Saturday, February 11, 2012

I don't feel safe here

I thought it was really interesting that one of the most frequently asked questions that the Mister and I got while we were home last summer was, "Do you feel safe over there?"

My answer was always an emphatic "Yes!" because I knew that the question was referring to whether or not we felt any animosity from the Saudi community. People wanted to know whether or not we were afraid of a terrorist attack on the American community in Saudi Arabia.

And my answer to that question is still the same. Tyler and I do not fear being the victims of a hate crime, and there is absolutely no reason for us to be afraid of one of our Saudi neighbors trying to blow us up. Even with Bahrain starting to boil again, and the craziness happening in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, my husband and I continue to feel totally safe from violent threats.

That said, I still don't feel completely safe over here. But for a very different reason.

Take our morning commute, for example. It has only been because of the grace of God that we haven't been in a car accident on the way to or from work yet. In the morning, the cars are moving slowly because of the poor driving skills of most Saudis and their hired drivers, so we're not worried about a serious car accident at that time of day. A fender bender, dinged side mirror, or rear-ending is more likely on the morning of any given work day.

But in the afternoons, we are regularly blown past by Saudi shabab that seem to perpetually be in a rush to go somewhere. It is not uncommon for us to be passed incredibly close by a Toyota Camry going well over 90 miles an hour, all while driving in the middle lane. That is not an exaggeration. Tyler and I both feel it is just a matter of time before we are run off the road by someone going high speeds while also checking his BBM thread and not seeing us as we maintain the 110 km/hr (~70 mph) speed limit that is hardly ever enforced.

Add to that the fact that any paved surface is fair game to be used by Saudi drivers. This translates to the shoulders of the road being too congested for emergency vehicles to use. And drivers don't pay any mind to the flashing lights on top of police cars or ambulances. Even with his siren going full blast, an ambulance driver gets little more than a passing glance by the other drivers on the road.

That means that if or when a person is involved in a serious car accident in Saudi Arabia, the response time of emergency services is dangerously long. The danger is increased by the lack of education on emergency response by the general population. People don't know to not move accident victims with possible neck injuries. They are not told how to handle open wounds or what kind of information to get from victims so the EMTs can respond appropriately when they arrive. It's every man for himself out there, and chances are pretty good that if you're in a near fatal accident in this country, it's going to turn fatal real fast because of ill-trained do-gooders.

It's not just while driving that I don't feel safe here. I don't feel safe at school, either. In the States, when a teacher complains of not feeling safe at school, it's usually because she fears a school shooting, or a rage-filled attack by a chemically imbalanced student. That is absolutely not the case here at all. I feel nothing but positive vibes from my girls, and I have no reason to believe that any of them would even imagine attacking me or anyone else in the building.

It's the building that I fear. Last year our school had a small electrical fire that set off alarms and filled the halls with smoke. Thankfully, it wasn't a serious incident, but it did not instill a sense of trust in the standard of workmanship the contractors had when constructing the building where I work.

And again, the emergency response of the students and many of my Saudi co-workers was awful. The whole scene was mass chaos. The evacuation was anything but timely, and no one knew who to turn to for information on what was happening.

This is not a commentary on the organization of my school. No, I fear a fire in any public building while out and about. I get the impression that the knee-jerk reaction is panic, and if you happen to be standing in the way of a stampede for the emergency exit, it sucks to be you. Emergency exits are not marked, and if they are they are usually blocked. People do not listen for instructions in any sort of setting, so I have no reason to believe they would look up from their Blackberries if a fireman or police officer were trying to help the masses evacuate.

People grumble about the excessive safety policies and regulations contractors, administrators, and drivers have to follow in the States. I have to admit that I found the overabundance of caution on the part of my old administration to be a little tedious at the time. But now that I've been here and seen what dangers lurk when the public lets their caution slip, I long for those regimented fire drills and wide open shoulders on the interstate. The lackadaisical attitude toward general safety here has certainly been one of the few negative aspects of the culture that I've experienced.

Vicariously yours,

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