17 Jun 2013

UAE Adventures : Getting a Driver's License !! Part III (Emirates vs. Venezuela)

My theory exam was scheduled at 9.35am

I started thinking about it seriously only after 10pm the night before. I was still not convinced I needed to take this exam since I have been driving for 17 years. There is a book they give you when they force you to sign up for lessons. It had been sitting on my desk for days but I couldn't force myself to open it.


I took 3 online sample tests with 10 questions. The first time I got 10/10. The second time I got 5/10. Damn. The third time I got 7/10. So I decided I had to study a little bit.

I wondered what it would feel like to fail.. I am not used to "failure" in general and I have not taken any exam of any sort for a very long time. I believe that the last time I sat an exam was in Hong Kong to determine my level in Chinese. That must have been in 2003 !

I ended up falling asleep with the book in my hands. I had not even finished reading Lesson 1 ! 

In the morning I tried to focus on the essentials. I was still at lesson 1. I realised that everything was scrambled in my head. Whenever I'd see a sign in the book, images would flood into my head from many places in the world. Deviations, road works and deadends suddenly turned into threads of memories..  and I was not studying any more :)

On my way, in a taxi, I decided to stop studying. I recalled the university days. Last-minute studying does not do you any good, it only makes you doubt yourself and be confused about what you have studied - except I have not studied yet! :) I looked at the taxi driver and wondered how he got his license. His driving is awful !!

36 answers

"Please go to the other side, with the women", a man dressed in uniform said to me as I sat in the waiting area.

A few women seemed nervous, still studying and checking things in the book. One woman smiled at me and kept staring. Another did too. I smiled back. I was going to open the book again but I thought : naaah Keep looking confident Dima!

The examination supervisor was Syrian. I could tell from his accent that he was from the South of Syria, probably from Suwaidah. He was loud, authoritarian and firm. He spoke as if he were the king of the jungle ! I was still tweeting while he was explaining the procedure. 

"You have to get 36 answers right out of the 45 multiple-choice questions, otherwise you fail and take lessons again", he said, loudly.

Oh God ! I cannot return to those lessons with Ismael. I have to make it. I hurried to answer the questions on the computer.


The questions seemed mostly easy, some were so easy I hesitated, looking for something more difficult in them! I could not answer one question about the mechanics of the car and I hesitated about 2 or 3 others.

I could not help notice all the spelling mistakes. I decided to go over the questions again just to count the mistakes !! Other examinees were already leaving the hall. The two girls on my right and on my left failed. A man in the front row got 45/45. And I was still checking spelling mistakes ! Only two examinees and I were left in the hall. Five minutes to go before the time is up. I counted 20 or 21 spelling mistakes in Arabic. The font used was awful and very uncomfortable to read. I wondered whether the English version would also have mistakes in it. Probably not. 

I guess the exam itself would not have passed, having 20 mistakes in it. But I passed. I got 39/45 ..  not brilliant, but who cares! This is not a language test where I have to be the best in class.


I wondered during the exam about how the answers would be different in Venezuela. For example if asked :

What do you do if there is a red light?

1- stop at all times, waiting for the colour to change to green
2- stop and check if there are any cars hindering the way, drive through if none
3- slow down and check if there are any cars hindering the way, drive through if none

In the UAE the right answer would be : 1
But in Venezuela you'd have to have a fourth option which would reflect reality:

4- In the day no need to stop because you are probably already at a standstill due to heavy traffic, so just drive through, in between cars, whenever/if you can. At night don't ever stop. Armed thieves/kidnappers would be waiting at the traffic light for a fool like you. So just drive through. The car accident risk is lower than the crime risk!


Road test

It was 10.10am when I left the examination hall. I had to wait till 11.05am to get my certificate. I could have had a falafel sandwich in that time had I known I would be waiting for so long. I met two Syrian ladies, one of them newly arrived from war-torn Syria. She seemed very intrigued by my background. I complained about how long this whole driver's license process is taking. I thought to myself I could have learned a new language with that kind of time and effort.

I was happy to be given an appointment for my road test on 24 June while others got appointments after 15 July. I wondered about the reason. May be it is because I chose "manual driving" which very few people choose. Or... may be because they are reading my blog / tweets / Facebook posts and want me to write good stuff about them?

Naaaaah !  :)

Now I have to find a car to practise a bit on the roads of Abu Dhabi before the exam. 

Anyone would care to lend me one? :)

To be continued ...

Read about my falafel hallucination in Part II and find out in Part I why I am having to be tested for driving 

Also read:

UAE Adventures : Dubai - Abu Dhabi

13 Jun 2013

UAE Adventures : Getting a Driver's License !! Part II (Falafel Hallucinations)

My lessons were scheduled to start at 6.20am ! I wanted to get it over and done with. So I opted for the extensive "one-day-theory" lessons.

"If you are ten minutes late you will be penalised and will have to reschedule the lesson" said the Emirates Driving Company employee, firmly, with her Russian accent. 

I made sure I got there way ahead of time. But there was nobody for a while. Three students showed up just on time.

The tutor only arrived at 6.27am, unlocked the door of the "safety hall" and left again, only to be back at 6.34am .. 

Talk about penalising students for being late !!

Tweeting !

"My name is Ismael". He seemed serious, dressed in the national UAE dress (white colour). He was relatively young. He spoke very clear Arabic. 

"Are you with me or are you with your phone"? He asked me.
"I am writing down notes of what you are saying on my phone"
"Mashallah.. you can type so quickly! Mashallah" He laughed, surprised.

Of course I was tweeting !! :)

The Falafel Hallucinations

Ismael was professional and I thought he was quite good at tutoring and getting people's attention. But after the first hour of class about safety and seat belts I urgently needed food. At the cafeteria there was not much appealling food. An Emirati man got a falafel sandwich. 

"Give me the same thing please".

My sandwich had fried potatoes (French fries), fried aubergines and fried cauliflower, alongside the fried falafel and the tahina (sesame butter). It was not even 8am !

The night before I had attended the wonderful poetry contest called "Prince of Poets". I had little sleep after that and dreamed of Peru's President Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia. So that falafel "dynamite" sandwich only added to the queer sequence of things, which affected my tweeting ! :)

Under the falafel-mix influence, I started observing the tutor's white dress, how self-aware he is of the white cover on his head. Every now and then he makes sure it is still in the right place and in the position he wants it to be. As he explained road and driving issues I started wondering about Arab men in "dresses", whether called thob, dishdash, kandoora, ghalabiya or whatever else, in the Gulf but also in Northern Africa, in Sudan, etc. I realised I liked the Mauritanian men's traditional outfit the most, which I had seen the night before at the poetry contest. I also wondered how Gulf Arab men managed to keep their white dresses so spotlessly clean and well ironed! I realised that men in such outfits make me want to stare at them for some reason. So I started staring at the tutor ! 

Suddenly I realised how used I had gotten to men in trousers that I don't want to stare at them in the same way! 


During one of the breaks I went to the women's waiting area. There was a prayer room, bathrooms and a place to sit. 

"I passed I passed!" said one young lady to someone on the phone.

Women sitting there were clearly intimidated by the driving test. I remembered how intimidated I was the first time I took a driving test back in 1996. Then I remembered how easily I passed. 

I enjoyed engaging with the women. But the disadvantage of being there was all the perfume they kept putting on, all over their neck, body and hair - especially the ones whose hair and full body were covered in black. The perfume would stay behind in the room for a while. I was sneezing and sneezing.


Back in class, the tutor went on and on about priority, yielding, highways. I rememberd the first time I ever saw a highway sign. It was back in 1992 in Germany where I also witnessed cars going at 200 km an hour. When I returned to Syria after that, fascinated, I remember lecturing my family on the road between Damascus and Latakia on how the highway is supposed to be, which of course it was not in Syria!

I couldn't help it. I had to brag about my driving experience! There were about 15 students from different Arab countries. Many were young women. Most, if not all, were first-timers. One lady whose face I did not see because she wore a niqab, seemed intrigued by my stories of driving in so many countries around the world! I could see excitement and anxiety in her eyes. I assured her it was not a big deal and told her she was going to make it for sure! Then one lady said: my friend had a driver's license already from another country and still she failed the road test! 

Damn ... Imagine me failing the test ! I need falafel :)

The Male Factor

The last lesson was due to start at 12:55. The tutor only showed up at 1.13pm. That is more than the ten-minute deadline, again! By then I was sleepy and really couldn't hear any more theory about driving! I had learned nothing new yet - although I was paying attention - except may be how to say clutch in classical Arabic القابض .

I was trying to read my novel (by Algerian writer Wasini Al Aaraj). But when Ismael started talking about the maintenance of the car he caught my attention with his BOWER acronym. 

It stood for :

B Petrol
O Oil
W Water
E Electrics
R Rubber

It is common for Arab speakers to pronounce the "p" as "b". But Ismael could pronounce the "p" in Petrol correctly, but not in Power, or Bower ! 

"How do you check the oil in the car before a long trip?" He asked everyone.

All came up with guesses. I said : oh you just ask your (male) neighbour or husband to do it ! I was not mean enough to say: ask your "male guardian"! :P (to understand this reference please read Part I)

I hope Ismael never finds his way to my blog!


My theory lessons were over at 2pm. I was given a date for my theory test in a few days. I was told to study well because if I failed I would have to go through all the lessons again, and not just the ones I took in the extensive course, and I would probably have to pay for them, again!

In a way it felt pleasant to be back at "school" although I did not learn much today. But I liked being on the other side of the classroom. I got a sense of what my students at the American University in Dubai felt while I lectured them. I just hope none of them spent their time staring at my dress !

To be continued ...

Read ---> Part I (Just Pay)

Also read:
UAE Adventures : Dubai - Abu Dhabi

10 Jun 2013

UAE Adventures : Getting a Driver's License !! Part I (Just pay!)

"Is your male guardian with you?"

Huh? My male guardian? Do I have a (male) guardian?!! I am well over 18 years of age. I tried to discuss the matter with the (female) employee of the Traffic Department in Musaffah, Abu Dhabi. I had all the paperwork signed by my sponsor / male guardian. In vain. After I told her I was Al Jazeera's Bureau Chief for Latin America and that I had travelled the whole world alone, she suggested I'd go and get exempted!!

Okay ! So I had to go see an (male) officer who agreed to exempt me from having my (male) guardian accompany me.  Accompany me in doing what exactly? Oh, just opening a file at the traffic department!  

Then it turns out that after 17 years of driving around the world I had to be sent back to driving school. The UAE does not recognise any of my driver's licenses from the countries where I have lived before.

Lessons? What? 

Yes.. and on top of it I have no choice. I have to go to the Emirates Driving Company, the only school there is, where I had to wait for two hours to be attended to, then asked to pay 300 dollars in fees for my mandatory driving lessons, which I kept saying I really did not need.

I have driven in Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Venezuela, Qatar, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Syria, the UK, the USA, and even the UAE itself in the past (as a tourist).  I crossed the Alps at night on a rainy slippery narrow mountainous road. I have driven across Venezuela on rough roads that should not even qualify for being called roads. I have driven for 7 years through Caracas' hellish traffic. I have survived Hong Kong's maze of tunnels, underpasses, overpasses, bridges, highways, etc.  

"Just test my driving please!"

Nope. Not possible !

It is the law in the UAE. I accept. I respect.

But then I got furious when I found out that others with the same driver's license as me (from Qatar for example) were not sent back to driving school. They got a UAE license in exchange because they were GCC nationals. 

I was told by other driving students too that they had a UK license but because they were not UK citizens, their license was not exchangeable.

The system is still vague to me but I understood that there is a list of selected countries. Only if you have a license from - and you are a national of - those countries will you not be sentenced to learning to drive again !  

It did not feel right that people (mostly from developing countries) had to pay all this money and invest time while others (mostly from selected rich countries) didn't have to pay a penny nor invest time although both may have the same driving experience!

I am not sure why your nationality would affect your driving skills ! But tough luck.. I am not "selected" !!

One is inevitably left to wonder about this driving school business and how much money the law helps it generate by forcing foreigners to pay for unnecessary mandatory lessons.

To be Continued ...

Read ----> 
Part II (Falafel Hallucinations)

Read previous UAE Adventures :
Dubai-Abu Dhabi

6 Jun 2013

مطريات - أبو ظبي كاراكاس

‫المطر في أبو ظبي 

صبية اكتملت أنوثتها لكنها تخجل، لا تريد لأحد أن ‬يلاحظها. رقيقة جداً، وخفيفة، تمشي بخطوات شبه صامتة، بالكاد تترك أثراً وراءها، فلا يشعر بها إلا من يبحث عنها، ولا يعرف أسرارها سوى البحر

‫المطر في كاراكاس 

امرأة ناضجة، في منتصف العمر، لا تعرف الخجل. عذبة، جميلة، لكنها صاخبة، تمشي بكعب عال، عطرها يفوح وراءها، عندما تمر بمكان لا يمكن لأحد ألا يلاحظها، يبتل الجميع بحكاياتها الدافئة


2 Jun 2013

Dans la guerre 2.0

Depuis Abou Dhabi j'ai participé par téléphone à la discussion sur l'état des confrontations sur les réseaux sociaux, plus de 2 ans après le début des soulèvements arabes.

Vous pouvez regarder toute l'émission y compris mes interventions dans la vidéo.. TV5 Monde .. en français