Driving in Bahrain, part 1

Driving in any foreign country is often a cultural experience on to itself.  Bahrain is no exception.  Upon arriving in Bahrain I was still shaken up from my car accident in the States and the thought of driving in Bahrain was a nightmare.  I literally still shook when I had to drive and sitting as a passenger in Bahrain was just as terrifying.  Now, looking back I realize Bahrain was just  the cure to my driving fears, mostly because I either had to sink or swim.  Not really having a choice, unless we wanted to hire a driver (which is totally a normal thing here), I have learned to find driving in Bahrain quite efficient.  Not really sane or safe in anyway, just efficient.  I get from point A to point B, which is the whole point of driving, right?

Driving in Bahrain is frustrating for my western, logical, mind.  When we first moved here, just getting to my destination seemed like a momentous occasion to be celebrated.  I’m still amazed at how I’ve learned to navigate around Bahrain since Google maps “does” work here but seems to be about 1 block delayed and street signs may or may not exist.  Even the signs that do exist can be so faded you can’t read them, blocked by an overgrown tree or bush, or just straight up wrong.  Before one can really celebrate arriving at your destination, finding parking (which might be a whole blog on to itself) becomes the real obstacle and test of patience.  Thank goodness the rules, I mean guidelines, for parking are even less defined.

Driving in Bahrain takes patients, a lot of patients.  It also takes the sense of letting go of expectations. Which seems weird because if you think about it ALL of driving is based on expectations…certain expectations that everyone will generally follow said country’s driving rules.  And this is where the patients come into play.  Driving “rules” and “laws” do exist here but no one really follows them.  They are more like guidelines or suggestions open to serious interpretation based on the driver’s country of origin, how expensive your car/SUV is, and how big your vehicle is.  Now having been here 15 months, from what I have witnessed, these are the only agreed upon driving guidelines that most driver’s follow:

  • Drive on the right side of the road, inshallah.
  • Turn on your lights when driving at night, inshallah.
  • Stop at a red light if there is a traffic camera.  Otherwise, inshallah.
  • Honk often.
  • You are the most important driver on the road, so everyone needs to get out of your way and read your mind since you don’t use any signals.
  • Do not use any signals.
  • Park anywhere your car sort of fits.

Those are the guidelines.  Speed limit signs and other traffic signs are posted everywhere but these are more like side-of-the-road decorations or, again, suggestions.  Right of way exists to the largest vehicle in the vicinity, or the car that honks the most aggressively.  Pedestrians definitely do NOT have the right of way and never assume since you are walking half way across a street with your kids in hand a car some distance away will see you or slow down.  This makes walking with the kids a nightmare.  This is probably why you rarely see kids walking around on the streets.

While no one seems to know how to use a turn signal here (a pet peeve of mine even in the States), honking is everyone’s form of communication.  It’s not as bad as Delhi, India, Lima, Peru or other major cities I’ve traveled, but it’s still a lot.  At first, the honking got to me and it made me all flabbergasted and stressed out. Over time, I’ve learned to distinguish between the honks and realized honking (not signals) is a form of communication between drivers.  Here is my analysis and honking guide for Bahrain:

  • One long honk = equivalent to the middle finger -or- I’m not happy -or- get out of my way -or- watch out.
  • One short honk = move -or- start driving.
  • Short repetitive honks = (typically following the one short honk) i’m losing my patients and you need to move now before this turns into one long honk.
  • Two short honks = thank you (I have only seen three people in my entire time here actually wave as a ‘thank you’).

I’ve started using the honks. What I’ve learned is: 1. they work, and 2. God forbid you accidentally give someone two honks (“thank you” honk) when you meant to give one short one. The car in front of you becomes so confused they freeze and it takes longer for them to move. Rookie error.

There is so much more to go into this topic like parking, Saudi Swoops, car seats, and motorcycles but for now I’ll leave you with this. In a country that seems to be me-me-me first on the road, Emergency vehicles (i.e. EMT vehicles) have to stop for red lights even when their lights are flashing and sirens on. YES!!! I know.  I’ve seen this happen many times.  Every time I have witnessed this all I can do is pray. Pray that the person or people inside make it. Pray that the added 1-5 minutes (depending on the red light) isn’t the difference between life and death. And pray that the driver says “Fuck this shit” and blows through the light knowing how ridiculous it is to wait while no other vehicle on the road does.

Then again, maybe this is a deeper reflection of my time in Bahrain. Maybe this country, while I love it, has made me a little less optimistic. Or maybe it’s more optimistic, depending on how you see it. Either way, if you choose to visit us (and the doors are still open as long as we are here) please come with your favorite anti-anxiety remedy/medication or a new bottle of whiskey.  Tad particularly likes Jura which is hard to find here (wink wink).

Until next time. Aloha & Namaste.

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