Big Mellow Taxi

Her name was Farzaneh* and she popped up on my phone screen, pink hijab and rating of 4.7.

It was the first time I’d ever been assigned a female Uber driver, let alone a Muslim. Thinking on it, I’ve probably only been driven by a woman taxi driver a dozen times in my life.

It’s a hard, often thankless job. Most men wouldn’t choose it as a career.

So Farzaneh arrives on time in the biting Vienna cold, we exchange brief greetings, and I settle in for the short journey.

But my curiosity gets the better of me.

In my appalling German I manage to communicate that I am pleasantly surprised to get a woman driver.

Farzaneh smiles as we cross the Donaukanal and says something that I take to mean “yes, it’s pretty unusual.”

I apologise for my lousy German and she laughs. “Ich auch. Wir können Englisch sprechen”.

Super, we can speak English.

We recross the canal at Aspernbruke and into the traffic on the flamboyant Inner Ring road, which traces the former walls of the city, originally built to keep out Muslim invaders.

In perfect, accent-less English Farzanah tells me she’s a double refugee, having left Afghanistan for Pakistan when she was eight years old.

Being a woman taxi driver is tough, she agrees, but people are generally nice to her, and find her a novelty. “But there are some people who are… well… you know.”

I do.

I don’t understand it, but I know.

She’s made to feel guilty for taking a job from a man, from a local.

If they knew she is a single mum, would that shut them up?

That she has a daughter with special needs?

It’s journey’s end. I quickly blurt out that I work for IOM, that we collect stories of strong people like her, to inspire others, to bring a face to the hard-working migrants among us. I give her my business card and ask her if she’ll consider letting me interview her.

She’ll think about it.

“I worked with migrants and refugees as a volunteer”, she says.

“I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to meet people who were worse off than me.”

She drives off.

The sun breaks through the clouds. The day seems much brighter now.

*Name changed