Hail the taxi driver with heart
In Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, there are about five million residents and countless yellow and blue taxis. My beloved and I prefer the blue. Shiny yellow ones are fine, but the blue are old, Russian models driven by youngish, striving and interesting men. So, finding ourselves bumped off a flight, stranded and burdened by luggage at Bole International Airport earlier this year, we automatically boarded a blue taxi-van as we headed for the airline’s ticket office, about a 15-minute drive away.
Normally, we would have engaged in small talk with the driver, commenting on cab decorations that might boldly include cut-outs of heroes such as king Haile Selassie, popularly believed to have been murdered, or the Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara. We would at least have extricated names and personal histories.
On that day, however, we left our brave driver to negotiate potholes and predatory police while we rummaged through our big black camera bag for the Ethiopian money we’d stashed under layers of other treasures: documents, family photos, Australian cash and jewellery removed during the daunting airport security passages. We paid the ridiculously cheap fare, thanking No Name Driver for hauling out our bigger suitcases while we poured ourselves from his vehicle and then up five flights of stairs to the airline office, as the lifts weren’t working.
Thirty minutes later, we were parting with many extra Australian dollars for our next attempt at returning home, though not in time for a scheduled wedding reception. We decided to fly with an African airline next time.
Then, a shoulder-tap. Our blue-taxi driver was standing there, toting our big black bag. “This is yours,” he said.
“You came all the way back to return this to us? We forgot all about it! Do you know what’s in it?” I asked. “No. I don’t need to know.” “At least let us give you something for your petrol and lost fares?” “I don’t want anything; this is yours.” He left and so did we, and back downstairs we watched his blue taxi turn. The Amharic letters emblazoned down one side read: “Mother Mary guides me”.
Back home, finally, we watched as an Ethiopian, or perhaps Eritrean, taxi driver at the airport rank shrugged off racist remarks from a charming member of the public. Send your 400-word contribution, with full postal address, to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists will receive a pair of books from the Lonely Planet Food: From the Source series (France and Mexico), with favourite regional recipes from local bistros, bakeries and haute-cuisine restaurants ($34.99 each). More: lonelyplanet.com.