My job has me criss-crossing the UAE to cover cultural events, and so I spend my fair share of time in Abu Dhabi cabs, and have now built a cool little network of drivers that I use for various trips.
There is the elderly Abdul Hakim, a doting Pashtun who refuses to make a midnight pit stop at a roadside restaurant because it’s bad for my health. He is great for his many anecdotes of old Abu Dhabi. Then there is Paul from Uganda, a towering figure of serenity who rarely shows his disgust at people’s driving. His cool head and uncompromising fidelity to traffic laws make him the perfect person to drive my family around the city when they’re visiting.
And sometimes, after a long day of interviews, and when all I want is silence, I call Ulaudin, who over the four months I have been his passenger has uttered only a handful of words. That’s how he likes it – chit-chatting is not for him. He has great knowledge of UAE roads, and only asks his customer “location?” before muttering a “thanks” or “OK” at the end of the trip.
En route he is silent, his eyes staring intently at the road, with no music or conversation to distract him. But I am curious by nature, and so I just couldn’t avoid mentioning the black military-style gloves, with fingers exposed, that Ulaudin wears on the job.
He sighed on my third attempt at inquiry, only to reveal a surprisingly chirpy voice: “This is for my arms,” he explained.
“A lot of Abu Dhabi taxi drivers wear this because it doesn’t make the arms painful after driving too much.”
He then took one of the gloves and handed it to me. Indeed, this was no Michael Jackson fashion tribute. The inside of the palm was thick with blue rubber ridges that allowed Ulaudin to keep his hand in control of the steering wheel without too much exertion or grip.
“Before, after driving 12 hours a day, I would go back home and my shoulders would hurt and I would use medicine – these pills from India.” The gloves, he told me, cost him Dh15 from a supermarket. “Now I don’t need the pills. This makes driving easier.”
I suggested that he should also turn on the radio while driving to ease some of the mental strain, perhaps. He shook his head and said he wasn’t made that way. “Fifteen years ago I was in the Bangladeshi army and the training was very good. Everything was discipline. I was a bus driver and nearly every day I was taking the soldiers from the barracks in Dhaka right to Chittagong, which was five hours each way,” he proudly explains.
“We had to be very careful about security. So the whole time I would just keep my eye on the road and focus. Same in Abu Dhabi: when I drive, I don’t think about my family or anyone, just the road.”
Ulaudin then let out a small gasp when we both realised he had missed the exit to my Reem Island home.
“You see?” he said, shaking his head. “Too much talking.”