Driving Around the World in D.C.

Chart: D.C. Cabdrivers' Top 10 Countries of Origin
By John Kelly
Friday, March 10, 2006

I spent a good part of Wednesday seeing the world from the back of a taxicab. I had in my hand a breakdown of the various countries that D.C.'s cabdrivers come from, courtesy of the city's Taxicab Commission.

According to the printout, Washington's taxi drivers hail from 73 nations, from Afghanistan (180 drivers) to Zaire (one driver).

From now on, I'll be on the lookout for some of the city's rarest cabdrivers. Bulgaria, Cuba, Denmark, England, Iceland, Panama and Uruguay are among the 20 countries that have just one driver each in Washington's cab corps. (At least as of May 2004, the most recent date for which figures were available.)

Topping the list is Ethiopia. Of the 4,990 drivers that the commission has information on, 1,383 were born in that East African country. Next up was the United States, with 1,047.

People sometimes get down on foreign-born cabdrivers, joking about how they can't find their way around town. But the thing I always think is this: What if someone plopped me down in the middle of Lagos or Addis Ababa or Peshawar and told me to find the Hilton?

Samuel Kidane is driving me from Union Station to The Post. He's 28 and from Asmara, the capital of Eritrea (225 drivers, according to the list). I ask, What's traffic like?

"There's no traffic at all. There's less stress. We have maybe 15 or 16 traffic lights."

Less stress. That sounds good. Then Samuel adds: "But stop signs, they just drive through them. People don't follow the rules, so it's very dangerous."

Samuel drops me off at The Post, and I cross the street and catch another cab, this one driven by Hagos Beyene , 65. He's also from Eritrea, although it was still part of Ethiopia when he immigrated. Washington traffic isn't so bad, he says. Now Italy, that's another story.

He used to live in Rome. "That is difficult to drive in," he says of the city. "The Italian people are very hot. Not angry, but always in a hurry."

(If I come across any of the D.C. cabdrivers from Italy -- three, according to my list -- I'll ask them about that.)

I get off at Metro Center and jump into a cab driven by Anthony Amayo. He arrived in 1977 from Ghana (173 cabdrivers). He came to attend Howard University, where he received a geology degree.

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