Driving Through Fear
Periodically I stumble across an aspect of Palestinian life that simply baffles me, terrifies me or renders me completely speechless. Driving somehow (and disturbingly) encompasses all three of those factors. It doesn’t help that most moving vehicles become travelling clubs with various renditions of Arab pop music belting out as they casually career (at speed) around bends that they weren’t built to handle. Drivers over here seem to regard getting from A-B as an opportunity for reaffirming their faith in god’s protection and as a test of there brakes instead of simply going to work. It’s beyond terrifying.
Palestinian scenery is dramatic, the hills are steep, the ground is rocky and the air is full of smoke, sand and dust. Combine that with a Peugeot 106 holding the best part of an extended family and you have an average drive home. There is a particular route home which I find myself regularly travelling which takes you through an aptly named Wadi Nar –Wadi of fire- which is rather like travelling a long and slightly perilous rollercoaster. You casually approach it from a slight downwards angle which gives you breathtaking views across the whole area before you realize you are in the front seat of a vehicle which is about to nose dive down a road that has been constructed with 90 degree bends and on an angle of at least 140 degrees. Cue checking for your passport to make sure they can identify your body and inform your loved ones of your unfortunate passing. I was recently travelling this route when my driver having negotiated with much success getting down one side was beginning the climb back up when the back end of the vehicle swung out and executed a half turn in the middle of the road narrowly missing an on coming lorry which must have easily weighed a ton and on the other side a panicking donkey. Once he had regained control of the van and set us back on a straight motion he turned to grin at me with the biggest beam I have ever seen, almost as if to suggest that was a fun added element to our journey. I, in comparison was white and my fingers had turned to stone due to the strength I was gripping my seat with. On another death defying journey through here I had the pleasant surprise of passing a car going down whilst we were going up with a child, no older than 3, sitting on the roof with her legs dangling in through the sunroof. Call me British but I am fairly sure there is no fastening for seatbelts up there.
For a country that not only loves children but has a population in which slightly over 50% are actually under 25, they seem to have no qualms about road safety. I’ve taken my cat on journeys with more seatbelts around her than some children have out here. I couldn’t work out what I was seeing in the rear view mirror a few weeks back, when we eventually stopped for traffic I turned to actually look and realized it was a very squashed child’s face against the windscreen. Upon closer inspection the reason he had no room to maneuver was due to the pile up of 3 other children on the seat behind him. It can’t have been comfortable and that journey is at least an hour. Interestingly I was stopped whilst driving recently with my friend and his dog at an Israeli checkpoint, we dutifully presented passports and ID’s when the solider asked with the most alarmingly deadpan expression I have ever seen if we could present the dogs passport. Obviously we couldn’t and no word of a lie we were denied entry to Israel. In a country where animals live on the streets with no qualms about which side of the border they are on we got asked to present a dogs passport? Does she look like your typical infiltrator? I suppose that’s the power of guns really isn’t it, you might think they are an idiot but you are unlikely to tell them to their face.
It is yet another aspect of this wonderful world that I have found myself inhabiting, every day is an adventure, every day is a learning curve and most of all every day is even more exciting than the one before. At least I have now learnt enough Arabic to yell various panic induced expletives coupled with fervent prayers to a god I haven’t yet identified.