Driving in this country is something that I don't know if I will ever understand or even be able to cope with on a healthy level. For that reason, I feel the need to vent, and this is my venue for that. I'm going to vent in the form of tips that might help prepare newcomers or visitors for the realities that are the Jordanian roadways. Because I have driven around plenty of American visitors or new-comers to see their white gripped knuckles on the door of the vehicle and know that they might have needed a bit of preparation...
Maybe you noticed that I switched from Middle Eastern roadways, more specifically to Jordanian roadways. That's because I have lived in other places- Beirut, and I've heard the urban legends about the horrors of driving in places like, say, Cairo. Beirut, was a completely different monster than Amman as far as driving and one that I much prefer actually. At least in Beirut, what gives the appearance of mass total chaos, at least has an undercurrent of order to it. There is an understanding of the systems. I can't explain it besides to say that once you've driven there for a season, you kind of get the hang of it, and honestly, it just works. That is not the case in Amman.
Did you hear me?
THAT IS NOT THE CASE IN AMMAN!
What appears like an orderly system of roadways is mass chaos and you never get used to the craziness of it. (or at least it takes longer than the 3 years we've lived here to figure it out...)
So here are my tips in no particular order:
- Do not be deceived by the lanes! (or the lights, or the signs or anything else that might lead you to believe that there is some kind of order). Back to the lanes though... I'm honestly not sure why they painted them on the roads. Maybe to trick Westerners? I envision a back room in a government building where they watch our growing frustration on hidden cameras with much delight. Yeah, really don't know why the lanes are there. They certainly don't drive in them. They straddle them, they cross them, they swerve around them, but move orderly from lane to lane? Certainly not. Maybe they like the pretty contrast of the bright yellow paint with the dark color of the cement?
- Redefine what you consider rude. Honking, for instance, is not rude. It's basic road communication. Usually it means, "hey, i'm behind or beside you" (or will be in .5 seconds because i'm coming over whether you want me to or not). It can also mean, "THE LIGHT IS GREEN!" I yelled that at you because when you are stopped at a red light and it turns green, all the cars around you will immediately yell at you with their horns. Especially if you are coming from America, the land of no honking, this can be a bit unsettling.
- Re-learn the art of the merge and the purpose of the shoulder. Actually, "re-learn" may not be the best term because it implies that there is actually something TO learn related to merging. Everything you learned in drivers ed about effective merging onto the roadway, just disregard it. There is no gradually speeding up as you seek to blend into oncoming traffic. There is simply cutting your car out into the center of traffic and closing your eyes and praying you don't get hit. You can try sitting there on the side with your blinker on, waiting for someone to let you into traffic but it won't happen. On the flip side if it's not you merging but someone else, you pretty much have to have eyes in the back of your head. They are going to "merge" on to the road whether there is a spot for them or not. And believe me when i tell you that it will do absolutely no good whatsoever to have a little fit and yell things like "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" Because, yes, yes they can. And as my 8 year old is so faithful to point out, "you know they can't hear you, Mom." And also, they have absolutely no framework for understanding how frustrating it is that they just totally cut you off. It is simply the way the roads work here, so if they happen to catch a glimpse of the crazy American waving her arms around and yelling they will probably wonder what in the world her kids are doing in the back of the car but have no concept that they are the ones creating the frustration. They CAN do that and they WILL do that. Get used to it, and re-direct your yelling. And then there's the shoulder. Or maybe lack of shoulder. Any space on the side of the road (paved or not) can and will be used by motorists to by-pass those waiting in traffic and get to their intended destination quicker. This actually becomes more of an issue for Westerners when we return to our home countries. One morning on the way to school in the states during our short time there we were stuck in standstill interstate traffic. Abbey innocently asked, "Mom, why don't you just go around all these cars?" and points to the open shoulder. Why indeed?
- Learn the little hand wave thingy... No idea what to call this, but everyone does it so you might at least try and learn what it means. Basically, if they are about to pull out in traffic in front of you and completely cut you off, they will stick their hand out the window and kind of wave backwards- kind of like a motion you would do for your child to stay behind you, but they are sticking their hand out the window to do it. There are other times they do it as well, but the general sense is, if I stick my hand out the window to shoo you back, it means I'm coming and doing whatever I want in this vehicle whether you like it or not. Understanding this hand wave thingy may or may not save you some moments of frustration if only in the sense that at least you know you are about to be cut off...
- There are actually laws. I know, shocking right?! There are some laws in the midst of all the madness, and if you break them you just might got a ticket (ahhh-hem, not that I would know or anything). Even though it may seem completely non-sensical that passengers can hang out the sunroof, infants can sit in parents laps behind the wheel, and 8 kids can pile in the back of a hatch-back, you WILL get a ticket if you are talking on your phone even stopped at a red light. Also, the cops will also wave you down at random times on the side of the road. Sometimes there is a purpose that is obvious, most of the time not. Like speeding traps- that's a purpose for you (again, not that I would know). When you're not sure of the purpose, it's best to play the "I don't speak Arabic I'm just a clueless foreigner" card even if you do speak Arabic quite well. They will usually just wave you on and you may never know the purpose. (likely there's not one).
So there you have it, my Middle Eastern tips for driving. There are no rules, but there are clearly laws. There is no system, but there is a little hand wave thingy. There are pretty yellow lines on the road with no purpose and honking equals hello. What else is there? Without a doubt, there is no end to your personal frustration if you don't quickly learn that yes, yes they can do whatever "that" may be that you're yelling about and you might as well get over it and not get mad at someone who has no clue that they are the source of your anger. Because as Naomi says, "they can't hear you" anyway!