|Taken as I whizzed to safety. Quality Street-esque, no?!|
If you live here long enough, it’s a fair assumption that your car will break down at some point. It’s not hugely frequent due to the fact that most people drive brand new cars here (the second hand car market is tiny in comparison to countries like the UK) but nevertheless, cars do collapse sometimes. The searing Summer heat is tough on batteries and tyres, and then of course, there’s just those random times when something goes wrong. This weekend when exploring Al Ain (again), I got a taste of what happens when something goes wrong.
The first hint of any trouble was when the AC stopped wafting icy air and began to feel like my hairdryer instead. Then the stereo cut out. Then the speedometer fell to zero. Joy. The electrics had failed. As the car slowly ground to a halt on the three lane approach to a busy roundabout, my heart sunk. What to do?
The first thing to do is: get out of the car (obv) call the police. Unlike the UK, there’s not an AA or Green Flag service who you can call to collect you and fix things. It’s a much more casual network based around men with tow trucks and garages. And the first thing you should always do when in an accident, or obstructing a three lane highway (eek) is call the police. The first challenge is that the police speak very little English. Actually, make that none. After a few minutes of trying to explain the predicament we give up.
Time check: 11.00 am
In what is to be a typical move of the morning, a man suddenly appears from nowhere. An Arab expat, he rushes towards us and offers to call the police and speak to them in Arabic. Top, top man.
Then someone else stops to help. If you type ‘handsome Emirati man in aviators wearing tight white t-shirt and driving the world’s biggest whitest Nissan Patrol with panache’ into Google, I’m pretty sure a photo of this gentleman appears. He winds down the window, assesses the situation, then casually pulls his giant car ACROSS the fast moving three lane highway, turns into the traffic and pulls in in front of our car. He is the epitome of cool.
And ten minutes later, the first police car arrives. Let me just clarify, we’re not talking a battered Vauxhall Astra. The police here drive sparkly, brand spanking new Nissan Patrols. The Al Ain police have nice red ones. They put me in mind of a giant glittering Quality Street as they come powering towards us. I’m not gonna lie, despite the obvious stress, I’m a bit excited by all the commotion.
Police here are young. Very, very young. Yes, I KNOW this means I’m galloping into middle age, but honestly, these guys look 18 max. They tote revolvers on their hips like mobile phones.
· Temperature check: 42 degrees
· Time check: 11.30 am
At this stage sweat is beginning to engulf my entire body like a mini tsunami, and I ask the policemen if I can sit in the back of their beautiful air conditioned vehicle.
One of the teenage policemen rushes over to clear the back seat to make space for me. I’m so excited to collapse into the icy freshness that I don’t immediately notice what he had to move. Then I look down. Down into the muzzle of an AK47 machine gun. OK, it may not have been an AK47, BUT IT WAS A MACHINE GUN, OK??!! I gingerly prod the end of it with my finger so it isn’t aimed directly into my eyeballs and try to think happy thoughts.
The next half an hour is a blur of broken Arabic and English, lots of laughter (the police) lots of sweating (me) and lots of honking horns and revving engines (traffic passing by). Another police car arrives (clearly not a busy day in Arabia). The car still isn’t starting.
· Temperature check: 43 degrees
· Time check: 12.10 pm
Just as I’m about to lose the will to live, a third giant police car drives up. Horns honking, sirens wailing, it mounts the high kerb and off roads down the sandy scrub to park alongside my window. This policeman is clearly more senior – he has a different uniform, is older (28?) and speaks English. Joy! He assesses the situation very quickly:
· Car not starting.
· I order you tow truck
· You go with tow truck (points at the boy)
· I order a taxi
· You go back to your hotel (points at me)
And just like that the drama is over.
I head back to the hotel for a few hours by the pool, the boy heads to the garage to get the car fixed. The policeman never leaves his side, following the tow truck to the garage, inspecting the job the mechanics are doing, making sure we don’t get overcharged. Bless. He’s eager to hear our verdict on Al Ain police. Naturally, we’re delighted. Despite the stress, inconvenience and expense, the whole experience was an interesting cultural exchange and a bit of an adventure.
So a few hints for car travel and potential trouble in Arabia:
· Carry water in the car. Then carry more. You don’t want to die of dehydration at the side of a highway. And it’s a real threat.
· Ladies- carry an abaya in the car with you. You’ll be grateful for the modesty when the car breaks down and you’re in a short t-shirt beach dress. (Ahem).
· Try not to panic. Arabian hospitality means that people WILL come to your rescue, quite likely in large numbers.
· Drive a giant 4x4 if you can. You’ll get more respect from the police when they come to survey the problem.
Safe driving, people!