Ask Bee: Taking the Back Seat
New to Jeddah and missing the luxury of being behind the wheel? Does your husband come home and narrate horror stories about women and taxis in Jeddah? Have all drivers begun to look like potential molesters and serial killers? Do you feel imprisoned? Can’t seem to find your way between nightmare stories and the need to be out and about in town? Your commuting nightmare ends now. Our very own wisdom-dispenser, Bee, is here to the rescue.
Bee is a 30 something mother, wife, corporate consultant and a bona fide prodigy in the art of shelling out unnecessary, unsolicited and often useless advice. The kind people at her office actually pay her for doing this on an
hourly daily basis and she returns the kindness by making them lose sleep over random pointless issues. She currently lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with her very sane husband (he takes after his mother) and her two not very sane children (they too take after their mother). Her own personal hell would be to have nothing to do with no-one paying her for pretending to have nothing to do.
“Dear Bee, I have been in Jeddah for over a year now. I have adjusted to everything else, but I cannot get used to waiting around all day for my husband to come home to run the most basic of chores. I feel it’s very unfair for him, and I hate being crippled without him. He tells me that it’s completely unsafe for non-Arab women to take public taxis. I don’t see a way out. Please help if you know a way around this problem.”
– Wheel-less turning mindless
Dear Wheel-less turning mindless,
Ahhhh! The ever-present Saudi curse of wheel-less-ness…well, I will start off by saying “Welcome to Saudi Arabia”. Yes, it’s true that you will not be able to drive a car in this country (only lust after some amazing hot wheels on the road) but it’s also true that you are not destined to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement. Here are my top tips on how not to die of isolation and have a life out of the four walls:
1. Get a cab! Yes it’s that simple. Contrary to what you may have heard about blood-sucking and child abducting taxi drivers here in KSA, getting a cab off the road is pretty safe. However, like all countries, you should not take a cab if you don’t have at least a general idea of where you are going. You need to know the basic Arabic words for “right”, “left”, “go Straight”, “stop” and “how much money” in case you end up with a non-English speaking driver. However, in my experience most of the taxi drivers understand the Basic English words. Also note that most residential compounds will not let a cab enter the gates so if you are going to a big compound or hate walking, make arrangements for someone to pick you from the compound gate.
As with everything, it’s not impossible! Nor as hard as it is made out to be. You CAN get a taxi in KSA safely. Just make sure you know your directions, along with the nominal Arabic terms.
2. Ask for his number: Most cabbies will offer pick-and drop service if you live somewhere in their vicinity. If after a trip, you feel that the driver was decent and sensible, you can ask him if he will be available for a pick and drop if you give him a call.
3. Create a portfolio: I have a huge portfolio of drivers and I suggest the same to you. Ask around for drivers living in your vicinity who provide pick n drop services to your neighbors and friends. At any given time you should have at least 6-8 numbers with you for drivers that are dependable and punctual. Also, if a driver ditches you once, he is a habitual ditcher so cross him off your list. The drivers with private cars are generally very punctual and trustworthy so when you find a good one, stick with him.
Keep asking for drivers’ numbers whenever you’re satisfied with their service, and build these up into a reliable portfolio. Very soon, you’ll have several contacts to count on when you need to set out.
4. Get a second car: the last option is what most people don’t find feasible because of visa and residence issues for drivers. But if you can find a good driver with free iqama (and driver’s licence) and have a place for him to live, this is indeed your best bet.
Good luck with trying to venture out! It takes a while getting used to not having a car at your disposal, but it gets better with time. Promise!