Monday, January 20, 2014

Memoirs of a Saudi Ph.D. student: Craving for a hassle-free morning

Saudi PhD student Hatoon Kadi, who is studying in the U.K. wrote this opinion piece in the Arab News on 1/20/14. A link to the story is here. Text below.

Hurry up! Quickly we will miss the tram and you will be late for school. Well, this is the way our mornings usually start. In order to avoid the usual and seemingly never-ending hassles, I have formulated perhaps zillions of strategies (and still am) but to no avail.

Mom! Look, my shoelace got stuck. Mom! Look, he stole my socks. Mom! I spilled milk on my uniform. Phew. Not a single morning is passed without an incident. Sometimes, I wonder what we usually see in movies relate by any means to reality. Is there really something like a hassle-free morning? I doubt that.

Due to the last minute incidents or hiccups, one has to pay the price especially when it comes to one’s dependence on public transportation. Sometimes one has to pay the price in the form of missing the bus or tram altogether. If you are lucky enough to catch your ride in the nick of the time, you stay disoriented for a few minutes trying to catch your breath or worst of all; you fall down a slippery road on a rainy day trying to catch the tram. Only to get infuriated by the bursts of laughter emanating from your own flesh and blood i.e. your kids. One has no choice but to regain one’s composure and blaming the children a bit embarrassingly: Hey you! That happened because of you. You woke up late.

Well, I have already got a booking for a practical driving exam but until that time I will continue to run after trams. To be fair, living in a country with a very strong public transportation system like the UK is a blessing but from a very personal perspective, when you have children, relying on public transportation is not very convenient and practical. Imagine carrying a sleeping four-year-old and trying to mount the bus and sometimes no seats are available so you will have to basically wait for someone who is very well mannered to give up his/her seat for you because you look pathetic. Still, for a family nothing beats having your own car and honestly when I hear women in the Saudi society stating that they don’t want to drive, they only want public transportation, and I just feel like laughing. First of all, having a complete reliable public transportation needs a very well-planned infrastructure, London’s famous underground, for example, dates back to the 19th century, in addition to the fact that the street’s are designed to let buses move seamlessly no matter how heavy the traffic is, which makes services frequent and reliable.

To be realistic, waiting for such a system to be introduced in Saudi Arabia now looks like waiting for the proverbial “Mr. Right” who will never come (or to be optimistic will come too late), and while waiting the dilemma of hiring drivers/ drivers not available, drivers wants more money will continue. And even after we have a public transportation system, we will need the option to ride cars when we need, as carrying loads of groceries in a bus is just not realistic in addition to other factors. From another perspective as well, I completely understand that initiatives around the world are being introduced to let people use public transportation more as they are environment-friendly and use less fuel than individual cars and are claimed to produce less carbon emissions but still having your own car that can take you just whenever you want is priceless. Public transport can be used when it’s convenient and cars can be handy when needed, and needs never ends for families. I know that I talk a lot about transportation and some people might say: Hey! Get a life and stop talking about women driving. And I would say I would continue raising the issue until it’s fully resolved.

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