Thursday, July 19, 2012

The "Taxitsou" of Rhodes

The sun is rapacious in Rhodes. It devours everything, including the shade I stand under as I wait for a taxi that is 20 minutes late to drive me to the airport. "Thirty seconds. I'm rounding the corner now," the driver croons into my cell phone. 

His tone makes me think he's sitting in a cafe somewhere, stirring his espresso. I look around in mild desperation. If I hotwired a Vespa, nobody would notice, right? There's about 300 in the parking lot. I eye the skiff floating to my right in the water. Maybe a boat would be faster... 

Sanity prevails as I spy a taxi behind the trees. An older woman in her 50s sits at the wheel of one, polishing her sunglasses. "Are you free?" I ask.

"Of course," she says. "Get in." She's a rare sight in Greece -- a woman taxi driver (or taxitzou). I tell her so as we speed along the narrow seaside highway, swerving through buses, scooters, Germans. She laughs. "I was one of the first," she says with pride. "There's about 17 of us now, but it's still very male-dominated." 

Originally from the Peloponnese, she was widowed when her husband died in his 40s. Left with three children, she has worked for Rhodes's taxi monopoly for over a decade. "You need to love this work in order to do it," the 58-year old says. "Because men still think it 'man's work'."

Has the crisis forced people to change their minds? "Some. Back then, they used to say: 'Go clean some dishes'. But now slowly men are letting their wives work more."

Though business is slow this season, her clients are loyal. "I have an American woman who wouldn't change me for anything," she says. She attributes this to her efficiency: she's always on time, always uses the meter, and scoffs at the "reckless" driving style of the men in her company. 

Female taxi drivers in Dubai share a laugh.  Courtesy Dubai Taxi.
Her story reminds me of the all-female taxi service in Dubai: so-called "pink taxis" that the Government had launched in response to harassment and safety concerns a few years ago. They've been extremely successful, and are now a popular service for tourists and families that prefer the "safe qualities" of a female driver. 

"I always thought I might like to have an all-female taxi service of my own," she muses as I tell her about the company. I've had this in my mind for so many years but, you know..."

The "you know" encompasses a lot: the difficulty in starting a business in Greece, the slump in clients, the ongoing crisis, her age. "I've been working since I was 12," she says. "At my age, to start a business..." she shrugs. 

I stop short of telling her it's possible. That these days, people often switch careers into their 50s and 60s. Because that's America, land of over-optimism, can-doism. This is Brokeistan, where these days, you're lucky to get a pension once you retire. We reach the airport and she rushes to help me with my bags. As I thank her, another car honks impatiently and yells at her to move out of the way. My last vision as I rush into the terminal is of a stout figure planted in the middle of the road, wagging her figure at an impatient (male) driver. I grin. Geia sou, re taksitzou! Eisai proti.

1 comment:

  1. A good taxi service always leaves a smile on their passengers. It is nice to be in such kind of a taxi company.

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