, and fear that it will be me they're cutting off someday (note: IT WILL).

If it weren't for the fact that we are in daily mortal peril from people driving like morons, driving in Dubai is like the world's greatest real-life amusement park ride. It also builds confidence and character. While driving around I often encounter situations that I would never attempt by choice. But when you're going 100 kph and you need to merge, move over five lanes, and then do a U-turn, choice doesn't have anything to do with it. I admit that there are times I pull off an especially difficult driving maneuver and it may have looked all finessed, but Jeremy could tell you all about the wince/grimace of terror I had on my face the whole time. But I do it, and each success builds more confidence for the next unexpected encounter.

Now, integral to all of the above are traffic circles, aka roundabouts. Let's talk about roundabouts, for lo, they are legion. They are also INSANE. Take a look. This roundabout sign makes me laugh every time we pass it. And we pass it a lot because we have yet to make the right spoke selection the first time around.
Out of control, no? I do think roundabouts are an effective traffic control device but that doesn't make the practical execution any easier. Roundabouts usually have multiple lanes, as seen here:
To enter and exit the roundabout without crashing, you have to think ahead. Are you taking the first exit? If so, feel free to use the right lane. Otherwise, you need to get into one of the inner lanes, but not too inner so you don't get stuck when it's time to exit. Regardless of what lane you're in, watch out for people on the inside cutting in front of you to get out, and people on the outside not exiting when you think they will.

But you can't spend too much time and energy on guessing the moves of others. If there's one thing I've learned since driving around Dubai, it's that you have to take care of yourself. Sometimes taking care of yourself involves making rash, sudden, intensely defensive driving decisions. But you make them all the same, because you have to hope that everyone else out there is taking care of themselves. Otherwise, the system doesn't work.

To the extent that there is a system, anyway. And assuming that it works.


Prayers for Megan