Monday, September 29, 2008

Wake me up when September ends...

Oh good, now our car fits in so much better,
and we've tweaked the statistics in our favor too...
Its all part of my brilliant plan.
It would make for better telling of this story if I had the photograph further in, but say the words our car got sideswiped in Dubai with the kids in the backseat and for some reason people get all worried. So, for your sake, I'm sacrificing dramatic license. Plus, didn't Bethy take a great photograph of me holding the displaced hubcap? Very attractive.

Again and again we've been told that this is the most dangerous time to drive in the UAE. Ramadan, people fasting, getting up extra early to eat and going to bed very late after partying night after night, sleeping during the day and speeding to get to Iftar feasts at sundown has contributed to road accident fatalities each year. People are tired and cranky from being hungry and the general stress of a marathon holiday. Many expats dread the month of Ramadan, and I can understand why. Imagine the Christmas season, but with getting up early, going to church several times a day, and not eating or the middle of the desert.

Yesterday the kids and I headed out at about 7 AM to (as usual) attempt to miss the traffic. (Ha! Best laid plans.) I had decided that Al Khail road was our best bet to get to where we were going, though from our housing area one can only go south until the roundabout, and then you can go around in a big circle and head back the other way. One day it took me an hour and twenty minutes to go three miles this way, but yesterday traffic was really light, as I'd hoped.

Reaching the roundabout, I went around on the outside lane. There are three lanes, outside, middle, and inside for this roundabout. This particular roundabout, though huge and busy, is usually nice and easy because it is regulated by stoplights, letting each of the three entrances have their turn in going around without other cars trying to come in at the same time.

I passed the first exit and was coming up to the second, our exit just a little ways beyond that one.

We never saw it coming. Ker-wham, right on Thomas' door. I held tightly to the steering wheel and, once the shuddering and pushing ceased, instinctively pulled over. Though I know you are supposed to stop where you are, my American training took over.

The other driver took the exit, pulled over and came literally screaming over to our car, absolutely livid. I had dialed 999 and was trying to talk to the police on my mobile, to direct them to us. He wrenched open the passenger side door, yelling into the enclosed space at the top of his lungs how I'd hit him, hurling insults and shaking his fists. Scared the hell out of the kids. The picture of road rage.

Irrationally this made me very angry.
I hit him? Staying in my lane, with the side and back of my car, I'd hit him?! And then he came over and opened my car door? Not to mention that I am seriously tired of being interrupted by hollering when I'm trying to talk on the phone! I forcibly, though printably, told him to stop screaming at me, that I was talking to the police and to shut the door. Apparently my don't-mess-with-mommy tone worked, since he slammed it shut again and stalked back to his SUV, still yelling and waving his arms.

The police told me to stay at the site of the accident, then to come to the Jebel Ali police station, then to stay there again. Oh dear. I was sketching a drawing of what had happened, keeping an eye out for Mr Angry Driver Man, and reassuring the kids as I documented to whom I was speaking and what they had said, along with his license plate number and a description of the SUV. Mr Angry Driver Man was now joined by two other men. They calmed him down, thankfully, rather than deciding to stone the American to death (good call).

The one brought me a present, the ripped-off hubcap. He also shook the hands of Bethy and Thomas who were by this point grinning at the bumpetty adventure. A police officer arrived as I was trying to bring Mike up to speed. I hung up quickly and joined the meeting already in progress. Mr Angry Driver Man went through an amazing metamorphasis and was suddenly incredibly calm, reasonable, and helpful. As we began to make our cases, I saw some sort of liquid flowing out from underneath the car. Oh, God, I thought, gas. I dropped to the sand and looked underneath to confirm that yes indeed, the fluid was coming from the car. I frantically pointed to the flow, ready to rip the kids out and flee the area, to the amusement of the men. No panic, they said giving each other looks of extreme amusement, A/C.

Shaking, relieved, I wiped away a few tears, now furious with myself. The officer, sensing his moment, asked the pertinant question: Did we speak Arabic? Not so much, it transpired. So he directed us to the police station. Now I had to follow the other driver to the police station. The Indian Guy Formerly known as Mr Angry Driver Man and his two friends backed up and back onto the freeway, taking the outside lane in front of me past my exit and to the next, and I followed them to the police station.

At the Jebel Ali Police Station, little more than a portable, one of the officers in green stepped outside to survey the damage. It was the first time I got to see the other driver's car, and the damage, if there was any, was quite minimal. Mine was, as you can see above, a dent, some broken fiberglass, the poor hubcap, and some black streaks from the SUV's bumper. The officer gave each vehicle a perfunctory glance, then headed back inside with the other three men, leaving the kids and I to scramble behind. In the waiting room there were many men sitting, waiting, no one in the separate women's waiting area, and while they waited, we did not.

While I may have been getting preferential treatment, I wasn't enjoying it, as the other driver was talking nonstop in Hindi to the police officer despite both of them having perfectly good command of English. Finally I threw the fit I had been instructed to give. "What are you telling him?" I asked sharply, once, twice, three times until the other driver looked at me blandly as though he'd just heard me speak for the first time and couldn't understand my being so inappropriately upset.

"You are being very rude!" I said loudly. "You are deliberately speaking to him in a language you think I do not understand. What are you saying to him?" He gave a shrug and a "ehhhh" sort of sound and tried to turn his back on me. I raised the volume and got up into his face.

"WHAT are you saying? Are you telling lies? What do you not want me to know you are saying?! Tell me what it is you said!"

He managed to look both wronged and condescending. Actually, it was a pretty impressive act. "I just told him that I was in this lane and you were in this lane," he said, "you see, I am explaining to him just as I did to you." He went back to talking to the police officer, (in Hindi) while I stood there helplessly seething. The two of them started to be argue, or something that sounded like it, and I was gestured to go back to the ladies' waiting area.

The police officers discussed for a moment more and then called us over to the counter again. Thomas decided this was an excellent time to throw a fit, and Bethy was whining about needing to go potty. Not the best negotiating stance I've ever been in, but I gave it a go. After bribing both children with money (much to the amusement of the other men in the waiting room, an audience who thought this was hillarious) I returned to the task at hand.

The officer was very very straightforward. "You are to blame," he said, pointing at me.

Say what again?

"You drove in the outside lane and were not leaving the circle," he said, drawing me a picture, "so you are to blame. It is your fault."

I gave him the full blue-eyed treatment. "Sir, is it illegal to drive in that lane?" I asked him.

"No, but you are to blame." he said implacably.

"You see," said the other driver, "I tried to explain this to you." He damned near patted me on the head. I wanted to throttle the cozening manner right out of him.

"You are a resident?" asked the officer, holding out a hand for my papers.

Now, this was the part I was worried about. While I had my international driver's license, and my Washington State driver's license, and the insurance information from the car, I didn't have my passport.
My passport had been turned over to the HR department at Mike's work, first to renew my visa and then to process the request for residency. Unfortunately they had succeeded at neither, and I think my visa just might be expired. (not having my passport I can't check, but it worries me). Of course at this moment my mobile started ringing, Mike on the other end calling to help me out with this exact conundrum. I told him it wasn't a good time, and turned back to the officer.

"I'm not a resident," I told him truthfully, "my husband's work has my passport and is processing it for residency." (silent prayer at this point).

"It is in process?"

Yes, yes, in process.

"You are English?"


Thankfully they accepted my documents and filled out the form, giving me the dreaded pink copy that means "your fault".

Without a copy of a police accident form you can't get your car fixed. This includes dings in your windshield! If you get a ding you're supposed to pull over, call the police, and wait for them at the scene. Amazing. The fine for not reporting any sort of accident is sustantial.

I was grateful that we are in the UAE and the officers could speak English and tell me what was going on, even if it wasn't in my favor. I can't imagine that every country is so accomodating. The accident form was filled out entirely in Arabic, largely incomprehensible to my eyes. When the officer got to filling in my name he paused at the last name, and I think had to ask the other officr what to put. You see, as I understand it, there is no "V" in traditional Arabic. In past times it had been replaced with the equivalent of W. Now there is a new letter for "V". I'd been looking forward to seeing how my name looks in Arabic, though this was hardly the venue I was hoping for!

I told the other driver as scathingly as I could within the boundries of civilized behavior that I wished him good luck, to which he replied agreeably and made a few more comments about how I should be more careful and that not to worry, even women can learn how to drive in Dubai if they try hard enough.

Really lovely individual.

Whether the verdict was fair is something I don't know; regardless, I shall learn from it and never drive in the outside lane in a traffic circle. I have been told that no mattter what, an accident will always be the woman's fault if it possibly can be. Obviously I was ignorant of the way to drive here, and that was my fault.

Bethy was more than slightly irate about it:
"But how can that be, Mom?! He hit US!"

Two hours after the accident, the kids and I purchased Cadbury chocolate cakes to regain or strength, which we ate in the car (me surriptitiously) and we headed out to our original destination.

When I got home I started looking over the rental agreement for the car. "In the event of an accident, the vehicle shall be repossessed by the company immediately and the renter shall continue to pay the rent until such time as the vehicle is fixed."

Uh oh.
Our only car. Hmmm. Maybe a little soap and water can help alleviate some of the marks...

Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan is almost upon us, and it has become a joke to try and get something done until all the celebrations are over. So we are hoping that the car company will have the same attitude and be too busy until after the holidays to deal with our little smash-and-crash, as the kids refer to such things. Hopefully by then we'll have secured another vehicle for ourselves. That's a topic for another day.

Now Thomas says, "I break-a pot, boom. Car go boom, boom-a car."


Joanna said...

You were obviously in the right. Way to be assertive! The blog is most entertaining. Keep at it!

Will & Cheyenne said...

Oh my gosh! I can't believe some of the stuff you have been through! I would have been LIVID!! I don't know how you handles that so well....I mean, for a woman and all.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the time Jean was driving our old Datsun 510 to work many eons ago. As she entered I-90 she was rear ended by the resident representative for Royal Air Maroc. I knew who that was as soon as Jean mentioned his name. Of course, he blamed Jean for being the cause. After all,a car in front of you should never be slowing down causing you to strike it. Seems to be perfectly reasonable logic, eh? Charlie C

Pat and Colleen said...

OMG! I'm so sorry, Honey! That had to have been absolutely frustrating and alarming! I think you handled the whole situation much better than I could have! I am very proud of you! The silver lining of course is that you and Bethy and Thomas -and the "Angry Driver Man"- were not injured!

Remember when I said there is no way I would ever be driving in Dubai? Well, you can write that in stone now. LOL

Love & Hugs,
Mom V

*Paula* said...

Yikes! What a story!! I would have been bawling and very angry. The injustice of it all! But on the bright side Bethy took a wonderful photo :)

Natalie said...

My friends are so great! You've made me feel supported and also made me laugh pretty darned hard. Thanks everybody. Love ya!