There was a strange feeling in the air this morning that reminded me of my days as a student. To my right was a man with a nervous twitch who kept tapping his knuckles incessantly on the metallic frame of his waiting room chair. On my left, a young lady of African ethnicity was flipping through the pages of all the literature we had been handed and in front of me was a young boy no older than 18, exuding a quiet confidence the adults around him lacked. His bright red T-shirt read ‘Bazinga’.
Twenty minutes of waiting and staring passed before we were finally herded into another waiting room and told to await further instructions. Fifteen minutes passed and I was bored. So, I opened my blue Adidas bag repeatedly. File, check. Stationery, check. ID, check. Mentos, check. Five minutes later I opened my bag again. Everything was still there. I was still waiting and it felt like the clock was stuck in a devilish limbo. I’m not good with whiling away my time without something constructive to do.
Suddenly a booming voice with a distinct Arabic accent filled the room. ‘All English people…’ (I guessed that included me) ‘…lecture room 4. No talking…no phones…no photographs.’ he instructed us robotically. He was clearly not enthusiastic about his job and gave us each a menacing stare-down as we made our way towards the room. We rushed towards the door…herd mentality…everyone rushed to get a good seat. I headed to the last row…my comfort zone. The room was big, poorly lit and a musty scent hung in the air. I took my place, silenced my phone and sank into my seat. It was going to be a long day.
After eight years in Dubai, here I was…finally learning how to drive. Unlearning all the wrong ideas and learning by the rule book. Forgetting that where I come from, the bigger your car, ensures you the right of way. Where honking incessantly is the magic solution to thinning traffic jams. Where keeping a safe distance between cars is giving invitation to the newest sports bike or arrogant autowallah to cut through without a care in the world. A place where you can turn right from the extreme left. I could go on and on.
Cut to eight hours of lectures later, the instructor announced a surprise revision quiz. I could feel myself moaning the words ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’…people turn…and stare….did I say those words out loud? Damn! Way to begin the course Sydney! The instructor allows his stare to linger a second longer than necessary and then continues…points to the screen… ‘now that is a closed u-turn and the other one was an open u-turn. So which lane will you take when you turn at an open u-turn?’ In India, you would laugh at anyone asking this, but here you listen and answer with military etiquette.
I hear the word ‘You’ being spat out at someone…there’s a finger pointing in my direction. Wait, am I supposed to answer? Think Sydney, think. No phone-a-friend. No cheating. He’s testing *you*… ‘Right-hand lane’ I hear myself say hesitantly. Without a word the bespectacled legionnaire moves onto his next target, a Philipino lady who he has caught dozing off. She answers too. This is not going how he had planned it.
Sahi jawab the imaginary narrator in my head declares…there’s clapping in the stands. Triumphant.
I feel like I am one step closer to the elusive driving license in Dubai. I am charged about the road tests. The 5th time is the charm, they say. For now I’m celebrating with a Shwarma and a milkshake as I wait for the cabbie to come get me. I know the next few weeks are going to be a bumpy ride. Sorry for that pun…I couldn’t help myself!