Hitchhiking in the UAE is forbidden. Should you find an old man from the subcontinent walking down a highway in the middle of nowhere under the scorching sun and give him a lift, be ready to pay 500 dirhams.
Going to Fujairah
On my way to Fujairah, we did just that. He was walking where no taxis go, especially on a friday, so we stopped our car and asked him to jump in. To be honest, police are rarely in the remoter areas so there is less chance of being fined whereas in the city you are most certain to be. He was an older man in his late 60's or early 70's from the sub-continent.
Baba (a name of respect used to older men in the subcontinent), where do you want to go?
Ras al Khaimah, someone from my village has come. Where are you going?
We are headed to Fujairah. Have you ever been there?
No, what should I do there? I don't go many places.
He was going to walk all the way to Ras Al Khaimah under the sun, which would take hours, just to see a person from his village who probably brought with him letters from his family, (stamps are not a cost many workers can afford).
Baba, how long have you been in The UAE, and is your family with you?
I have been here 28 years, and my family has never been here, they are in Pakistan.
But why not?
I have tried getting a Visa but with no success, and it is expensive.
Baba you are not in an age to be working, how old are you?
Well I have to work, my two sons can't find work and I have a daughter and wife to look after. I don't know how old I am, maybe 50?
He really had no idea how old he was, something not uncommon for people from villages where there is no sense of time structured in dates, months and zodiac signs. He worked on a date farm for 28 years in this country and he still cannot afford to bring his family to visit, to spend money on going to visit neighboring towns in the UAE unless someone from the village comes with a letter and some news of the life he left behind him.
So why do people hitchhike in cities? There are cabs and busses?
On a friday evening, when everyone seems to leave Sharjah to go to Dubai, and the workers have their one day off, the streets are flooded with men having their "Friday night out" which consists of standing straight on a pavement or street talking to friends, or for those who can afford it, sit at a restaurant where tea costs 1 dirham watching the cricket game on a small tv. Taxis are scarce in Sharjah in the less affluent areas and you see a crowd of 20 people circling one taxi negotiating over who saw it first and what passengers were headed the same way.
A solution to this lack of transportation available is the occurrence of giving people a lift but in return asking for money. The law forbidding hitchhiking have these people in mind. But is it that simple?
Some of the cars that gave lifts in Sharjah were cars owned by people who must be in a profession that earns them a good living to afford a car like that. So why do they need the extra cash?
Costs of living have become so high in The UAE that many people have sent their families home to Pakistan or India, and those that haven't have to find ways of keeping the children in schools and paying for rent . By giving someone a lift from Sharjah to Dubai, he gets his fuel costs paid seeing as he was headed that way anyway. A way to keep the costs down.