Common Questions #1 How do you deal with not driving?

November 4, 2006 at 8:09 am 5 comments

Before I came to Saudi, I had a few strange ideas in my head about what I thought living in Saudi would be like. I thought if my hands showed then some dude with a stick was going to appear out of nowhere and hit me. I remember asking my husband questions like ‘Do they have flushing toilets?’ and ‘Do they have electricity all the time?’ and ‘Do they have running water?’ (I really did think I was going to go live in a desert). I look back now and I feel quite silly now but at the time particularly with regards to treatment of women I had some bad perceptions. And this is coming from someone who had a lot of links to Saudi!

Whenever I’m back in good ol’ Aussie land, I get asked lots of questions about life in Saudi by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I thought I’d compile some of the most common ones and answer them from my point of view. Remember, my point of view is just that – my point of view. Other people will vary in their opinions.

So here is question #1. How do you deal with not driving?

In Australia, I drove all the time. I was very used to just getting up and going wherever I want to go. Here, I need to have my husband take me wherever I want to go. So you would think that I would be greatly affected by not driving but it actually didn’t take me long to adjust to not driving. It took one drive around on the roads of Medina to put me off the idea of ever wanting to drive in this country. The driving is terrible. There is no concept of road rules. I cannot imagine how women would drive in this environment. So whilst the idea of women driving sounds good in theory, in reality the country would need a good overhaul before women driving could even be a viable idea.

And you know what? Now it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that I can’t drive here. OK, there is one exception to that. That is when I’m cooking and run out of something. The milkbars are every few metres (literally) and stock most things but I’m a bit too lazy.

I think our lifestyles in Australia also make it a lot more necessary for women to drive. Usually men are at work at till 6pm and kids need to be dropped off at school and picked up. Bills need to be paid. Shopping needs to be done. Here, the timings of work and when shops are open are completely different. After living here, whenever I go back to Australia, I get really annoyed that the shops get closed at 5pm. I’m used to going out after 5pm. So I don’t think that women not driving in Australia is very realistic particularly when you have kids.

I really do believe that driving for women in Saudi isn’t an option until the country and its people change culturally and socially. I’m not too sure if I want them to change culturally and socially though. Some of the ‘modernisation’ is actually quite saddening to see. If they change to an Islamically better environment then good but not if it is in the opposite direction.

The one thing that I find sad about the rule though is the issue of drivers. When women travel with taxi drivers and their own personal drivers by themselves then that is a problem. However, majority of the time I’ve noticed that women usually go out with someone and not by themselves.

People outside of Saudi (particularly in the Western world) seem to also think that if the government just put a rule saying ‘Yes, women can drive’ then suddenly all the women in Saudi would be driving. A bit like how they thought if they got the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan that the women would be throwing off their burqas. We saw how close to reality that was. Just like that, if women were allowed right now to drive in Saudi, I’d hazard a guess and say 90%+ wouldn’t do it anyways.

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Entry filed under: Life in Medina.

Jumah at the Prophet’s Mosque Some Photos in Medina

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Abu Ya'qoub  |  November 5, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Where’s question #2?

  • 2. ummadam  |  November 9, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    Yes, eagerly awaiting question number 2. I was just asked on my blog, why KSA? Why didn’t I move to another Muslim country?

    Do you have children?

  • 3. Law Student  |  November 11, 2006 at 6:50 am

    Interesting post. However, Saffiyah has a post on her blog called Gender Relations, Sex and Perversion: The Dark Underside of Saudi Arabia.

    It is an interesting read. Here is the link: http://www.safiyyah.ca/wordpress/?p=303

  • 4. Abu Abdur Rahman  |  November 11, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    She can post whatever she wants. Saffiyah went to one part of KSA for a couple of weeks and she’s written up a travelogue. I think the best people to talk about the country and people that have lived there.

  • 5. Aussie In Medina  |  November 17, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    UmmAdam: Nope. No kids.
    Law Student: I read Safiyyah’s blog but to be honest I find that her experience probably isn’t the experience of a person actually living here. I don’t think you can write about the ‘dark underside’ of a country if you visited for a period of a week or two. Also some of the things she seems to have spoken about are because of a preconceived notion of Saudi Arabia for example why the men didn’t touch the woman. You only need to see how women react to being touched (even accidentally) sometimes to realise why they may have not rushed to help the woman stand up.
    Overall, her post seemed a bit exaggerated in my opinion for me to actually take it as seriously.
    What I also find interesting is that alot of people seem to fail to realise that the majority of people they encounter when visiting for Hajj or Umrah around the Harams are not actually Saudis. Most of the workers in shops are non-Saudis for e.g. from Pakistan/India/Bangladesh/Turkey/Afghanistan/Egypt etc.
    Not every Saudi is an angel but generally I’ve never had an issue with Saudis and they have tended to be the most respectful to me.
    Another point is that the problems in Saudi Arabia that are mentioned for e.g. numbers being thrown at women etc are not unique to Saudi Arabia. I remember one Qatari international student at my university telling me how he and his friends used to throw numbers at women for ‘fun’. These are common problems for foreign women throughout the Arab world even in more ‘liberal’ places like Egypt and Jordan. I’ve read plenty of accounts of staring, harassment, unwanted advances by men throughout the Arab world. It’s all a bit sad.
    And don’t worry I have plenty I don’t like about Saudi as well for e.g. the racism, the concept of ‘wasta’, the inefficiency and so on.

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