At a recent late dinner (sahoor) party, we were reflecting over the passing days of the month of Ramadan, and how it affected us each individually. How for the most part, there is a noticeable slowdown in most matters pertaining to daily life.
That was when Abdul Aziz, a bedouin with an acute depth of horse sense, blurted out that “the only time Saudis ever display a sense of urgency is when they get behind the wheel!” And mulling over his words as I chewed the fat of a leg of lamb, I could not help but agree on how precise this simple man’s perception was.
In a month meant to bring out the patience and tolerance from deep within our psyches, our road manners exemplify anything but. On countless occasions this month, I have been subjected to torment and abuse on our busy roads, often to the point of abruptly cutting my journeys short and retreating to the solace of my four walls.
And notwithstanding the fact that our Road Works Department has chosen this specific month to create massive traffic jams with barriers and diversions on some of our busiest thoroughfares, our tolerance toward fellow drivers on the road has taken a dreadful nose-dive. While road planning can be faulted again and again, it is undoubtedly our road mannerism that is the real culprit.
And that makes me bring up the question. Why does this sense of urgency not translate to other aspects of these peoples’ lives? Why for example does a businessman sitting behind the wheel of his German car step on it to get nowhere fast, yet fail to recognize the urgency of paying his employees their dues on time?
Or why does the civil bureaucrat lacking civility not understand the needs of the public when he blatantly tells them to come back after Ramadan to pursue their matters. He does not consider even for a brief moment their sense of urgency, yet once he is behind the wheel, he becomes another road warrior. Forgetting the look of helplessness in those he has denied, his need to get to his destination quickly becomes principally paramount.
Why do people not honor the tradition of patiently waiting their turn in line, a characteristic that seems to mysteriously evaporate in this month? Be it at supermarkets or banks, at iftar (break fast) buffets or at the neighborhood sweets and pastry stand, these people presumptuously value their time over others. And it is these very people who will almost run you off the road to get to their destination just as hastily as patience and tolerance fly out of the rear window. One just has to take a drive just before the breaking of the fast to understand what I am talking about.
Among a rise in social ills, there is no question that our current road sense has to be factored in and addressed too. It seems that every motorist assumes ownership of the road, and all others are damned. Courtesy, a trait that most Saudis are bred with since birth is all but forgotten in the pursuit of “getting there”. And to use the lame excuse that “oh well, it’s Ramadan” to justify such conduct, borders on unpardonable impiety.
And in spite of the presence of large numbers of traffic patrol cops on our streets during this month, the larger number of road hogs and road offenders appears to be almost insurmountable to control. A society, with its many individuals on the inside forming the mask for the whole, changes from within. And if we do not begin and soon, then there is truly nowhere to go and fast! — Tariq A. Al-Maeena, [email protected]
Arab News Features 30 November 2002