Friday, 15 March 2013
A few years ago, I was on a long haul flight to Hong Kong and watched a movie called Pay It Forward starring Haley Joel Osment (the kid from The Sixth Sense). It was a mushy tear-jerker that I didn’t really enjoy at all.
Having said that, I quite liked the idea behind the film, the basic philosophy, if you like. When somebody does a favour for you, don’t return the favour; instead pay the favour forward by helping three other people instead.
I have been thinking about this a lot in the last two weeks while driving in Oman.
When I arrived in Muscat, I had a choice: either I get a taxi to and from work every day or I drive. Having been to the United Arab Emirates last year, and seen how inconsiderate drivers can be there, and having heard that in Oman they are just as bad, I opted to travel around by taxi instead.
I arrived with a colleague who doesn’t mind driving and during that first week of our trip he was happy to take on the Omani drivers. Every day he offered me the keys to the car and every day I declined.
Why did I refuse, I hear you asking. Three reasons:
(1) Drivers in Oman are at least as bad as drivers in the UAE.
(2) In Oman they drive on the wrong side of the road (the right side as opposed to the left).
(3) Muscat is a maze.
Sadly, that colleague has now returned to the UK and left me with a hire car. My manager asked me if I wanted to take over driving for my final two weeks. I decided to take my chances with taxis.
But that is a problem too. The place I am working is a construction site and it is not easy to get a taxi back to the hotel. Worse, taxi drivers here, while very nice people, are very keen to, shall we say, take advantage of foreigners. The trick is to barter with them before they set off and agree a price. I am not a fan of bartering.
At the hotel, I jumped into a taxi and told him where I wanted to go.
“10 Rials, he said.
“Last week it cost me 8 Rials,” I said.
“10 Rials,” he persisted.
“8 Rials,” I argued.
And so it went on for a good five minutes until finally he said “OK – 8 Rials”.
When I got to work, I paid him and boasted to my work colleagues about battering the taxi driver down to 8 Rials.
“From your hotel it should only be 7 Rials,” one of the guys said.
Now I know that the company will pay for the cab, but that annoyed me. And I really didn’t fancy having to go through the rigmarole of bartering for every taxi ride for the next two weeks.
After careful consideration, I reluctantly told my manager that I would drive. It would be more convenient and I could come and go as I pleased without arguing with taxi drivers.
Sadly, however, Muscat is a maze to me and with the inconsiderate drivers and the struggle to make sure that I do not inadvertently career head first into oncoming traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road, I have had a lot of fun negotiating the route to and from work.
After a week of this I have a well established route – not the best route but a route that works for me.
It has not been without pain though.
Three times I have taken the wrong turn and found myself heading in totally the wrong direction, thanks to the maze of Muscat. My colleagues who have driven have told me that it is impossible to get lost in Muscat. Believe me – it is very easy to get lost in Muscat.
What has made it more difficult is the inconsideration of other drivers. To them, the road is theirs and they can do with it what they like. There is absolutely no way that they will pause to let another car out. Worse still, there is no way they will slow down to let you leave a motorway at your required exit.
A day or two ago, I was driving along the motorway, searching for my exit and I spotted it just a little bit too late. In the UK I would have slowed down and indicated and most other drivers would have flashed to let me in.
Not in Muscat.
I started to indicate and edge over but just behind me in the lane was a huge truck that simply refused to budge. In fact, rather than slow down slightly to let me in, he sped up started honking his horn (a favourite pastime here in Muscat). The car behind the truck also refused to budge and I ended up being forced to stay on the motorway.
In the UK I would have succumbed to road rage.
In Muscat road rage was vanquished by fear.
I had no idea where to go. I had no idea where I was.
“What the phaarrrkkkk do I do now?” I screamed to myself.
I ended up coming off at the next junction and after driving around aimlessly for ten minutes, I found myself heading back towards work instead of the hotel. Luckily, I spotted a road that I recognised and managed to get back on track, arriving at the hotel about twenty minutes later than I had anticipated, all because this bozo wouldn’t do me a favour.
And this is where Pay It Forward comes in.
Unlike that arse of a truck driver, I have decided to slow down and allow other vehicles to pop into the space in front of me, thus showing Omani drivers what it is like to be an extremely considerate driver. If I am optimistic I figure that for every car I let in, the driver of that car will do the same for three other drivers at least.
And if my plan works, next time I come to Muscat (which is in April) I will arrive in a city where driving is a pure pleasure; a city where arseholes driving trucks that force innocent foreigners to miss their exit from the motorway will be no more; a city where even taxi drivers (who are a law unto themselves) will drive with due care and attention.
Sadly, looking out of the window of my hotel, which is on a busy main road, and seeing maniacs fighting for every square centimetre of space, I doubt it.
I have my work cut out.
I think it will be tougher than managing to watch the whole movie Pay It Forward without vomiting into a sick back or ranting at the sugary-coated treacle that is the plot.