Friday, August 23, 2013

Rite of Passage: Car Accident in Doha

Smashed in Doha
 
You are braked in traffic gridlock on Doha's heavily travelled, construction absorbed Corniche.  Your car jolts forward.  At the same moment, you hear sounds like foil wrapped potato chips crunched into a microphone.
 
You are not hurt.
 
You put the car in park.  Say a few choice words.  Grab your phone.  Open the door.
 
everywhere lines of red and white barriers
 
Gravel rattles to the ground, poured from a six-wheel dump truck behind the red and white construction barrier inches away.  The air is thick with humidity, exhaust, smoke.  Horns bleat, people shout, lights flash.  Cars, trucks and vans circle around your parked car to drive on the shoulder of the road. You smile and wave (might as well).
 
A lady in hijab and abaya sits at the wheel of the sedan stopped behind you.  She and her male passenger face forward, unmoving.  Her car's front end is crushed.  Your SUV's bumper is scraped silver and white.
 
You knock on the sedan's driver's side window.  After a pause the window slides down.  Her eyes: brown.
 
"Would you like fries with that?"  No, you don't say it.  That would be silly.  Instead:
 
Are you okay?  Do you know what to do now?
 
and:
We agree that this was your fault, right?
 
She nods.  Her passenger grabs a backpack, climbs a construction barrier and walks away.
 
"He goes to airport,"  she says.  "I think he will be late."
 
She's from Somalia and has a lovely Arabic name.  But, "I do not speak Arabic," she says.  She calls your phone so you have one another's numbers.
 
What you know: 
  • you must wait for the police or go together to the traffic department
  • you must do this immediately
  • you must obtain paperwork from the traffic department
  • if you wait long enough the police will come
It's not an unavoidable, necessary lifetime rite of passage like puberty, gray hair or wrinkles.  Being in a car accident in Doha is an event more like appendicitis, gall stones or divorce - something that can happen (or not, if you're lucky).  It's the car that swerves into your lane and stops, the SUV riding your bumper, little Toyota truck in front of you loaded with unsecured rebar and 2x4s.  It's a degree earned in spite; merit achieved contrary to your efforts.
 
little truck, loaded with stuff
 
You call Bob, talk to Ben (who has a Master's degree in Doha Car Accidents), dial the rental car place, check your facebook.  (Just kidding about that last one.)
 
Standing beside you, Somalia smiles, listens, nods.
 
Two white-shirt wearing police officers arrive in a blue and white cruiser.  Policeman #1 motions to the traffic and construction.  "You must move.  Go to police station."  He rattles instructions to Somalia in Arabic.  "You follow her," he says.  He points to Somalia.
 
I hesitate - she doesn't speak Arabic - but Somalia is already in her car and White Shirt motions frantically for you to go too.
 
You dip into a gravel gap so Somalia can take the lead.  You pull into traffic behind her.  Cars part like Moses and the Red Sea as she passes you slowly, driving in the middle of the road.  She rotates toward the red and white fence, misses it, jerks the wheel and arcs across the street.  Speeding up, she takes a roundabout in a wide three-lane circle, swerves around a corner, jumps a curb.  Something bright falls off her car.
 
You follow at a safe distance as Somalia sweeps wildly through traffic for three heart stopping minutes. She reaches a red light, three full lanes braked 10 cars back.  She slams into a taxi, causing it to hurtle into a third car.  Her airbag deploys.  There is smoke.
 
You park in the street, rush to Somalia's car.  Her seat is pressed back and she is near laying down, both hands over her face.  She's crying, but physically seems okay.  A big, burly man in a long white gallabea-like robe and yellow construction vest speaks reassuring words to her in Arabic.  He's from Sudan.
 
"She doesn't speak Arabic," you say.
 
"You know her?"
 
"Five minutes ago, she hit me too."
 
He laughs.
 
Yes, of course - it's not funny.  But no one in any of the cars is hurt.  So, it's okay: he laughs, you laugh.
 
Three green ambulances arrive.  Somalia is lifted onto a gurney and carried away. You do not see her again.
 
Official red suburbans and blue and white vans create a no-pass zone around the accident site.  Two dark uniformed policemen tap noses in the traditional greeting.  A white-shirt wearing officer writes driver's license, plate and phone numbers on a plain sheet of paper.  You give your numbers in Arabic.
 
White shirt pauses over the page, as if matching cars to information.  He turns to you, says, "Why are you here?"
 
Sudan intervenes to explain your presence in Arabic in a jolly, storytelling manner.  White shirt presses his hat back, rolls his eyes, shakes his head.
 
The next day you incorrectly visit the Immigration Office, Passport Bureau and Traffic Headquarters before landing at the correct location:  a small, single story building behind the Main Traffic Department.  Here, there is plenty of parking and a line of friendly officials available to help you.  To facilitate the process, at Ben's suggestion, you've written "My Side of the Story" in Arabic.  You give the handwritten essay to an agent who reads it without comment.
 
"What happened" in Arabic
(Please ignore errors, just like you did here.)
 
The official types on his computer.  Presses a button.  Gives you a crisp, unbound two page Police Report:  your graduation papers.
 
Mabrook!  Congratulations!  You pass.
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