Monday, November 23, 2009

School Buses in Abu Dhabi

Today I read an interesting Letter to the Editor. Someone was compelled to write the Gulf News about the "concept of yellow school buses." This concept is so common place in America that I had never really given it much thought about what other countries do. Apparently someone seized upon the yellow school bus as a good idea. I notice though that the concern was not as much for safety as for the children not knowing which school bus they should ride and the confusion that takes place regarding this very instance.
In the UAE the school buses are nondescript white buses that often resemble the buses which are hauling construction workers. Sometimes I have seen red ones with a white top which makes them a little more distinguishable. Most often the only way you know they are carrying children is the small 8 x 10 copy paper sign taped in the back window with the words "school bus" haphazardly scrawled on it often in very poor writing and in less than bold ink.
The author made these comments regarding his growing concern for the welfare of the children of the UAE, "....buses from different schools go past the same pick-up point with only a very small tag displaying the school's name. Children rush to catch their respective buses but often get confused and there is a risk of them boarding the wrong bus. During a dust storm or rain, pupils waiting at the entrance of the buildings have to go out and check every bus to see if it's theirs. I would say the yellow school bus is a good idea....." The author went on to say that the buses should be clearly marked on the sides for all to see. I noticed that the author did not mention that the children could be hurt or run over by passerbys during this confusion. Not once was the word "safety" mentioned. I cannot say for sure that the author did not mean to include safety only it was not mentioned. I don't want to presume safety was not a concern. I thought this most interesting.
It does seem that the UAE is behind the times in terms of child safety, (and really safety in general) especially to be a nation with so many resources and educational opportunities. I did see something the other day that really got next to me just from the sheer stupidity of it. I was waiting on a taxi in front of my house one afternoon and observed a school bus pull off the side of the road to drop off a child. The driver was trying to be concientous and got out of the bus with the child, took her by the hand, and walked her across the street to her home. However, since he had pulled off the road opposite her home on the left hand side of the street on a one-way, the traffic was behind the bus. He stupidly walked her in front of the bus---not behind it where he could see the oncoming traffic and the oncoming traffic could see them. So he stepped out into the street in front of the bus holding her hand right into three lanes of traffic. He quickly jumped back and cars began to slow down and stop but what he did was very dangerous. The locals drive like maniacs----no kidding---down this road sometimes at breakneck speeds upwards of 60 mph or more (even though it is a residential section). This kind of ignorance just makes me angry. And I believe it is ignorance. The bus drivers are sometimes very uneducated people from third world countries who do not have a sense of the value of life. And on top of that, the Muslims often feel "Insha'Allah" meaning god willing or if it is God's will and do not take special care with themselves, their children or their belongings.
It is not uncommon to see very small children as young as two or three years old playing in the street unaccompanied by an adult. They do not keep reins on them in parking lots or outdoors either. I have seen three year olds riding tricycles on the street with a one year old toddler in diapers toddling along with them and no adult in sight---and it would be dusk or after dark. If it were quiet, cul-de-sac type streets one might not be alarmed. However, even though I live in a quiet, residential section of the city, the local Emirati drive their cars like maniacs. They take off at high rates of speed, turn corners squealing tires, push the gas pedal to the floor from one speed break to the other---which makes it very dangerous for anyone, let alone toddlers, to be near the road. I was walking Graziella once and a young Emirati man and his little daughter, who looked to be about two or three, stopped to pet Graziella (a rare occurrence that I will address in another blog). They stopped in the middle of the road to talk to me. While we were stopped, I caught a glimpse of a fast approaching vehicle. I began to get nervous because he did not have a hold on his child nor did he make any attempt to do so even though the car was approaching and not slowing down. We have been advised by the State Department not to get involved in situations with the Emirati and not to interfere with any kind of domestic situation. However, I finally made up my mind I would grab the child if the car got too close. I know my idea of too close is probably not his idea of too close but I was going to do it anyway for the safety of the child. My luck though he chose to continue their walk and moved on, crossing the road, and moving out of the path of the car. However, he never did reach down and take her hand or any kind of protective measure to prevent her from wandering into the path of this car. I am truly baffled by this lack of concern from parents in this region. Oh and forget car seats and child restraints. No way. The children are all over the car. John and I even saw a baby in a car seat sitting alone in a running SUV outside of the mall the other day. All alone. No one around. The car running. Thank goodness he was in a car seat and thank goodness he was not old enough to crawl out. In America, the police would be called and the parents prosecuted.
I notice more articles and Letters to the Editor are addressing concerns that our country addressed 25 and 30 years ago. For instance, response to fires, litter, traffic fatalities, enforcing traffic laws, health issues, and many more issues are just now being seriously addressed---or at least their seems to be an awareness of the problems associated with these issues. I tend to forget that this country was literally riding camels and living in tents only 50 years ago. Even though they are the richest nation in the world, money doesn't buy common sense.

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