Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Car Accident in Saudi - It Was Bound to Happen to Me

One of the first things people told me when I moved to Saudi Arabia was that things move very slowly here, unless you're in a car.  They weren't lying.  As I've mentioned in past blogs, people drive fast here.  Let me rephrase that, men drive fast here, and many of them are hot-headed and reckless when they drive.  So, even if you have a calm and sensible driver on the road there's still a lot of danger involved because there are so many overly confident and short-sighted drivers that can screw with the safety that a good driver is trying to maintain.  Essentially, the longer you live in Saudi, the higher the chances are that you will be in a motor vehicle accident.

I have been in Saudi for a little more one year and my accident-free days are now over.  Just as I was getting used to the swerving in and out of traffic, the near-misses, and the speeding past cars to be the first in line at a stoplight I got a wake up call.  My driver and I were in a solid accident on the Saudi highway.

Getting in a car accident here is definitely a rant-worthy occurrence.  I could go on about how much it drives me crazy that I can't drive my own car and rely on my own defensive driving skills to get me safely to and from work.  I could go on about the over-confident drivers that get insulted when I put my seat belt on and say, "I've been driving for many years in all kinds of vehicles.  You don't need to wear a belt.  I can drive over the 120km/h speed limit and still keep you safe."  But, you've heard it before, so I'll leave you to read that in my other blog posts (check out point #4 here; and read this blog post here).

Instead of a rant I think that simply sharing my experience is actually entertaining enough in a semi-sadistic sort of way.  You see, in Saudi, accidents are dealt with in a very different way from home:

It was a typical drive home from work.  I have two different drivers that take me home at the end of the day.  This day, thankfully, I had the calm, go-with-the-flow driver.  We were heading along the highway with a solid amount of traffic around us, which I'm also thankful for because it meant we were going 90km/hr instead of 120km/hr.  What is not so typical is that my driver was traveling at a good distance from the car ahead of us.  So when that car (who, as per usual, was tail-gating the car in front of him) slammed on his brakes to avoid a rear-ender accident he lost control and swerved in and out of the lane me and my driver were in.  There was room enough to slow down, but not room enough to avoid hitting the car.

Even though I saw it coming it didn't prevent me from losing my glasses (not a happy thing for a girl who is legally blind without them).  I eventually managed to find them under the seat in front of me.  Then I realized I didn't have my abaya on.

**Let me pause here and explain that I am absolutely supposed to have my abaya on when in public.  The thing is, I don't quite see the inside of a car as "public."  I get in the car and out of the car while on private property and I simply hate being forced to wear that black piece of material.  So, not wearing my abaya in the car is my own little form of protest.  I do, however, make sure my shoulders are covered, just to keep the peace...sort of**

I quickly pulled my abaya from my bag and undid the seatbelt buckle to put it on.  Then I realized that, knowing Saudi traffic, there's a good chance someone could drive up to the accident scene too quickly and rear-end us.  So, back went my seatbelt into the buckle and I struggled to put my abaya on through the straps.

During the process with my abaya my driver had gotten out of the car to talk, animatedly and angrily, with the driver of the car we hit.  I sat and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I assessed my physical state, some bruises and my neck was a little stiff, but all was well.  I waited some more.  My driver came to my door and, in Arabic, said something that I believe was a question as to my state of health.  I told him I was fine.  Somehow he understood what I meant.   My driver was definitely hurt.  Not imminent death kind of hurt, but he was a hurting unit for sure.  I asked him if he was okay.  He didn't understand that.  He walked away.  I waited again.

The police arrived fairly quickly and talked with the drivers.  I waited.  I wasn't quite sure what to do.  I was a witness to the accident.  I saw it all quite clearly.  I was happy to give a statement.  Yet the police didn't even come to the car to ask if I was okay.  I didn't want to get out because cars were still driving by (yes, we were still parked in the middle of the highway).  So, I continued to wait.

Finally, the police had the cars moved to the shoulder of the highway.  They had passed by my door many times at this point.  Still, no one checked in on me, except for my driver.  I called a friend and asked what I should do.  He said he would come get me.  Ah, but this is Saudi.  He can't pick me up in his car.  Women in Saudi aren't allowed to drive in a vehicle with a man who isn't their husband, father, son, or an official driver.  I needed to find a friend who could come with his wife to get me because it didn't seem like anyone else was going to do anything to help me.

I managed to have someone come for me.  I actually could have left without anyone caring.  I didn't want to do that to my driver, though.  I could imagine him finally finishing up his arguments with the police and the other driver only to find me gone followed by his ensuing worry.  I got my Arabic speaking friend on the phone with him to explain that I was being picked up by friends.  My driver nodded his head, "okay," and off I went.  Gone from the scene.  Not once did a police officer even acknowledge my presence.  Not even a hint of an ambulance siren let alone an actual ambulance, even though my driver was clearly in pain.

And that was it.  That's how my first car accident went down.  I'm still a little amazed at the disregard of the police officers.  Whether it's the fact that I'm a woman or that police just don't care so much about passengers involved in motor-vehicle accidents, I don't know.  What I do know is that I much prefer the processes and due-diligence that highway officials are subject to following in Canada.  Just another experience in Saudi Arabia for me, I suppose.  I'm super grateful that I ended up with just a sore neck and my driver turned out to have only a bruised chest.  As they say here in Saudi, Alhamdulillah.

In Joy,