Public transportation in Qatar is nonexistent. I exaggerate. Come to think of it… no, I don’t. There are taxis, those once-in-a-blue-moon Karwa taxis, and Mowasalat buses; but they are like apparitions, or desert mirages – gone before you realise they’re there. Poof!
Before the Karwa taxis, the National taxis, or “orange” taxis, ruled the streets of Doha. Eventually they were phased out and replaced by Karwa taxis, the “blue” taxis. The drivers of the orange taxis were left with nothing but simmering anger in their chests and very hostile opinions against the blue taxis.
Enter the “Fake taxis”. Ex-orange cab drivers now roam the streets of Doha in normal cars, honking their horns at commuters lining the streets under the 42°C temps. The horn-honking means “Hello my friend, I am a fake taxi, you will need to negotiate a price as I have no meter; I may or may not agree, I may or may not argue, but at least you won’t be standing under the sun any longer.”
Not all of these Fake taxis are ex-orange cab drivers, though. Sometimes, they’re just normal employees coming home from work, looking to earn some extra cash (as if working 6 days a week from 8am to 8pm isn’t enough work to call it a day), willing to drop you off given that your destination is on their way.
I took my first fake taxi when I was running late for meeting some people in some building before going off to our fingerprinting adventure, when the damned Karwa taxi that I booked failed to show up. The driver rolled down the passenger-side window and stopped his pick-up in the middle of the street, causing the cars behind him to start up a symphony of blaring car horns.
“My friend, where you go to?” he asked, leaning against the steering wheel, oblivious to the car driver behind him, who had by then rolled down his window and started screaming what I can only imagine being hexes and curses in Arabic.
“If I give you 5 riyals, will you take me to Al Mana Tower?” Beep beeeeeep.
“Al Mana Tower is far, my friend,” he said in a very sad voice, as if he himself had begged the engineers to construct Al Mana Tower closer to where I was standing but his suggestion had been refused. “But 10 riyals, 10 riyals I take you to Al Mana.” Beep beeeeep. And curses.
This is a classic example of negotiating the price of a fake taxi.
Another time, I was standing by the side of the road for 45 minutes waiting for a taxi. When a fake taxi pulled up in front of me, I didn’t even negotiate; I just opened the door, sank into the seat, and wearily gave instructions to the driver.
As it turned out, he was an engineer from Egypt. He came to Qatar seventeen years ago and stayed. As a result, most of his sentences started with the phrase “Seventeen years ago”.
“Seventeen years ago,” he told me, “these stores were not here. There was nothing here but space. Now it is a mess. Look at the traffic we are in!”
“Well, Doha is a developing country, so of course it’s a mess, with traffic.”
“Seventeen years ago it was not like this,” he said with a sad shake of his head. “It is full of foreigners.”
“Well,” I hedged, adjusting the air conditioning and feeling quite at home in his car, “you’re a foreigner and I’m a foreigner, and we’re contributing to the traffic.”
He turned to look at me and I wondered if I had crossed the line from small talk to being a smart-ass, but instead of getting angry he started to laugh. “You are a witty, aren’t you?” he said, making a gun sign with his hand and holding it to his temple, which bothered me a whole lot. “Now, let me tell you about the prices of rent here in Qatar.” He cleared his throat. “Seventeen years ago…”
When I got to my building I pulled out a 10 riyal note, but he put his hand over his heart and said, “For the love of God I will not take your money.” I insisted, but he kept on repeating that he refused my payment “for the love of God”.
Another time, desperate to get to work on time, I hailed the dirtiest fake taxi in Doha. There were crumpled pieces of paper on the floor, an empty power drink can, bolts and screws, and more unrecognizable crap.
The taxi driver was from Syria. “You are Filipina? Kumusta ka,” he said, smiling, damn proud of himself for remembering a Filipino phrase. He started talking about how he used to have a Filipina girlfriend. “This is why I can speak Filipino,” he informed me, deluded into thinking that the whole Filipino language consisted of 2 words. “But… she, she left me. Five months ago, she say goodbye, she go back to the Philippines. Bye bye, like that.”
“Oh, yes?” I said politely.
“Yes. I don’t know. She say things too complicated with me, with life.” It’s probably your dirty car, I admonished him, silently, of course.
When we arrived at the office, though, he pulled out a back issue of a Filipino gossip magazine, still wrapped in plastic cover. “This is for you,” he said grandly. “A magazine from your country. You must be homesick. A gift! From your friend Ahmed.” (I think his name was Ahmed, but I can’t be sure)
I tried to refuse because I hated this kind of magazine, but he insisted, and finally, I took the offered magazine and thanked him.
My foot was a bit itchy the whole day. I suspect that I was bitten by a mosquito in his car. But he was a really nice guy. Thanks, Ahmed!
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