Saturday, June 14, 2008

Portrait #18: Taxi Drivers in the Emirates

I have been off this week at a friend's wedding, and it's been a great holiday! On many many levels. But I did not take that much time to observe new people I was meeting so it's been a few days since my last portrait. So I now present you with a little snippet from my time in Abu Dhabi: its taxi drivers! Here are a few of the men who at one point or another toted my friends and me around town:

- The hotel we had booked was newly opened and therefore not well-known. So when we arrived in the neighbourhood of the hotel at 4:45 in the morning, our driver couldn't find our hotel. We repeated the name, but he didn't know it. So he drove around the block. Then he picked up his phone and called someone and talked in Hindi. He handed me the phone and said to say the name of the hotel, which I did. Then he took the phone back and chattered away. Upon hanging up, he was still lost. We suggested he ask someone, but he kept driving. Then we suggested stopping to get the phone number out of the boot of the car, but he kept driving and asking us where it was. Driving and muttering and asking. (Eventually we found it by stopping and calling the hotel... after perhaps the third lap through the neighbourhood.)

- The next morning we had to get to a mall across town. Our driver was great, but we got a little concerned partway through the ride when we learned that he is a hyper-conservative Pashtun from Pakistan. But he's lived in Abu Dhabi for 15 years, and spoke good Arabic. He wanted to know everything about us.

- To get back to our room to change for the wedding, we found a cab easily enough. We got in and I asked the driver to go to "near Abu Dhabi mall". When we approached the mall, which was to our left, I told him to turn right. He nodded and got in the left turn lane. So I repeated, "No, right!" In response, he drove through the first light then got into the left turn lane at the next light. This time I tried hand gestures. I reached into the front seat and pointed with my whole arm to the right, and shouted, "NO! Right!!" He inched forward to turn left. So I screamed, "NO! We're not going to the mall!!!" And finally he said, "But the mall's to the left." By then we'd missed our turn, but I was able to convince him to turn RIGHT at the next light and had him drop us off as soon as we were close enough to walk.

- Going to the wedding, we had another driver who wasn't the brightest with directions. We said, "St. Joseph's Cathedral" and got a blank stare. Then I said, "Kanisa", which is 'church' in Arabic. He brightened and said, oh, I know where the church is! It is the Emirates, I thought, so perhaps there really is only one church. But to confirm, I said it was on the Airport Road, and he nodded. We had to stop to pick up a friend on the way, which again was a grueling affair. He went straight, and I said pull over, and he kept going, but at least he responded when I shouted, "STOP!" With our friend happily collected, we headed off. Eventually we got to the neighbourhood and he asked us where to go. We had no idea; we'd been in the country well less than 48 hours. But my friend saw a street sign that looked promising, so we decided to turn. Sure enough there was a church, but it wasn't St. Joe's! We drove around a bit, then stopped at the church to ask directions to the other church. That worked, and fortunately we were pretty close. Once we got to the final turn, we needed to go left but were only allowed to go right. So what did the driver do? Stopped and call his friend, and had a chat in... uhhh, I think it was Urdu. Then handed me the phone and told me to say the name of the church into the phone and hand it back to him. Deja vu. We felt like we were very close and very late and wished he would just quickly find a way to go left. Finally he hung out and what did he do? TURN AROUND! So we told him to stop and let us off, which proved a wise decision as we soon discovered it was just around the corner all along.

- To get back to the airport, I was told I could catch a bus from a special airport terminal station that's walking distance from the hotel. I set out at the crack of dawn to catch the 6 a.m. bus. When I got to the station, the guard told me there's no bus anymore - they cancelled it for lack of customers. I asked him how to get to the airport, and he said there's another bus station a ways away but from there it's 45 minutes, which would make me potentially late for my flight. I asked if there was no other way, expecting him to point me to a taxi. Instead, he stood up, walked to the SUV parked in front of the building and told me to get in. Another guy got in the front and off we went. This guard was actually Emirati but his mother is Indian and he was speaking Tamil, I think, with his pal. He drove me all the way to the airport, then turned around and returned to town.

1 comment:

tony said...

Never fails. Taxi Drivers in NY are oddly familiar to the ones you've encountered. Anyways fill me in on what you've been doing? Well and gainfully employed I hope?

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