Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Friday, March 06, 2015

Afghanistan’s first female taxi driver

Afghanistan’s first female taxi driver a disgust to male passengers 

Sara Bahai, 40, grew up in a world where women were not allowed the freedom to go to school, work, have a career or dream. But since the fall of the Taliban, she’s been working as a taxi driver in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Sara Bahai, 40, says the idea that a woman driving a cab is sacrilege is 'ludicrous.'Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
Afghanistan's first female taxi driver is a hero to other women in her city, while men who jump into her cab are disgusted.
Sara Bahai, 40, has been a taxi driver on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan, for 10 years since the fall of the Taliban.
She grew up in a world where women were not allowed the freedom to go to school, work, have a career or dream.
But Sara always believed there was an independent life for her to live.
As soon as the opportunity came for her to do a professional driving course she signed up, passed and bought herself a car. Now, she is earning £5 a day driving members of the public around her bustling city.
And in a country where the first democratic presidential elections are currently being counted, Sara is excited about a new positive future for herself and other Afghan women.
Amazingly, Sara Bahai is the first female cabbie in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
Sara said: 'When women get into my car and see a woman driver they start smiling and giggling, they say they're very proud of me. I think they're glad at least one woman is living an independent life. In my taxi, they talk freely. They feel comfortable and talk about families, husbands and crack jokes.'
But not all Sara's customers are as accepting.
'My male customers are never happy with me. They believe it's very un-Islamic for a woman to drive - they still have very primitive thinking. They accuse me of setting a bad example for women and nasty things come out of their mouths. But I do not get depressed; I tell them exactly what I think. A woman driving a car is not nonreligious and their opinions are ludicrous.'
Sara has very dark memories of her childhood. She recalls many tears and heartache from the years of war and persecution and her father was killed in action 36 years ago.
Growing up, it was easier for Sara to live as a boy and act as a tomboy because it was so difficult being a female in a Taliban run country.
The cabbie doesn't get angry with her disgusted male customers; she just tells them what she thinks.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
'As a kid I was a real tomboy. I used to wear boy's clothes. No one could tell I was a girl. But my parents were very supportive of my personality and gave me the freedom to live my life as I wanted. And in a very conservative Afghanistan I was very lucky to have parents like that.'
Sara never had any interest in dolls growing up and always played with her brother's toy cars instead.
'I used to make cars with match boxes because my father could not afford many toys,' Sara remembers, who has never worn the all-blue Burka the Taliban had made compulsory for women on the rare occasions they left their home.
And when Sara finally got behind a wheel and drove a car for the first time she felt as if she was flying.
She said: 'The first time I drove a car I felt as if someone had given me wings. I cannot express the feeling; it was a beautiful. It was my neighbor's car and I drove for just a few miles around our neighborhood but it was enough - I was hooked. After that I was determined to learn to drive and buy my own car.'
While the majority of the country celebrated the fall of the Taliban in 2002, Sara quickly signed up for a two-week professional driving course with the Chief Officer of the Traffic Police and applied for a license to legally start driving her red Toyota Corolla DX.
Then, Sara decided to make money for her family and become a full time taxi driver.
Sara said: 'When people first saw me as a taxi driver they laughed at me. But it did not deter me. I was confident about my decision. I wanted to show the world that Afghanistan women are not born to just get married and have children. We can work, look after ourselves and be independent too.'
During the Taliban rule, between 1996 and 2001, they had imposed a strict version of Islamic law banning all Afghan women from work and education and had made the Burqa compulsory for women to wear outside their home.
While most women in Afghanistan are married by the age of 22, Sara decided not to and instead dedicated her life to caring for her mother Bibi, 60, and help her sister care for her seven children, after the death of her husband in 2000 during the war against the Taliban regime.
Sara Bahai has dedicated her life to caring for her mother Bibi, 60, to helping her sister care for her seven children, after the death of her husband in 2000 during the war against the Taliban.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
'I've had many men ask me to marry them but I've never agreed. I have no regrets. I broke the marriage rule in my family because there was no one to feed us or make money so I had to step in as the strong one.'
Amongst Sara's six sisters and seven brothers, Sara is the only one not to marry. But Sara has watched her sisters in very unhappy marriages. So much so Sara adopted her sisters two sons, now 12 and 18 years old and studying in school, because her husband was a drug addict and couldn't provide for them. The boys were better off with Sara who was earning enough to feed and clothe them and get them an education.
'Marriage is not always the answer,' she said. 'All my sisters got married but look at them. Some are very unhappy. I have looked after myself and now I have my sisters children to care for.'
Sara is now famous in Maza-i-Sharif and she has become the favourite taxi driver of women passengers.
She doesn't even pay a mechanic to check her car; she does all the repairs herself. And makes even more money by buying and selling second hand cars.
Female passengers giggle when they see a woman behind the wheel, and tell Sara Bahai they are proud of her.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
Sara admits she has been very lucky to have never faced any threats from the Taliban, but she knows many women who are too scared to take one step outside their home.
'Women have seen harsh years under the Taliban rule but now it's time we had freedom. Step by step it's improving. Even though Afghan women can now freely go to schools and work and open businesses, there are still a huge percentage of women who are unaware of their rights. There is still a lot to be done to improve the lives of Afghan women and I want to do all I can to help change that.'
With the general elections currently coming to a close Sara is expecting a huge change under the new President.
'The government should be paying huge attention to the peace and security of women. Women should be given bigger roles to play in our country. We should have the same rights as women across the world. I hope the government will come up with positive policies for change.'
Sara is now determined to contribute as much as she can to the prosperity of Afghan women - and she is doing that my starting her own driving school. She already has three female students learning to drive and she is getting more requests every day. She dreams of having a bustling driving school generating thousands of Afghan female taxi drivers of the future.


Tahmina TIhi said...

Loved to read ! Very inspiring :)

Sofia Alissa said...

Both men and women should be same rights. A woman has ability gifted by God to do all kind very nicely and beautifully. I am happy to see the family of Sara. We are taxi service provider and working in Detroit Michigan. Detroit airport taxi always care for the satisfaction of its customers. We are able to make your journey pleasant.