Health care professional turned taxi driver – the life of so many Yemenis

by WomanfromYemen at here.

On the taxi ride back home tonight, I had an interesting conversation with Mohammed, the taxi driver from Taiz. Mohammed, has a masters degree in biology, with extensive courses in public health. In the 1995 he opened a small business, but never forgot about his passion for health care. Two years later, he befriended a well-known businessmen who agreed to help him open a free clinic in his neighborhood. He hired two doctors, and gave whatever he earned from his business to keep the clinic going.

A couple of years down the line, his small business began suffering. Added to that, increase in prices, meant he needed to work harder to sustain his family’s livelihood. With no grant to sustain the health clinic and no connections to government, he ran out of money and was unable to keep the health clinic operational.

Neighborhood families were saddened by the closure of this clinic. He tried to find a more stable job to be able to support the clinic as well, but here everything needs connections. If you want a good job you need to know someone, or you need to pay some Yemeni riyals to someone who will know someone who will know someone who can drop off that paper to the director requesting a job. In addition, many of the health care institutions he applied to recruited people not based on qualifications but based on family and tribal affiliations.

On the way home, this bright man had three great ideas to improve the health care system in Yemen. However, like he said, “who will listen? The best I can do is give advice to my customers, share ideas, and hope that one day someone will implement them.” Mohammed should have been an advisor to the health ministry not a taxi driver.

The sad reality is that given the unemployment rate of 35% Mohammed is lucky to be driving this taxi. What is missing from the unemployment rate is the serious underemployment that many professional Yemenis suffer from. The employment of workers with high skill levels in low-wage jobs that do not require skills and abilities that they studied for years is a common occurrence in Yemen. Mohammed, the trained health care professional working as a taxi driver is just one example.

Unfortunately, Mohammed is not alone. This is one of the many reasons people are demanding the ouster of the regime. Yemenis want an end to corruption, a decent dignified life, and an end to family and tribal rule.

Famous people who are ex-drivers

Came across an interesting short article:

Philip Glass, the world’s greatest living classical composer, drove a cab for five years. He graduated from Juilliard, a school even more selective than Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, or Yale.

Douglas Prasher, co-discoverer of the green fluorescent protein, drives a shuttle bus after failing to find a job in science. All three Nobel prize winners in Chemistry last year thanked him in their acceptance speeches. One of them went to the extent of saying that the prize could equally well have gone to Prasher.

In Japan, people with Stanford Ph.D. become Prime Ministers. In Singapore, they become taxi drivers.

The only disability in life is a bad attitude. ~Scott Hamilton

I accepted a call booking for a taxi near Yio Chu Kang area. Upon my arrival, I saw a man in his early forties, standing beside my taxi with the aid of a pair of crutches. I immediately got out of the taxi to help the man, who seemed to be having some mobility impairment. The Chinese man, who looked plump, politely refused my help, and before I knew it, he had already boarded my taxi.

In the taxi, I chatted with this guy and realised that he was a part-time lecturer and was on his way to the town area to conduct his lectures. He showed me his left leg, which was amputated above the knee and fitted with a prosthetic leg. He was infected with flesh-eating bacteria in a toilet when his foot with a small wound came into contact with some sewage water. Initially he fell sick with a fever and pain, after which he consulted a doctor, who prescribed some painkillers for him. Unfortunately his condition deteriorated so fast that he fell into a coma while he was sent to the hospital. Unfortunately, the doctors have to amputate his left leg to save his life.

What I find remarkable about this man is the positive attitude displayed when I was talking to this man, he somehow manages to keep smiling in the face of adversity. I can’t find a tinge of self-pity or sadness in him. He showed full of enthusiasm talking about his work, his students and his blessings towards life.

To quote what Hubert Humphrey have said: Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts.  It’s what you do with what you have left.

A Strange Encounter

My taxi was caught in a traffic jam along Ang Mo Kio Ave 6 near Yio Chu Kang MRT and it was a kind of crawl stop crawl type of slow-moving traffic. As the surrounding areas did not have a pedestrian in sight, I was surprised to see a well dressed Malay man in his fifties walked towards my taxi, the man was dressed in Baju Melayu and a songkok headgear politely asked my permission before he boarded my taxi.

The Malay man told me he wanted to go to the mosque and said to me “Go straight ahead and the mosque is on the right”. I asked him if the mosque is just nearby and he nodded with a “Yes”. I started to talk to him and realized that he have just alighted from the taxi about 2 cars in front of me . I think he vaguely meant that the taxi driver have asked him to alight midway from his destination and he have paid the fare. He started to complain to me about that taxi driver who dropped him halfway just now, and mumbled words like he got friends at LTA, and they can help him to deal with that bad taxi driver. I was wondering why the last taxi driver who took him in refused to just drive that bit more distance away from his destination.

After driving for 5 minutes straight ahead and past several traffic lights, I still could not see any mosque on my right. The Malay man always told me the same thing: “Go straight and the mosque is on the right side”. I began to feel uneasy and decided to ask him where is he going and what is the name of the Mosque. To my dismay, he said he wanted to go to Mosque called Masjid Darul Ghufran at Tampines Ave 7. To be on the safe side, I checked the Street Directory for this Mosque and it was in Tampines Ave 5.

I told the Malay man that the Mosque is at Tampines Ave 5 and it is on the East side, quite far away from here, and I will reach the city if I keep going straight. I began to get nervous and suspicious of this Malay man, is he mentally ill? Maybe, I thought to myself as I now realized why the last taxi driver asked him to alight. I stopped my taxi by the side of the road, and before I could say anything, the Malay man took out his wallet and looked ready to pay me the fare, expecting me to ask him to take another taxi. I hesitated for a while and decided to ask him twice if he really wanted me to fetch him to that Mosque at Tampines and his answers are affirmative. The Malay man keep saying: “It’s Tampines Ave 5 and go straight, the Mosque is on the right” and he is late for his appointment.

I took a gamble to fetch this customer as I thought that this well dressed man may just be mentally unstable at the moment. I just kept silence throughout the journey and finally managed to bring him to the Mosque, indeed it was on the right side of the road, but not a straight road throughout the journey.

Fighting over a Taxi

It was a Saturday night and I was slowly cruising along East Coast Park Service Road after dropping off some passengers. As the area was dark, I happened to see a man standing by the side of the road waving frantically at my taxi. There seemed to be a couple standing about 10 metres behind the man along the road but I was not sure whether they have flagged my taxi before I saw them.

My first instinct was to stop my taxi to pick up the man in the darkness of the night, as he was the one nearest to me. An Indian man dressed smartly wearing a neatly pressed shirt boarded my taxi. Before I could ask the man where he is going, I saw the Chinese couple running towards my taxi and then the man, in his twenties, opened the rear passenger door and asked the Indian man to get out, shouting furiously and looking aggressive. The Chinese man then turned to me and said: “I’ve been waiting for more than half an hour looking for a taxi and this man just walked from nowhere to the front of us and boarded your taxi”.

The Indian man kept silence and refused to accede, despite the Chinese man repeatedly asked him to get out of the taxi. The situation seemed tricky and could easily get out of control if I remained silent. I politely asked the Indian man to accede to the couple’s demand as the rule of thumb in such a situation is that the taxi driver to pick up the passengers further away from him than the nearest one.

The Indian man refused to accede and said that he is not going to get out of the taxi whatsoever. Upon my quick thinking, I decided to ask where are they going.  The Indian man wanted to go to Telok Blangah Crescent and the couple to Kampong Arang road. I suggested that they all board my taxi and go to Kampong Arang Road first since it is just a 10 minutes journey and that they split the fare.

The Chinese man with a sullen face, just board  the taxi with the woman upon hearing my suggestion, and he sit in the middle of the rear passenger seats, with the woman on his right and the Indian man on his left. While in the taxi. I try to defuse the tense situation by chatting them up and saying that what happened was just a small matter, no need to get angry over such an incident. It seemed that the aggrieved parties still refused to talk to each other throughout the journey, but then it may be a good thing that the situation did not get worse. I think I have done the right thing.


It happened on my 5th day of driving a taxi. I picked up 2 passengers just outside People’s Park Centre. One was a Chinese male, skinny and thin, in his fifties and  the other was a Malay man in his twenties. The destination they are going is at Bukit Panjang. Once on board, I started to chit-chat with the Chinese man. I said something like as I am new driving a taxi, if customers like you who do not know how to guide me to the destination, especially for places like Sengkang and Punggol, I may just be taking the longer route and the fare will be much more expensive.

The Chinese man seemed to be agitated and angry with what I have just said to him and shouted at me: “You mean I have no money to pay you? How high can the fare be if you will to drive around the whole island? Now I have $200 to spare and demand you to drive to Changi airport and then to Tuas and then to and fro again”. I was taken aback by what he said and thinking that silence is golden, decided to keep quiet and continue driving them to Bukit Panjang. The Chinese man pulled out a mobile phone and called his mum to get ready $200 for him.

After some time, the man started to yell at me again: “I ask you to go to Changi airport, you go now! GO! GO!”. I just ignored him and after some thoughts, I said to the man: “Sir, I’m sorry that if what I’ve said have offended you and hurt you, please accept my sincere apology, I’m really sorry”. The Chinese man still seemed angry and agitated and refused my apology. The man beside him was instigating him all along the journey.

After some time, the man used his mobile phone to call the police, which he have threatened to do so a few times throughout the journey. He called the police and said: “I wanted to make a police report. This taxi driver have insulted me. He is very aggressive and wanted to beat me up………..”. At this point in time, I have decided that enough is enough, and said to the Chinese man: “OK, you want to play with me? Alright, I will entertain you. I will bring you to the nearest police post at Bukit Panjang”. I was swearing inside my heart, this man and his companion must be troublemakers, and they must have had very bad encounters last times with taxi drivers.

Upon reaching the police station, the Chinese man rushed in to meet the officers and started to make a police report, as though someone have attacked him. His face was still an angry one, and glancing back a few times to look at me. I was brought to another corner by the officers and related my side of the story to them. Luckily I was reassured by the officers that there’s no criminal case involved and it won’t be much of an issue. The Officers asked me if I would like to claim the $15 fare pending from the passengers, I said just forget it and write it off. I was then upset about the incident and wanted  to quit driving the taxi altogether.

Once bitten, twice shy. If I ever to meet such a petty person and refuse an apology from me, I would just stop the taxi and said “Sir, please take another taxi, thank you”.