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12 Hours Behind the Wheel in NYC, With No Food Or Drink

Thursday, August 09, 2012 - 04:30 PM

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

If you're traveling by taxi this summer, chances are your driver is hungrier than usual. Nearly half of licensed drivers in the city are Muslim—and they’re not eating because they’re observing Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and reflection. That means thousands of cabbies are working 12-hour shifts without food, water or caffeine.

Muslims break their daily fast at sundown. One recent evening, the West 29th Street curbside in Manhattan held so many taxis that the street glowed yellow. This commercial district in Manhattan has free evening parking, a boon for drivers.

Around 8 p.m., as the day's light faded, cabbies rushed into a mosque called Masjid Ar-Rhahman. A mountain of their shoes rose in the vestibule. Soon their sung prayers emanated from a loudspeaker at the top of the mosque. Outside, vendors selling prayer books and sweet treats waited patiently for the cabbies to emerge from inside.

Driver Lansana Keita was one of the first ones out. He smiled as he ate his first food of the day, a sweet rice concoction that resembled rice pudding. "You need something soft after fasting all day, to help your metabolism to digest,” he said.

Keita said his biggest obstacle during Ramadan is keeping up his stamina during a shift that typically features mind-numbing traffic, the threat of parking tickets and the never-ending drone of the TV in his backseat. He said driving on an empty stomach while dealing with the daily guff from passengers becomes a spiritual exercise.

"When someone cusses on you, you have to let it go," he said. "When someone wants to have drama with you, you have to let it go--those are the principles of Ramadan.”

Drivers who chose not to eat in the mosque huddled on the sidewalk in small groups to consume their long-awaited meals.

"I love this: it’s called pakora, samosa and chana,” said Mohammed Tipu Sultan, a driver of 10 years, about his Bangladeshi meal. Sultan made the food disappear in a hurry, like anyone would after fasting for 16 hours.

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

Driver Yehya Abdeen was on his way to get his first caffeine fix at a local cafe before resuming his night shift. He said a purpose of Ramadan is to teach patience—a trait city cabbies aren't always known for.

"I try to be nice all the time, but we try to be more nice during Ramadan," he said, before joking, "But it’s hard when you don't take your coffee, you know?"

During Ramadan, Muslims are required to pray more than the usual five times a day. So you may see drivers stopping to kneel in the direction of Mecca on squares of cardboard or small rugs in the back of bodegas and restaurants.

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

Or at JFK airport. At the airport's taxi lot, hundreds of drivers were lined up awaiting a fare to Manhattan. About two dozen drivers made use of a makeshift prayer area, bowing and kneeling next to a pair of public restrooms.

Tely Diallo, a tall driver in a gingham shirt, was about to jump into his cab again. He paused to complain that it’s hard to make enough money when you're pulling over to pray an extra two hours a day.

"You can't really do what you've got to do," he said. "You can't pray on time. I was supposed to be praying a long time ago but I couldn’t because you're always in a rush, you want to get the lease money."

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

Cabbie Mohammed Waheed said it helps that so many other drivers are fasting with him during the holy month. "The fifteen of my friends who are cab drivers—they all fast," he said.

Muslims, including many New York taxi drivers, will be observing Ramadan this year until the weekend of August 18, when the fasting ends and the completion of a month of self-control is celebrated.

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Comments [3]

Kirit Dixit from New Jersey

As a Hindu, I am very familiar with Fasting. Hindus fast in a variety of ways and celebrate the Birthdays of Deities like Lord Shiva by fasting. Gandhiji fasted to "cleanse" himself.My Brother-in-law fasts on Saturdays. As a matter of fact, we have people fasting on any day of the week either for the day or the whole month.

And now,I read that fasting alternately is a way to reduce the weight.

Jul. 17 2013 12:08 PM
Santos

I respect Islam despite personally being agnostic. And I respect the immense amount of work and patience these drivers endure. But for crying out loud, they need a better practice regarding end of fast period while driving. Tonight around 28th and Broadway was absolute chaos: hundreds of cabs driving around fully lit (which technically means approaching duty end but able to accept fares at their discretion). Very frustrating to stand there waiting and to see all taxis drive by with this misguided signal. Shortly after sundown they all signaled regular duty. But for an hour or so many of us were stranded. Before you react, understand I have a broken foot - subway or bus was not an option.

Aug. 16 2012 11:30 PM
Rob

Has anyone asked why its legal for a person to operate a vehicle for 12 hours anytime??? Aren't there regulations restricting people to 8 hour days?

Aug. 13 2012 12:03 PM

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