I wake up too early, too early, too early, but actually it’s late. I was never gonna get on site before noon after that late night and jumpy rest.
I eject into my shiny white hyundai and hit the road. The road is hot. The road is lawless. This is what happens when you don’t let women drive! Everybody is just honking and overtaking and pulling out suddenly and stopping. If somebody is in the fast lane and you want to overtake, it’s ok – just make a new lane!! You can fit. It’s fine! It’s totally fine. Just be honk and be lucky yeah?
As I pull onto the 88, the police and military are working together to pull apart a recent messy eight car pileup. Everybody drives around and through it as opportunities arise, joyfully tooting their horns. This is clearly just a normal Tuesday morning here. “Only 8 cars? Just 2 dead people? Great. Less paperwork than usual. Are the cars salvageable?”
This is despite the roads being monitored to a level I’ve never seen before. “We got £6000 worth of traffic fines in one day here once,” I am told. Cameras are everywhere and if you can’t read Arabic numbers you’re guessing the speed limit as often as not – and be sure that the speed of other cars is no benchmark. If they know the camera is there they are still likely to do something ridiculous like accelerate hard at the camera and then slam the brake last minute.
Occasionally there’s a harsh speedbump just hanging out in the middle of a stretch of 120kph road as well. I’m taking it easy as I head out into the desert this first morning. I’m driving with motorbike principles. “You’re invisible and everybody is trying to kill you.” The cameras face the car and they are hard to see. Google maps hasn’t got them marked. Gotta be careful even without the homicidal driving culture.
Still, a long straight glorious desert road. There’s a sign with a picture of a camel and suddenly there’s about twenty wild camels just wandering around near the road. I don’t stop, even though I’ve never seen a wild camel before. I’m smiling about it still as I arrive on site while it’s still morning. Wristband on. Into the unknown.
We are building a racetrack.
The desert is a great big pile of sand. There’s life. Stray dogs. Beetles. Flies. Some birds. And camels of course. But many humans can’t cope with the freedom to just go anywhere. So the most active part of the day today is spent partitioning bits of desert into car parking areas by hauling around great big bits of fencing. A good day for suntan and Fitbit. A bad day for jetlag.
As I drive off site I stop a moment in a roadside parking bay in order to just … catch the sun setting over my first day in the desert.
Then it’s back into the mess of Tabuk traffic.
This evening I wandered by random into a Yemeni restaurant and ordered something with sign language. It turned out to be lamb chops and prawns with rice.
Duolingo Arabic is still trying to teach me the alphabet by phonetically breaking down Western names like “George”. It’s useless. Of all the Duolingo courses I’ve dipped into this is by far the least practical. By now I should be able to say “Hello woman, the boy cat eats the girl’s ball thank you. Drink?@” I can say that in about six European languages now and bits of it are useful. For Arabic I can just about recognise writing that sounds like “duur”. They didn’t even bother telling me it reads from right to left which made it incomprehensible at first. And I have no meaning for “duur”. And I don’t need to write Arabic.
Even reading numbers would have been a more useful starting point. I still can’t properly understand the speed limit. I’ve learnt greetings now and thank you. But I still can’t say eat or drink…