I walk to school most mornings. When I near the uni property, the main impression is men:
- Fathers are dropping off their daughters to school
- Drivers are delivering their clients, our 18-ish-year-old students
- Men are standing in small groups chatting: near the construction-trailer office for drivers, in the shade near the parking lot, or waiting in the lot near the buses they have just driven having already done their route and deposited their students at school
The men that are standing in or near the lot are mainly non-Saudis. With 90% of private positions filled by non-Saudis, drivers tend to be Pakistanis, Yemeni, African or elsewhere. They watch out for us and try to help us get safely across the lot, as cars stream past in unpredictable ways, turning against traffic, making u-turns, and speeding in and out of the small streets bordering the uni.
These guys are used to a more Western way of greeting women, so it’s not eyes down and trying to be respectful, as it is a block earlier when we walk past the mosque. No, when you see these guys, it feels like they look at us (all female) teachers, as if we are people, not specifically women.
“Good morning!” they greet us. “Hello Teacher!” “Have a nice day!”
We wave and greet them, then as we walk past an area with about 30 buses, parked ready for end of day reverse trips.
The smiles of the guys, and the smell of diesel is all a very manly infusion in our days. We walk for a few more seconds and step out of the world of men, and into the world of women only.
There’s a faint hint of diesel that sneaks in, along with a couple thousand black-abaya’d girls and women. Once in, they stop in the small entry rooms, taking off their abayas and scarves and fixing their hair and clothes.
At day’s end, the entire process happens again, in reverse.