you think there is any differnce between a woman taxi driver
and a man driving a taxi was the question put to me by one
of the city's Ethiopian women taxi drivers?
If the truth be told, I had no ready answer, except for the
obvious and that, I knew for a fact, was not what she had in
On my part, I thought I knew exactly how many Ethiopian
women taxi drivers there were in the city. But there again,
I had been away for some time, but I would have added a
couple more to what I knew, just to be on the safe side. I
thought a grand total of four would have been about right.
It so happens that there are more than 10.
I had asked in Addis Abeba if there had been any women
driving taxis there, and the answer was always: Hardly any.
If there is any reason why there might not be too many in
DC, it would probably have to do with the security aspect: a
woman is very easy prey, in this sometimes violent city.
That setback, if it exists at all in Addis Abeba, is hardly
worth thinking about.
The two Ethiopian women taxi drivers I talked to have some
things in common: both put their two grown up children
through college using the money earned from hacking. One is
the grandmother of four beautiful children; the other is
already planning for when the older of the two girls gets
married and starts a family of her own.
It was never easy for either of them, nor can it be easy
for any of the others, to be driving a taxi in the
Washington area. The days are long and tedious. Stamina is
required, and for some of the women, it is not easy lifting
the sometimes very heavy luggage into and out of their
cars. Sitting for the better part of ten hours a day in a
cab, taking what the weather might be throwing your way is
difficult. And coping with all sorts of characters on a
daily basis, taking both the good and the bad; can fray the
best of nerves.
I was told that some of the women taxi drivers are in the
process of putting themselves through college. One is
aspiring to be a nurse, and yet another is working to be a
computer engineer. None of these two disciplines is, at the
best of times, a cake walk. To have to be on the road for
most of the day and then go to school, even if it is just
for a couple of days a week, can add years and stress to
Perhaps it says something of the vagaries of the job when
it transpires that none of the women are married. They might
have partners, but not for them the rigours of a married
life. As someone pointed out to me, one challenge at a time
was enough for most of them.
It is just as well that they are driving a taxi in these
hard times. Driving a taxi is not exactly a well paying job,
especially now. But it does put bread on the table, and fill
up the fridge with food, as one of the drivers told me.
There are people, both men and women, that are now belatedly
wishing that they had started driving a taxi for a living
some time ago. In Washington DC, the authorities have made
it more difficult for people to start hacking. One of the
stumbling blocks is that a green card is required before one
can apply to be a driver. To get a green card, you must have
lived in the country for a minimum of three years.
Another stumbling block is actually passing the examination
to get the license to drive a taxi in the city itself. The
addition of cab meters in Washington is one other extra
expense that taxi owners did not wish on themselves. The
meters, costing upwards of four hundred dollars to install,
have both cut back on income for individual drivers, and
have added further hardships: they are perceived to be
slanted more towards the passenger in their gearing and
timers, rather than the drivers.
Future prospects for the ladies that are both hacking and
going to school look, in the long run, to be rosy. They
are, after all, aiming for a better paying job down the
road. They are fully insuring their future, while they are
providing for the present.
Do they have disadvantages in driving taxis in the city, I
asked one of the drivers?
It took her a while to reply. Not, she assured me, because
she was having doubts, but because, she said, there were
really none. But she added, if only her passengers would
take her more seriously. A job was a job, she said. She is
earning money that she would not otherwise be getting. Like
many of her compatriots, she does not want to be a burden to
society. She would never allow herself to be on the dole, or
queue up for food stamps (a government hand out programme
designed to help those in need.) As far as she was
concerned, she was able-bodied and capable of work.
The other woman driver said she, too, would not allow
anyone to debase the work. She wished to be seen as an
example to her countrymen, to the extent they should exert
themselves in these most difficult of times. Driving a taxi
is an honourable profession, she said, and was thankful that
she had this job to fall back on.
Being a man, I, of course, had to ask the question that had
one of my friends scratching his head: what do these fair
maidens do when, or if, they have a flat tyre?
I got a dazzling smile from both of the ladies.
They gave me the best of their damsel in distress smiles
and asked point blank: Would you not help us if you saw us
on the streets with a flat?
There was no hesitation on my part, of course; I would drop
all and be by their side in a jiffy, I replied. That, they
both acceded, is how we change a flat tyre.
I had a distinct feeling that it had been hard, but of
course, I could not prove it.