All the recent rage on theSaudi guardianship laws (LOVE rage on this subject) reminded me of one of my own stories:
I found myself sitting alone in the back of a taxi on a late Friday night in Saudi Arabia, it was the end of my weekend and I was on my way from the West coast city of Jeddah to a small village in AlBaha where work was awaiting me the next morning.
Very few flights left from Jeddah to AlBaha, especially on the last day of the weekend. It would have been most economic and practical for me to rent a car and drive it myself (having done my high school years in the USA, I was a fully capable driver at 15 years old). However, due to the driving ban on women in the Kingdom, the only option left for me to make it to work in time the next morning was to hire a taxi to take me the 4 hour drive. I hired a taxi driver my friend knew and trusted. We passed through most of the checkpoints undisturbed, however about 30 minutes out from my home by the campus where I worked; we were stopped by the poilce.
They didn’t seem concerned with the taxi driver; but with the women sitting alone in the back of a taxi. Two of the police officers at the check point directly came around the car and opened my door. Without greeting me and with a condescending look one asked me directly where my husband was. His face grew even more concerned when I replied that I was not married. The second police officer chimed in and asked me where my father was. I replied that my father worked in America; and the first police officer barked “So your brother! Where is your guardian?”. “I’m my own guardian”, I replied with confidence. “Oh no no no, they both shook their heads, this is a big problem.” One officer took my ID and put it in his chest pocket, and told me to come with them.
I sat alone in the back of their police car watching them for about two hours while they sat and chatted, drank some tea, smoked their cigarettes, laughed together, and finally interrogated the taxi driver and let him go. Finally frustrated and tired I got out of the car and started walking, “What are you doing girl?” one officer yelled at me. “I’m walking home”, I replied without looking at them or stopping, “I have work tomorrow morning and I won’t be late because of your non-sense.” None of them dared touch me to stop me. So I continued walking as they scurried alongside me trying to convince me to stop. In their panic one officer asked me where I worked, I replied, and he took my ID out of his pocket and looked at my name. Something seemed to click in his mind, he stopped to call someone on his phone chatted with her briefly and ran to catch up and handed his cell phone to me with a smile. I stopped, confused, and took the phone. A girls voice came on, “Professor” she said with affection, as I recognized her voice we started laughing together. The police officer who took my ID was her husband, she was about 8 months pregnant and I had always been extra understanding of her situation in class. Her husband handed me back my ID. He instantly transformed from angry police officer to overly-kind; making sure to tell me how much he and his wife appreciated me. He and the other police officers seemed to quickly ignore the fact that I had been travelling without a guardian and they drove me the rest of the way to my home. The Saudi guardianship law was brushed aside, as I had a wasta, which every Saudi knows can put you above the law.What would have happened to me that night without this connection; I have no idea. But as someone who’s grown up travelling and living throughout Sub-Saharan and North Africa, the USA, Europe the Middle East and Asia; someone who’s survived a revolution, supported myself financially, someone who’s flown a plane, shot a gun, driven a tracker, who jet-skiis and bunji jumps; EVEN without all these experiences; I certainly do NOT need a male guardian.