The Taxi! (Berlin) series is back! I finally stumbled on another interesting story, which I have truly missed doing. The long ride this morning gave me ample opportunity to interview Ali, who was a veritable chatterbox and gladly told his tale.
Born in Turkey, his family migrated to Germany when he was nine years old. At the time Ali was already considered of superior intelligence and academically qualified for Grade 6, with everyone ignoring the fact that he didn’t speak a word of German and the age gap between himself and the rest of his classmates made it difficult for social adjustment as well. Nevertheless, it only took him a year to adjust linguistically and he was done with high school at the age of 13 with flying colours. But what does a 13-year-old high school graduate do with himself? Too young for a job, college was not in the cards either due to financial constraints of the family, although he desperately wanted to study medicine, and live up to the family tradition. The next best thing was to take up a vocation, which he did and landed in mechanical training.
Ali’s first marriage produced two sons, one who has been a career soldier in the German army for the past 11 years, and the other a med student doing his residency. The proud father is happy to boast about his sons, but even more eager to talk about the two younger boys from his second marriage. Although he is now a single parent raising boys aged 7 and 9, Ali goes out of his way to sit with the boys in the evenings to supervise their homework, and take them to football and kickboxing practice. He does the housework at night after the boys have gone to bed, and cooks early in the morning before they are up. This hands-on father spares no expense when it comes to taking the boys on holiday, and was happy to show me video clips of the different places they visited outside of Germany.
Before the boys were born, Ali owned and ran his own little cafe in Kreuzberg, and was very successful. Life may not have allowed him to become a doctor, but he found his calling as a cook, and was in his element serving his customers. As fate would have it, Ali’s wife suffered a stroke, was left so handicapped that she had to be institutionalised. He voluntarily gave up the lucrative cafe business to dedicate himself entirely to the little boys who were only 2 and 4 at the time. He took the Berlin taxi driver exam and began his taxi journey as an employee. He regrets this decision wholeheartedly but it was fastest thing he could find which allowed him the flexible hours to be with the boys.
I asked how he managed his time with the children whenever he was working, whether he had help from any other family members. It was like opening up one of those magical boxes with a light beam bursting out from within. Ali’s face lit up and said “Yes! Mama!” His 76-year-old mother is not the stereotype Turkish grandmother you mostly see around Berlin, plump, stodgy and waddling with great difficulty. Oh no, this funky granny sports short blond hair and goes jogging every day! She has Oma duties twice a week and occasionally on the weekends, the rest of the time she is busy taking care of her 86-year-old husband who is slowing down and is mostly housebound these days. Ali’s immediate goal is to find a big house to move his parents in with him, preparing for the fast-approaching time when his mother will no longer be able to handle the geriatric care-giving on her own. The dream of re-opening a cafe is not dead and buried, and Ali is simply biding his time until the boys are older and more self-sufficient.
Corona and #lockdown2020 has hit the taxi industry hard, with many independent contractors having had to file for bankruptcy. Those who are employed by a larger company received government assistance for shortened hours and they somehow managed, but the cancellation of all major trade fairs and public events has deprived many a driver of income, with absolutely no hope for recovery this year.