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: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. 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.

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