The Courage to Drive

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Every time we passed an armed security guard on the corner, I had to resist the urge to duck. Ducking would imply that I knew our actions were illegal; not ducking meant I could at least play dumb, like I didn't know the rules.

My Saudi friend looked nervous in the driver's seat; I could see it even though her face was veiled. Her gloved hands trembled a little at the wheel, and her foot was so hesitant at the gas pedal that I don't think we ever made it above 25 mph. I'd never seen anyone handle a car with such caution.

It was warranted, though. If we got pulled over, I wasn't sure what would happen to us. We were driving on a compound smack in the middle of the Saudi desert. Women are denied the right to drive in Saudi Arabia--and before you gloss over that last sentence, let me just ask you to imagine what it would be like if someone took away your car keys and driver's license tomorrow. How would you get to work? Take your kids to the park or drop them at school? Shop at a grocery store, pick up a prescription, visit a friend, get to the airport, go to the library? Did I mention there's no bus, train or light rail? Oh, and even if you can afford a taxi, they won't pick you up if you try to flag one down?

Of all the restrictions placed on Saudi women, I consider this one of the most cruel. This isn't a simple restriction. It transforms a home into a cell and deems your husband, brothers and father the keeper of the keys. Without them, you don't leave. This restriction is a jail sentence.

On the compound, however, rules were different. The Saudi government knows that international women won't put up with such unreasonable restrictions, so women are allowed to drive on campus--provided they have a driver's license from their own country. Since Saudi women are denied licenses, though, this meant that Saudi women had to watch as women from other countries were granted rights in their own country that they, themselves, were denied. The unfairness was enough to make you scream.

Or enough to make you pick up the keys, and learn how to drive.

That's what my friend did.

She was really good at it.

I admire these Saudi women who today publicly get behind the wheel, and declare themselves capable of freedom. I would like to learn from them what it means to look status quo in the face and declare it unacceptable.

There is no government dictating to me where I may or may not travel on my own. But of course I submit to my own status quo: a little voice in my head that tells me I can't. When everyone around you lives a certain kind of life, imagining another kind is the first big step. Before you can change a status quo, you have to realize that it could be different from how it has always looked in the past.

I would like to get behind the wheel of my life, and drive.



  1. I'm glad you joined this week, Beth! Thanks for the encouragement to look the little voice in my head in the face and challenge my status quo.

  2. I love this. You did a fabulous job with the writing, and it was a fast dive for the reader right into the culture. I follow a group on fb that is activists for Saudi women to drive. Driving is one of my FAVORITE things, not just for convenience, but for life (as I'll talk about if I get a post done this week). This really made me think about perspective and everything else. So glad you joined us!

  3. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to live under those conditions. There are so many things about American culture that have seeped into me. Things I don't even question. I am so thankful that you wrote and shared this post, because it challenges my thinking. Your story was beautifully written and wonderfully challenging!

  4. Wow. The things we take for granted! The drive to drive...nice. I pray each of us can face our personal challenges with that much courage!