A couple of days ago I was driving through downtown Salalah as usual, on my way home from work. As I neared a major intersection, a 25 seater bus passed me dangerously on the left in order to speed through the intersection before the lights changed.
I could tell from a mile off that there was no way either of us would make it and as I predicted the bus braked suddenly at the lights and slowed down. When I drove up, I noticed the bus was full of small children in school uniform. Some had their arms and heads hanging out of the huge open windows and others were hanging out of the door.
I thought I must be hallucinating, so when the light turned green I followed the bus through town until it slowed down to let a couple of kids off. To my utter astonishment and horror, the idiot behind the wheel was driving with the bus door wide open. A child who looked no more than six years old was sitting on the fold-out chair right in front of the door.
One tiny accident or even an encounter with a rough speed bump and that child would have been tossed out of the bus. I felt nauseated, so I pulled over but the bus sped off just as I was taking down its details. I called the emergency hotline and the efficient ROP officer who answered after the first ring told me to write down the licence plate number and file a complaint at the nearest police station.
I have seen thousands of maniacs on the road in my short four years as a driver, but that school bus driver takes the cake for utter recklessness and stupidity. After consulting with family members, I decided to first find out which school the bus belongs to. Salalah is a decent-sized town but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to locate the bus. Once I find out, I will pay the school principal a visit and then report the driver to the police depending on the outcome of my visit. I won't let this rest until I make sure those innocent children's safety is addressed.
Do you think I'm over-reacting? Unfortunately, I have seen enough car accidents and corpses these past few years to last me a lifetime. A couple of years ago I was in Muscat for a photography workshop. Just after sunrise, I was standing at my hotel room window trying to get a shot of the mountains when I noticed through my viewfinder a little blue car going at an insane speed down the road.
The car hit the kerb, flipped over six times and crashed a few metres away from my window. The body of a young man flew out of the car and landed in a heap on the sidewalk. Clearly hadn’t bothered fastening his seatbelt that morning. As people ran out of nearby shops and restaurants to help, I just stood there feeling numb and continued pressing the shutter button. It was all I could do.
For an hour, I stood there taking shot after shot. I watched as the restaurant owner checked for a pulse and shook his head. I watched as the police and ambulance arrived. I watched as they loaded the corpse into the ambulance and as the father of the young man arrived and identified the body. I watched as he stumbled out of the ambulance and covered his face with both his hands, sobbing.
The police officer touched his shoulder gently and offered condolences. I watched as the ambulance drove off and as he gathered his son's things from the car. I watched him leave just as the tow truck was arriving to take what remained of the car away. The last shot I took was of the municipality cleaner in orange uniform sweeping up the shards of broken glass from the sidewalk. All it took was an hour and life on that street went back to normal…except for me. All I could feel was a deep emptiness. I had watched someone die.
Since that day, my driving has never been the same. Every time I leave the house, I prepare to die. Pessimist? Not really. I'm just being realistic. I'm a very careful driver and I never speed, but apparently that doesn't matter here. No matter how careful you are in Oman, there are enough maniacs on the road to ensure your chances of getting killed on your way to work are high.
I see a car accident at least twice a week during rush hour. I also spot at least five or six people talking on the phone while out driving at any given time. As for speeding, I won't even begin to count the number of speed-crazed delinquents who cross my path every day. The number of road accidents in Oman has been increasing at an alarming rate. Every year hundreds of people die in car accidents, but people just don’t seem to get it.
When are Omanis going to wake up and realise how many lives they endanger every day with their reckless driving? We need higher fines and a strict point system where drivers lose their driving licence temporarily or permanently depending on the number of points in their traffic offence record. Road safety is a collective responsibility. From time to time I look at those photos to remind myself of the fragility of life. I’ve had my wakeup call. What about you?