Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tribute to Paul Kapaya my taxi driver in Dar es Salaam for several years.


I met Paul Kapaya several years ago in Dar es Salaam. Selecting a taxi driver is important in most countries and especially in Africa.   It is as if Paul was given to me.  During the first trip I knew that we could work together!

Prior to meeting Paul I remember a driver we contracted for the day, being missing after the first meeting.  We had to get another taxi. Our day was fully booked.  Later this taxi driver that absconded insisted on 50% of the day’s fee!  He could not understand why it was important to keep the bargain and be available as soon as our meeting was over.   Many drivers change their mobile numbers, drive reckless or have horrible music (my interpretation of their preferences).
JD Buys, Leon Roux and Paul Kapaya at Dar es Salaam International Airport 18 July 2010
Paul was most punctual and a very safe driver.  He knew Dar es Salaam very well and could communicate well in English.  His general knowledge and insight made it a pleasure to talk to him when I did not have to prepare for a meeting while travelling.  He was most courteous as to giving other drivers way when needed and possible.  He had a small English – Swahili dictionary.  Something I have not seen elsewhere.

Paul told me how he obtained a drivers licence at the age of 17 in 1963.  He drove on the road from the airport to Dar es Salaam and was fined because the road was blocked for the president to pass.  It is something that happens often in Africa that the roads are blocked for dignitaries’ to travel fast and without any traffic on the road!   He noticed that the road was deserted, but did not gave thought as to the reason.  He had to appear in court. The magistrate gave him a fine, but also asked the traffic officer if he could drive well.  After the officer responded that he drove well, the magistrate ordered that he be given a drivers license.

On many occasions we spoke about business, the economy and why he could not own the car. The problem is he started with nothing and had to use a car belonging to somebody else.  Most taxi drivers do not own the cars they drive.  It is owned by wealthier people who earn an income by providing the capital for the industry. Paul always wanted to buy a car but as he put it “we are living from the hand to the mouth”. There is no chance of saving money to buy a car. In Africa there is also very limited access to credit. The end result is that he never owned a car.

Paul is my senior by 9 years and I noticed that his health was not good. About a year ago he was complaining and visiting the public hospital and doctors.  About 4 months ago I was very concerned for his health and it crossed my mind that he may have to retire. 

Retiring is not an option for a taxi driver in Dar es Salaam. There is NO pension or savings. How will he and his wife earn a living?  Their children are grown-ups with their own lives and responsibilities.

In December I visited Dar es Salaam and to my surprise he was much better and everything seemed to be improving.

On Sunday night Paul did not wait outside the airport terminal on my arrival.  I called and he was very apologetic.   Today he came to say goodbye.  The owner decided to take his car away since he is not earning much lately due to his health taking a turn for the worse.
Paul Kapaya with his grandson and his daughter at her home on the way from Dar es Salaam to Bagamoyo on 25 July 2010
I have some empathy with him as I am in the process of closing our office in Dar es Salaam. His complete business was taken away. His health is failing.

What we all can take along from this story is that heroes sometimes have insignificant positions in life. We need to plan for the future and plan for our eternal destiny.

I pray for Paul and his family.  His service to me was most outstanding.
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1 comment:

John said...

Thank you Johan for your kindness to share with us this very moving story...

If everybody who reads this promise to contribute US$10 we could get a decent used sedan for Mr. Kapaya to keep him going.

We should honor such heroes and, believe me, we would get their numbers multiplied threefold.