My husband is restricted from driving now since his triple bypass surgery three weeks ago. My son does not have his drivers license. And women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Our family does not employ a full-time driver as many families must do here. So we have two cars just sitting outside that our family cannot use now. Today Adnan and I needed to go grocery shopping while Adam was at school for a special band rehearsal. There is a beautiful humongous supermarket about one mile from where we live. So I got dressed and then put on my stifling black abaya over what I was wearing and wrapped my head up in a suffocating scarf and we headed out the door. The plan was to walk down to the corner to see if we could hail a taxi. This corner is in the middle of a residential section, so it’s not a major thoroughfare. We would need to walk several blocks in either direction to get to a bigger street where cabs might come along more frequently, but Adnan is not capable of walking that far because of his condition. And besides, it’s 36 C degrees (97 F) outside, and wearing what I’ve got on, I want to spend as little time as possible and keep physical exertion to a minimum out in the heat.
Twenty minutes we waited on that corner - No taxicab in sight. We tried waving down a few vehicles to take us just those few blocks over to a more busy road, but no one stopped. So Adnan suggested that we walk back the other way to the next closest street in the other direction from our house. Okay. By this point my ears are steaming so much that sweat is clogging up in my ear canal, but I’m worried about Adnan. I know he is in pain and he still tires easily. Halfway down the block there is a tiny begala (market) along our street where we stopped to get two bottles of cold water. We come out of the market just in time to see a cab driving by on the street we were headed to. We get to the corner - and wait. Another fifteen minutes and still no cab. My water bottle is already empty. Sweat is dripping down my spine and my clothes are damp. The hair on the back of my neck is sopping wet. Adnan tries to flag down a few cars, but they just ignore him and drive by. Finally we yell at another car and he stops. Once he learns about our plight, he agrees to take us in his car for the few blocks to the main road. Less than a minute after we get out of his car, a taxi comes along and we are on our way to the supermarket. I know that my cheeks are bright red from the heat by this point. So much for ever hoping to blend into this society...
I get my shopping list out and we begin gathering items. Adnan is hurting, and grouchy, and keeps telling me to hurry up. It took us so long to get to the store that now we have another problem – the store will close soon for prayers. So I’m trying to race through the store with my crabby, slow-paced, aching, and exhausted husband tagging along behind. I forgo several items on my list just to speed things up. We get checked out and head outside where there are two cabs sitting out in front of the store. We are loading the groceries into the trunk when I hear the call to prayer beginning. Whew!
There is nothing in Islam that would restrict a woman from driving. In fact, from what I have read, there is actually no law in Saudi Arabia restricting women from driving or from getting a drivers license. I have driven for 40 years in the states and I have an excellent driving record. If there was ever a perfect example for why women should be permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia, what happened to us today is it. I told Adnan that next time we need to go to the store, I will drive us with him sitting right there next to me in the front passenger seat. But my husband is afraid that HE will be thrown in jail if he “allows” me to drive here. It disappoints me that he is not supportive of the movement for women driving in KSA. He rode in the car with me at the wheel in the states for decades without any problem. But here, he seems to live in fear.
So why CAN'T women drive here in Saudi Arabia? No one seems to have a problem with little boys behind the wheel here. Or with reckless youth endangering everyone in their path. Last month I wrote about an organized attempt by Saudi women in 1990 to take to the streets to get the right to drive here, but still 20 years later, nothing has changed. And all the lame excuses men give for keeping women out of the driver's seat are feeble, make no sense at all, and are based on control and fear.
Women driving in KSA is a very hot topic right now. People are talking about it. Newspapers and bloggers are abuzz about it. For the first time since I arrived here, I am hopeful that it could happen. Eman over at SaudiWoman has recently published two excellent posts on the subject. Please check them out: Women Driving Cars…How Do We Start Its Implementation? and The Turning Point. And Tara at Islamic Articles wrote another great post about the cause: Women Driving in Saudi Arabia, My Personal Thoughts. Even BoingBoing has a recent post called: Wajeha Al Huwaider, a woman, driving in Saudi Arabia. And here's another good blog post by Free Spirit called The Sin of Driving. Here's another related news story in Arab News.
The time is at hand. Women should be given the right to drive in this country now.
If you are on Facebook, please join this cause: Yes 2 Women Driving In Saudi Arabia!