x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Textbook way to drive a car

Arriving early for my first theory lessons, I strap in for the six-hour ordeal of learning how to drive a motor without actually being in one.

Kareem Shaheen with the books he used to study for his examination at the Emirates Driving School in Abu Dhabi.
Kareem Shaheen with the books he used to study for his examination at the Emirates Driving School in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Within minutes of walking out of the Emirates Driving Company the day before my first theory lessons, textbooks in hand, my decision to try for a driving a licence was vindicated.

Outside the school at Mussafah, I hailed a taxi carrying two people, decided I couldn't wait, then triggered a shouting match between two cabbies as I hopped in another vehicle. Soon, I told myself, I would revel in the freedom of driving myself wherever I needed to go. The beginning of the classroom experience was less exhilarating. It was rather like being back in college, complete with sneaking a quick nap in the cafeteria.

Waiting for the class to begin with all the other teacher's pets who had arrived early was as awkward as my first calculus class at university. And, of course, there was the fashionably late contingent who strolled in five minutes after the lesson began. I strapped in for the six-hour ordeal of learning how to drive a car without actually being in one. First up was safety hall. A double car seat on rails served as a demonstration of why seat belts were a good idea.

"Faisal, any last wishes?" the instructor asked a student thrust into the demonstration. He hurtled along at an epic speed of 4kph, then was jerked to a halt, whiplashing him forward against his restraints. We were told we couldn't survive head-on collisions. I had a one-hour break. I struck up a conversation with a pleasant Egyptian security guard, also on a break, and he invited me to share a cup of tea. He told me not to fret too much over the theory test, and he prayed that I would pass.

We began to reminisce about Egypt, and my morale boosted by thoughts of the homeland, I went to my second lesson, which was on traffic signs.There were more than 500 of them. My mind wandered and I began to get distracted by the cartoon cars drawn in our textbooks. Somehow running into another vehicle seemed less threatening when the accident involved hand-drawn victims. Conversation turned to the World Cup finals, in which I got to mock Brazil again - the bright spot of the afternoon.

We went on to cover driving in the city, where I learned that pedestrians always have precedence on the road because they do not have a gigantic metal casing protecting them as drivers do, and because, although it was illegal to drive drunk, pedestrians can be drunk, blind, insane or a child. That made it the responsibility of me, the driver, to watch out for them. The lesson on driving out of the city was even more jarring. The left lane on a motorway was apparently primarily for overtaking, not cruising at 160kph.

We've been doing it wrong. I left at 3pm, dazed and wondering whether I had taken enough notes. I was going to cram for the test. I was going to ace it. I booked a test appointment at 10am two days later with a slightly impatient receptionist. Another day, another minor milestone. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae