Driving in Jeddah: like bumper cars, but with less rock music

Last week I had the opportunity to drive into Jeddah to help a fellow Scout Leader with an errand, and pick up the brand new custom scout trailer that the troop had built.

It was an adventure from the beginning.  We started with a quick trip to the clinic because Abby hadn't been feeling well (ended up being heartburn and a virus) and then we had lunch at the school with the Scout Leader, his son, and some of the other teachers.  It was quite refreshing to sit down to a meal with other people and be able to converse comfortably with them.  We ended up talking about plagiarism and it seems that they have as much trouble with it at the primary and secondary levels as Abby has had in her classes. (No, she's not plagiarizing, but some classmates have.)

Next, we drove to pick up the second vehicle, only to find that we couldn't get in to get the car keys.  After talking to some neighbors and calling around, we finally got the family maid to come over and let everyone in.  Not so bad, except that it's summer in Saudi Arabia and we were hanging around outside at the hottest part of the day.  The date palms offered little shade and comfort from the scalding sun.

The traffic wasn't too heavy, but it was incredibly windy, mostly because there aren't any trees planted along the roads to act as wind barriers.  Drivers continue to rock the awful driving and it was more stressful to actually have to drive rather than sit back on the commuter buses that we normally take to Jeddah.

The traffic got much worse once we actually got into Jeddah, and then it got really stressful. We stopped at one car dealership, which directed us to go to another car dealership. On the way to the second dealership we got into the truly crazy driving. A big rig decided to turn across 2 lanes of traffic to make his left turn, because nobody would let him move over, and he was even using his turn signal (I can confidently call all the drivers male, because women aren't allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia).

Then we came to a roundabout, which had waaaay more traffic on it than it was designed for. Instead of the smooth inward and outward flow of traffic, it was a start and stop cluster of terrible. At some point during the weaving around, we lost our lead car. Well, we didn't lose it, we just substituted it for one of a dozen SUVs of the exact same model and color (tan Yukon). So we followed a complete stranger all the way around the traffic circle, and out in the wrong way (we did 450deg, instead of 270deg). After a phone call and some tough driving we found the lead car again, and made our way to the second car dealership. Also, rather than going half a kilometer down the road to find the next turn around, we just used our 4WD and jumped over the lane divider (the road system in Jeddah is crazy enough that I won't bother to explain it. I have decided to rename the "Michigan Left" to the "Saudi Left")

Once at the second car dealership, we went inside, because Abby had to use the restroom. I asked where it was, and was politely directed to a door just around the corner. When the man saw that Abby was with me, he laughed and said "We don't have a bathroom for women!" as if we were crazy to expect that they did. After laughing in their faces, we convinced them that women do indeed have to pee occasionally, and they directed us up a set of stairs, and around three or four turns, into an apartment like area, where Abby would be allowed to use the bathroom if I stood guard at the door to make sure nobody came in.  This isn't the first time Abby's had trouble finding a bathroom in Jeddah, I guess they just think that the female anatomy doesn't require relieving.

After dropping off one vehicle, we continued on in the lead car to pick up the newly commissioned Boy Scout trailer.  We drove over to the iron works area, which has a ton of shops that make all sorts of metal works like fancy gates and doors.  Most of the market areas like these are separated by type of shop in the Middle East.  So all the iron shops are together, the lumber shops are together, fabrics, furniture, etc.  It's really nice for shoppers because you don't have to drive all over the city to visit several stores, they're all next door!

The new trailer was super nice.  It has room for them to store all their gear, has popup canvas awnings, and even has pop-up metal shelving for them to cook on.  Unfortunately we didn't get a photo of it, but it was very impressive, especially considering that it was built to order.

All that was left was a smooth quick drive back to campus, and thus the end of our one (and only) Jeddah driving adventure.