“Ramadan start tomorrow, ma’am,” the smiling Pakistani taxi driver said to me, as I dropped gratefully into the backseat of his air conditioned taxi. As I slipped on the seatbelt, I thought about how to respond to his comment. Truth be told, I wasn’t quite sure why he was telling me this. Maybe just to inform me so that tomorrow, as an ignorant foreigner, I wouldn’t make the mistake of going out in public with a Subway sandwich in one hand and a bottle of juice in the next and get myself arrested?
“Yes, I heard, tomorrow is Ramadan. Do you fast?” I ask him, trying to be polite and making conversation. It seems to be that with taxi drivers here it is either hit or miss. Some are friendly and talkative, and some are sour like lime and don’t say a word. This one seemed up for the chit-chat.
“Yes yes ma’am,” he replied, glancing at me in the rearview mirror. “I am a Muslim, I fast. I live here six years now. But, sometimes fasting in Dubai no good! First time I come Dubai, it very very hot ma’am. Every day is hot. I work 14 hours every day. I fast, no food, no drink, no water all day. Every time I urine, I see toilet is blood! Blood in urine! It’s very bad!”
I try to control the facial expression that is creeping up on me — the rolling eyes and flaring of the nostrils that reads “Why do all the freaks tell me all their private business?” Yet it happens all the time, especially in taxis. I feel like every time I get in a cab, the juicy details all come pouring out. From infertile wives to genital warts to mothers dying of cancer, it’s amazing the sob stories from taxi drivers. And I’ve only been here for a month!
My friends tell me that I have a non-threatening face, which invites people — even complete strangers — to pour out their souls to me. As Nathan Lane famously said in the musical The Producers: “They come to me. They all come to me. How do they find me!” I wonder, do I really I look so sweet and innocent that people immediately feel comfortable to tell me all their secrets?
For example, one man told me quite proudly that in six years he made five babies, and asked me why, having been married for ‘a whole two years’ I had failed to produce any offspring. According to his own story, his first wife was unable to conceive. “We tried and tried and tried, sometimes two times every day we try for make baby! But maybe her whole life she can never make baby. So, I take second wife! First wife and second wife now are good friends.” Okay buddy, I’ll take your word for it! But the whole peeing blood thing today… well… there are some days I can take the talk, and some days that I really, REALLY don’t want to hear it.
Perhaps another reason why they get all chatty-chatty is because they are very curious about Western Women. If I get into a taxi with my husband, they don’t say a word. But the second I am in a taxi alone, mouth open and question jump out! The friendly and curious interrogation begins! Where are you from? West Indies! Yes of course I know West Indies! Brian Lara! Chanderpaul! But, you are not black, you are not Indian? You don’t look like West Indies, ha ha! So are you married? Do you work here? What do you do? What does your husband do? How long are you married now? How many babies do you have? What, no babies! Why don’t you have any babies? Maybe next time I see you, you have babies, eh? Inshallah!
I generally don’t take offense to any of this. All of us are expats of some sort in Dubai, 80% of the population having come from outside of the UAE. And I figure if someone far away from home feels in need of a little friendly banter, I don’t mind participating. I know how hard it is to be alone somewhere new — there were more than a few drunken nights in Tokyo when I tried chatting with a taxi driver or two, in really poor Japanese, and they happily obliged. Perhaps my time has come to do the same. Who knows… maybe one day I will figure out if this ‘friendly face’ is a blessing or a curse!