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The international brotherhood of taxi drivers

March 6, 2010

I met Aisha Algaiar, my Facebook friend, traveling companion and now actual friend and writing partner when she recognised me in the departure lounge in Kuwait Airport. We sat together on the flight to Alexandria, listening to a crackling recording of Um Kalthoum, Egypt’s legendery singer, through the airplane headsets; me nodding off at intervals and Aisha offering chocolates.

Our flight was scheduled to land at 1 a.m., and Aisha wondered aloud if a U.N. driver would meet us at the airport. I said I doubted it, as I hadn’t received notification, and a shocked look came over her face.

“They must send!” she said emphatically. “We are lady.”

Iwondered for a second if she might be a Gulf Princess, unaccustomed to making her own arrangements — but I need not have worried. By the time I had procured my Egyptian visa (5 minutes and $15) and hauled my suitcase off the conveyor belt, Aisha — who is Egyptian — had ascertained that we were not being met and lined up a taxi and two porters.

Before getting into the cab, she was careful to negotiate the fare. I later learned this was a delicate process in which the driver weighed both her status as a native Egyptian (local rate) and the undisputable knowledge that she was visiting from the Gulf (plus 15 pounds). As the taxi zipped through the palm-lined streets of the Mediterranean port, the driver pointed out local landmarks and discussed the news of the day.

“Taxi drivers know everything,” Aisha said, turning to me. “If you want really to see a city, get a taxi.”

“It’s true,” I agreed — and started thinking about the international brotherhood of taxi drivers.

Despite their numerous differences, taxi drivers around the world share certain characteristics: a wealth of local knowledge, a canny business sense and — perhaps most notable for journalists — a keen interest in the news.

Many hours before I met up with Aisha, a Sierra Leonian drove me to Dulles International Airport. The news was on in the cab, in French, and after some minutes the driver politely asked if I would prefer to listen to music instead. Likewise, returning from Egypt, I rode into Washington, D.C., with the latest news from Le Maison Blanche emenating from the radio.

In Jerusalem, where I grew up, residents joke that is the only city in the world where taxi drivers turn up the volume when the news comes on the radio. Which is funny, but not true. Cabbies in London do it too. And Washington. And the list goes on.

It seems that taxi drivers around the world are among the most avid consumers of news. Because of this, perhaps they are better equipped to serve in government than some of the people that do. In any case, it is certainly worth striking up a conversation with a cab driver if you want to gain some insight into local or international politics.

Just be sure to keep an eye on the meter.

One Comment leave one →
  1. alia al-rabeo permalink
    March 7, 2010 8:14 am

    it is so nice story Lucy .

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