Thursday, 7 February 2013

Too Much Taxi Tension

Our current taxi driver (not Mr Noor who is still enjoying a break back in Pakistan) was telling us a few stories about customers and situations that cause taxi drivers in Riyadh a lot of tension.  Initially I thought he was going to tell us some entertaining tales, but he was quite serious about how much trouble his passengers, and KSA official types, are prepared to drop him into.

The Drug Carrying Passengers.
Apparently, taxis are sometimes used for deliveries by Saudi drug dealers (and yes, drugs is a problem in the land of Islam).  Our driver said these passengers are quite open about the product they are carrying because they know who is more likely to take the fall should trouble in the form of a drug bust or random car search take place.  Mr Drug Dealer will dump the drugs in the taxi and plead ignorance of any wrong-doing.  (Not sure whether the drug dealing passenger actually does get off scot-free given he is also in the taxi, but like drug dealers everywhere I guess they try).   Our driver said, 'These people cause him a lot of tension'.

I can see how that would be the case.

The Black Market Booze Guy.
Our driver told us about a bloke from Kenya, or thereabouts, who used to call him every three or four weeks.  When picked up he always had a bag that he would put in the boot of the taxi.  Taxi drivers tend to be wary of bags put in the boot by people who are not going to, or from, the airport because at checkpoints taxi boots are always checked.  And guess who gets the blame for any shady contents in the bags?

One night our driver asked the passenger, What's in the bag?
The passenger said, That's none of your business.
The taxi driver took it upon himself to look in the bag when the chance to do so presented itself.  (I'm in two minds if this was ballsy or really dumb!)
What did he find?
A whole stack of cash.
He asked the passenger, Why do you have all this cash?
The passenger told him (in a nutshell), I sell black market booze.
The driver dropped the passenger at his destination and told him, Don't ring me again.  I don't want your bag of money in my taxi!
As our driver said, 'This problem would cause me too much tension.  If the police found the money they would say I knew what it was.  And they would check my phone and see that this man has rung me too many times, so I must be helping him.  I would be in too much trouble'.

Yep, I could see how that could happen.

'Check the Iqama'
One night our driver had a passenger in the car when he was stopped at a checkpoint.  The officer on duty asked for Iqama's.  The driver handed over his.  The passenger did not.  Guess who got into trouble for the passenger not having their Iqama?
Why am I to blame for him not having an Iqama? he said.
You should check that your passengers have their Iqama!
But that is not my job.  I am just a taxi driver.
You shouldn't drive people who don't have an Iqama!
For two hours our driver, and the passenger, were held before being released with a repeated caution - Only take passengers who have Iqama's. (I didn't ask if the un-iqama'd passenger was put back in his car taxi, too).
'This night caused me too much tension', says our driver.

I can imagine it did.

The Royal License Plate.
Certain number combinations are considered 'special' in KSA.  It's Saudi's own version of numerology.  Our driver told us about a friend who, on a return from holiday, was given a new vehicle by the taxi company.  He went forth to find passengers and make a living.

A few weeks later his friend was pleading with the taxi company to please change his license plate.  The police kept pulling him over and holding him, sometimes for hours, because his licence plate number was 'special'.  He shouldn't have that kind of number.  A number with all those zero's should only be for royalty (his number had 000 in it).  His argument that he had no control over the number plate that came with his taxi fell on deaf ears - ears that were certain he was lying.

'Sometimes our license plates or phone numbers cause so much tension', our taxi driver said.
Ridiculous as that sounds, I believe it.

These were just a few of the things our driver was regaling to Hubster in the front seat while I, initially enthralled by the prospect of Taxi Tales, decided the negativity of these stories was upsetting my mojo, so shrank into the back seat and plugged in my iPod in an effort to block out his words.

Before being picked up by the taxi my day had been relatively happy.  By the time we reached our destination my mood had subdued somewhat.  As I told Hubster, the taxi driver managed to hand over too much of his tension!

Ka Kite,

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