Sunday 19 June
Possibly, one of the hardest things to write about is our emotions…
I have been working on this post since Friday night… There were many attempts. That’s all they were. But maybe with each attempt, I am getting closer to a truth… every attempt ends up with feelings of fakeness and distance. I was too busy writing what happened with no attachments, whereas moments like these are filled with complex feelings we sometimes tend to ignore.
The story seems simple. Friday at 6 PM, I sat in front of the steering wheel, my brother was in the passenger seat, and I started driving in one of Jeddah’s main roads. About ten minutes later, a very angry fellow spotted me, called the police, and followed us until we came across a police car. He honked like crazy to get the police’s attention, and we were pulled over. The police was already busy with another car he had pulled over, but I guess pulling us over was much more important and interesting than a speeding maniac. My brother got a ticket for allowing an “unqualified person” to drive the vehicle and signed a statement that he would not allow me to drive again. I signed a statement that I would never drive a car again. Then, we went home.
But in reality there is more to the story… Our emotional connection with the event is deeper than the experience itself.
Friday seems so far away. Did it really happen? Is today just another day that has no relevance to yesterday? Truth be told, the male push I received on Friday had a profound influence on my decision to drive.
I have been receiving many cheers since Friday night. One colleague refers to me as “Riem Schumacher”, and to another as “Riem morror – Traffic “. But a number of others asked me why I chose to drive? Was it an act to defy the government? Was I challenging authority? Those two questions make me feel like I am some anti-government revolutionary. Whereas I am far from that.
One man asked me, “Why didn’t you wait for a decree or law to come out? Didn’t you know you would get caught?” I would have answered, “Well, don’t you know that purchasing drugs and alcohol is illegal? I hear you are a consumer. Is that true? So, why are you buying them if it’s against the law?” but I didn’t. Instead, I opted for: ”Yes, I know, but it was worth it and what’s the point of a Saudi female driving if it’s not documented?”
How is my act of “disobedience” different from all those that break the law on a daily bases? Is it because I got caught? Or because I asked for what is seen as a request for emancipation and libration?
Would he understand how it feels like to be considered unqualified to drive simply because of my gender? Even though I carry an American driver’s license with a clean record.
Would he understand that a 12 year old baby boy is more “qualified” than a 34 year old female to drive a vehicle? Who am I kidding? He probably trusts his 12 year old more than he trusts his wife or mother.
How would he like it if he had to give up driving by force, and is subsequently under the mercy of a driver, whose salary he pays. How long would he tolerate being yelled at or even sexually harassed by the driver? He might just answer “May God help us all” and walk away.
One 17 year old has been driving for over two and half years without carrying a Saudi license. Every time he was pulled over, the police gave him a ticket. A few months ago, he owed around 8,000 riyals in fines. How come no one gave his father a ticket for allowing an unqualified person to drive the vehicle?
Dear Mr. Angry Guy,
Why the outrage?
Hasn’t anyone told you that reckless driving is not safe? Why didn’t you get a ticket for endangering the lives of others? Haven’t you heard that using the phone while driving is against the law? But in your defense, this was an emergency, and you had to call the police. You were confronted with one of “devil’s helpers” and needed backup.
Has my act of driving threatened your mere existence that you had to go out of your way to make sure we were stopped?
When you saw me driving, did you feel like a knight and shining armor? Protector of religion and morals? And that my brother and I were two infidels you had to remove from the road? Where your wife and children screaming and shearing you: “Go get her!!!” I bet you felt like a hero when you told your friends about your adventure with one of those “damn” female drivers. Have you asked your wife what she wanted? Or is not important because she is just a helpless woman in need of a man to take care of her. Maybe your wife just wanted to get to her destination without any delays, and all in one piece. Maybe she secretly wished she could push you out of the car and take hold of the steering wheel.
Dear Mr. Angry Guy,
Why are you so scared of me?
I am just a bitter female
The moment I held the steering wheel, I felt a sense of reminiscence. I was sitting in front of the wheel, just like I did hundreds of times in LA, only this time I was feeling insignificant and scared inside. At first, I felt like a criminal. My heart was beating fast. The responsible driver in me told me to stop driving if I was going to be shaking and shivering. Another part, the socially responsible, advised me that this had to be done. Otherwise I’d be the hypocrite who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. How many Saudi women wish they were in my shoes, but due to circumstances can’t join the drive?
At that moment I had an obligation.
There are moments in life that define us. For me, this was one of those moments.
All my moments wasted on fear, in the last few years, somehow seized to exist on Friday afternoon. This was one moment that would set part of me free!!
I chose to drive because I could, and had a choice.
I chose to drive and get caught because it would serve as a shocker to those who believe women can’t drive because it never happened…
I chose to drive, even though some consider it breaking the law. So, I will now gladly pay the fine and hang my medal of honor “the ticket and statement” to remind me every day that I defied, not the government, but those who decided to corner me because of my gender.
Will female driving in Saudi Arabia ever be a norm? I don’t know!
But I know that Friday was a wonderful day. Many times, we are taught that men hold us down. Some even radically consider them the enemy, but on Friday, the biggest push I’ve ever received on driving was by men. My brother supported my driving. So did a good friend. There were also men on the street who sheered and saluted me when they saw me drive.
It’s not that we women need men’s recognition, but having male support gives hope in a better tomorrow. … It gives hope that many men are choosing to side by women and demand women’s voices be heard.
Ps: Many thanks to my wonderful editor, who couldn’t join the drive, but was a ” dangerous element” in my choice to drive…