Yesterday I took a cab-ride out of my previous life. From the tourist district Thamel to my place in Bagdol, about 15 minutes away, but not before the driver delivered Anoek at her place in Leinchaur. Beforehand we haggled the price down to 250 rupies (100 rupies ≈ 1 euro). After the Anoek-drop-off, I got into somewhat of a surreal conversation.
For a while now I’ve been wondering about how much cab-drivers earn around here. I’ve always been hesitant to ask though, because I knew I would be embarrassed by the reply and I was afraid they would be too. Yesterday however things started off a bit the other way around. The cabbie wanted to know a bit about my housing situation. How much did I pay for the rent (about 5000 a month in an ideal situation), did I have a nice garden (yes I do!), do I have air-conditioning/heating (no, and I’m gonna suffer in the next few months).
The for me nameless driver was talkative, but serious. Tired and inquisitive; not the social-overflowing-chitchat kind of driver who is normally the one to drag/strike a conversation out of nothing. For some reason his composure enticed me to return fire.
So I asked him about his monthly wage, his home-town and his living conditions. The conversation was scary. Not because his answers were shocking. Exactly the opposite actually. He gave an account of the state of things that was so polished in details, so standard, that it seemed to flow from the hands of an unimaginative novel writer. The details he gave to color in his life, without me asking for it, his frankness, his background, even the numbers concerning wage (all are divisible by four) were in harmony somehow. It almost seemed he was taking the mickey out of me.
You should know that in Holland, in the nineties, we had this tv-program called Taxi, in which some actor engaged his passengers in conversation. We on the couch could see the end result on our screens. Ever since I’m paranoid that I’m being filmed in the cab. (In Rotterdam these days, this is standard fare btw (excuse the pun), but those are security camera’s. Kathmandu is quite safe in comparison.) I’m pretty sure though that this guy had better things to do than fiddle with electronics. It just seemed like he wanted to get his situation across to the kind of person that has the leisure to read blogs.
So here it is, his life. As I said before, it’s not exiting. It’s the kind of story you hear all the time. Thirteen in a dozen. And you internetters are a jaded bunch, so you might just as well skip it.
He has been transporting people here in Kathmandu for 16 years. The first four years he was a riksha driver, the last 12 he was a cab driver. The chauffeuring trade isn’t all that easy in Kathmandu. There’s a lot of competition. Only government or NGO jobs are nice, because they’re relatively secure and pay good. Otherwise you’re usually on your own driving a cab: Small, square, white things without suspension, often adorned by their owners (haven’t spotted a women cabbie so far btw) with religious symbols or pics of Hindu actresses. He comes from a small village, the name of which I forgot, as well as the area it’s in. The living conditions were crappy. The hills around the village were bad for growing crops. So he left for Kathmandu. He still sends money home.
Almost none of the cab drivers here actually own their car, so they rent them. The money flowing in from rides every day is about 1600 rupies (so 16 euro’s), but almost all is lost, mostly to car-rent and fuel (the price of which has gone up very fast in the last few months). At the end of the month he’s got 2000 rupies left, which is less than 10 times what I make in Nepal, and about 100 times less than what I made in Sweden (which was pretty much the minimum for the kind of work I did). He pays about 1200 rupies a month for his room, the rest goes to food: Dal Bath (rice with lental soup and veggies) every day. Just one glass of roxi (clear, tasteless booze, comparable to the Dutch jenever) every night, the quality of which isn’t half as good as the pure stuff you get on the countryside. Then it’s time for bed. Repeat 365 days a year, except for Bandas (the strikes here that happen about once every four days) and the occasional festival.
And there are millions and millions and millions like him… of course.
That’s all folks.