Straight roads do not make skilfull drivers. Paul Coelho
Raj Kumar has helped me around the city countless times: ‘I need to go to the blood bank, Raj. Do you know where it is?’ ‘Yes, sure, ma’am.’ Next time: ‘I get released from Khalifa police station around 10 pm, can you come pick me up?’ He is surprised. ‘Again, ma’am?’ Or I call him, ’I have to be at Dubai Airport at 2 in the morning, can you please take me?’ And all he ever replies is, ‘No problem, ma’am!’ He is the person in Abu Dhabi who has been my longest helper. The first time he ever drove me and my daughter was to buy some special beverages for the girl’s 18th birthday party, which – if you don’t have a personal license for those – is a major public offense. The second time he stopped for me in town somewhere, I just don’t remember where (nor do I remember the ride), but he did. The third time I jumped into his taxi, he recognized me and instantly reminded me of the first time I used his service, although I had asked him to forget our faces! Anyway, what else was there to do but to team up with him? Let me tell you a little more about him.
Born 1986 in Parbat, a small town 262 km or about 6 hours east of Nepal’s capital
Kathmandu, Raj Kumar finished secondary high school at the age of 18. Because his father died when he was only seven years old and because it was decided that he wasn’t going to attend university like his older brother, his life took a significant U-turn: from then on it was his duty to be the family’s sole breadwinner. Since jobs were scarce in Nepal but his family barely coping , he left his country and worked abroad in Qatar as young as 21 years old. In Doha, Qatar’s capital city, he took a post as caretaker for a local family and kept house and garden clean. He was also their driver. His migration and his efforts to help his family was fruitful, but not solely satisfying; the job was very demanding and the salary low. Yet, despite all hardship he became fluent in speaking and reading Arabic. When things get too hard to bear though, he hit the road again, left the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and returned home to Nepal after five years.
What was his motivation to come to Abu Dhabi?
Raj Kumar has a grandmother, a mother, a brother (who is married and has two sons), a sister and his own family to take care of. “When my family is happy, I am happy’, he says. He has been a taxi driver in Abu Dhabi for 2 ½ years now and has so far been able to send some money home every month. And after the devastating earthquake in April 2015, the family needs the money more than ever.
The wish for a better future for all of them – especially his daughter – is the fuel in his tank. Being so far away from his family in daring times is not easy. But it is worth it, he says. The people in Abu Dhabi are also nice, he says, which helps. But I know that he just sweet-talks. Knowing how the people sometimes are here, I am sure there must be unfriendly and complaining customers. The Nepali expat has mentioned once that they do try to cheat every now or then. ‘One of them even tried to hit me’, he laughs at an incident that must have not been too funny.
Description of a normal workday
The working hours of a taxi driver are primarily ruled by the target that has to be hit monthly, therefore, long long days in the car are normal for Raj Kumar. ‘Friday is a good day for me’, he grins broadly and almost turns his head all the way around to me. For more than a year, he took me out to Mohammed bin Zayed City on Friday mornings, when I gave English lessons in one of the labor camps. This earned him 110 Dhs in 2 hours which apparently that was ‘easy money’ for him. About 50 to 60 people get into his car daily – he usually starts hitting the roads at 6:15 am. ‘The hours 7-9 am are good, when everybody is going to office’, he explains. Later, in the afternoon, another rush of costumers commuting home sets in from 2:30 until 5 pm and keeps him pretty busy. Later in the day, business slows down, significantly. In order to make the monthly target, Raj Kumar works 12 to 14 hours, 7 days a week. ‘If I don’t make the target, my salary goes down’. Making about 3600 Dhs each month doesn’t sound like much – compared to western standards. However, it is more than the young father would earn in Nepal. I am not sure if I want to know just what this salary is in Euros, it does not sound like much. But Raj Kumar is and can be proud of that much money, and so am I, especially considering that this man is happy and content – he really likes his job! The only complaints he makes are not about long working hours or customers, but about some of the many taxi rules and regulations. On the other hand, being able to work without a manager or supervisor on his back around the clock, he enjoys a high amount of flexibility as to where he works in town or how long and when to have breaks.
How many times a year and on what occasions do go back to your country and to see your family?
Usually, workers get a free trip home by plane every other year. That’s the case with Raj Kumar, too. He gets a 45-day-vacation every 18 months. That’s when he goes home to for the rice harvest or to see his family. The rest of the year – yes, you guessed right – he sits in his car and chases customers.
Do you get homesick and, if you do, how do you cope with it?
‘Yes, why not?’ was his response to this question. ‘I miss my family, I miss my place, I miss my friends. Of course I get homesick.’ This is something that I have heard from almost all the people I have asked here – they all miss their home-countries. Not that this is anything to think of as good or bad – most people here are true patriots. The ties to most people’s homelands are stronger than any German can grasp, I guess. As for a remedy, Raj Kumar has found it relieving to use all sorts of short message services (he has two mobile phones ready to use at any given time). He talks to his folks daily, thanks to digital communication. Apparently, all of his family use facebook frequently to distribute pictures of daily life. That’s mainly how he is updated about his 5-months –old daughter Agrata’s development. Whenever his homesickness appears as a stop-sign in his mood, he gets into the car and finds a quiet place to sit in order to make a phone call home. But since his workmates eventually have the same problem, they do open up to each other and talk about problems, especially when the feelings are at their worst. The German guys’ way to ‘shrink’ each other’s painful feelings: getting together with the bros, watching soccer on a huge screen, drinking lots of beer and insulting each other, blissfully. No judgement here, what ever works, works! But it is good to hear that some members of the world’s male society engage in more civilized stress-managing strategies, too.
What has your work experience here in Abu Dhabi taught you about life in general? What have you gained from being in the UAE personally?
Working in a rich country and being surrounded by people who are (or think they are) rich, this Nepali ‘cabby’ does not feel poor, although he may not be in the same salary range as most of the expats and locals he is selling rides to. ‘God gave me two hands, two arms, two legs, two eyes and good health. I can therefore always help myself’, so his grateful accounting. He laughs at me. In the UAE, he also learns to communicate in English, the third foreign language that he masters up to fluency. He finds the UAE to be rich in natural resources that are managed well by the government, something that he thinks is not done so well in
Nepal. There is also an obvious gap between two parties in the country of the great Himalayan mountains, according to his report: one part of the society is rich, the other one is rather poor, comparatively. But people are the same nonetheless, no matter where in the world, he is certain. There are good people and, well … others. Of all the people who come into his taxi, ‘Three costumers are good, the fourth not so much’, he analyzes his social studies and laughs.
The best thing that he did for me was to find three ladies’ labor camps for me when in March 2014 I started my weekly English lessons. Because he was with his family when the earthquake hit the country in 2015 and I couldn’t get a hold of him, I worried about his well-being at that time. Mainly he and all other Nepalese people whom I’ve met here are the reason for a charity campaign I started with my students. Without Raj Kumar’s readiness to help, the absence of an innate navigation system and the resulting inability to find my way around here would have simply overwhelmed me. I am very grateful for all his patience and help!