Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Taxi Driver

I spent this morning with my favorite taxi driver, Franci, driving around my extended neighborhood on a photography quest. I was looking for Mosques to photograph. Many are unusual and colorful and provide great architectural fodder for my camera. Franci would pull up near the Mosque; and I would hop out. Then, he would find somewhere to park. He got out and walked around while I was shooting. At several of the Mosques, he walked around to stake out a good vantage point for me and directed me to spots to get a good shot. He doesn’t have a bad eye! That is exactly why I LOVE Franci and call on him almost daily to run me around Abu Dhabi.

My housekeeper Shirley and I met Franci one night while we were downtown material shopping in the textile district. We had a bad experience with a taxi driver and got out of the car in order to catch another one. Well, Franci is the next cab to pick us up. What a wonderful day in the neighborhood!!!!

Franci happens to be Sri Lankan like Shirley so they immediately began to chatter in Singhelese (one of the Sri Lankan dialects). Shirley happily informed me that Franci was from the same neighborhood as she back in Sri Lanka in the city of Colombo and they actually knew some of the same people. What a small, small world.

Since that day, we have become fast friends with Franci as he happily transports Shirley, John, and me all over Abu Dhabi. He takes me to the gym almost every day. I just call him in the morning and tell him what time I need a taxi and he miraculously arrives when I need him (most of the time). Sometimes he picks me up two or three times a day as I am running errands. He often waits in the car for me as I shop or run inside the tailor, or run in Carrefour. He will lay his seat back and take a quick catnap while I shop.

Franci’s story is the same as many of the taxi drivers in the city. He was contracted by the taxi company to work in Abu Dhabi because he cannot find work in his country. He is a highly intelligent man with a good education from a respectable Sri Lankan family who just needs a job to support his wife and children. He has two little girls, 6 and 1, and a lovely wife who he describes as a “charming Singhelese girl.” “She is a good girl,” he tells me proudly. He has brought us photos of his little girls and happily shares them with us as he wipes a tear from his eye. He misses them very much and often gets a little choked up when he talks about them. His little six year old is a beautiful little doll all dressed up in her sari along with her little girlfriends. Just yesterday Franci told me that he did not work the day before at all. “Why?” I asked. “Were you sick? “No, Madam,” he responded. Wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, he said “I am remembering my wife and little girls. I am sad. I just could not work yesterday.”

Franci works about fifteen hours a day seven days a week to earn a 25% commission on all his fares. The taxi company does not pay them a base salary. If he does not meet his quota of 200 dirhams a day, then he is fined. If he gets in a wreck and the accident is his fault, he is fined. Franci recently at fault in an accident and was fined 1,800 dirhams by the taxi company and had to pay a traffic fine as well which brought his total expense to 3,200 dirhams. He is now having 500 dirhams taken out of his pay each month until it is paid off. He told me that the contractor in Sri Lanka told him accommodations were provided (many of the contracted jobs provide dormitory-style housing in Abu Dhabi) but upon arrival he discovered differently. He is living in a small two bedroom flat in the city with 10 other people. This is quite common for the workers to live communally. “It is difficult,” he told me stiffly. Yesterday he told me he was having trouble meeting his quota the last two days as “there are too many taxis right now.” He has been a little down.

So to make life a little easier on Franci, Shirley and I often pack him a sack lunch or dinner and hand it over the seat to him when we get in the car. If he takes me to the grocery, I’ll sometimes buy him some samosas and cheese bread (Indian food) and some fruit. Any time we bake a cake or something, we give him part of it. He is so appreciative and seems to enjoy the special treatment. Shirley even went shopping for him the other day. He needed a small overnight bag and did not have time off to go shopping. He really needed to work. So, off to the Emirates General Market went Shirley to find Franci a bag for 20 dirhams (she was very proud of the fact that it was only 20 dirhams). Franci needed a bag to send home to his children. Two of his friends left a couple of days ago going back to Sri Lanka. His baby’s birthday is in May and he wanted to send the baby some gifts. His friends were going to carry the bag full of gifts to his wife. I took some photos of him in his uniform and by his car and printed them on my printer. Shirley took those and was going to meet his wife and give them to him. He was so proud of the photos.

Early one morning Shirley got a call from Franci saying “Shirley, run outside. Two men are fighting in the street in front of your house. Hurry.” Of course, Shirley dashed to the door and ran out on the patio looking around. The phone rang again. “April Fool’s,” laughed Franci. So…Franci has become our friend.

I got a text message from him about a month ago letting me know he would be on time to pick me up. It said “I’ll be there at 5:00 my Madam.” He called me “his madam.” I was touched.

People come and go in our lives and we really don’t think much about it---most of the time we don’t even notice until they are not there. In his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote about the importance of people in our lives----like your barber, the newspaper boy, the doorman----people who have an impact on you and cross your path almost daily. They do important things for you, however small. He wrote about how we take it for granted and really never thank them for being a part of your life and going about the mundaneness of your life with you. For instance, I used the same hairdresser for ten years. He made me beautiful for 10 years of my life. I love him for it. I will never forget him for it, even though I had to move on to someone else because I moved. I still check in on him now and again to make sure he is doing okay. He’ll never know how important a role he played in my life. He watched my kids grow up; he gave Katie her first perm; he shared his love of wood working; he shared is adoration for his lovely wife. He shared his grief when she died suddenly.

I think I will tell Franci thank you for making my life easier. It really does mean a lot to have good, safe transportation.


  1. Well, that is amazing to read this actually i was searching how is taxi driver life in Abu Dhabi in Dubai because i am going to join one of taxi company , However i am educated MBA and also expert website designer, the reason for selecting this job is to meet new people understand their stories and make new amazing friend like your example is awesome, hope i will also get passengers like you one day ! thanks for sharing your whole experience it is really awesome and emotional. thanks again.

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