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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

How three different Abu Dhabi taxi drivers handle road rage

When someone cuts off the charitable Abdul Hakim, he bellows: 'May God bless you and your family'

Motorists had a relatively clear run this morning. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Motorists had a relatively clear run this morning. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Anger gets a bad rep. It is often described as a shallow, one-dimensional feeling that lacks range. It is an emotion unlike its opposite, happiness, which instead benefits from a wide catalogue of adjectives to accompany it, words such as “beaming”, “overjoyed” and, in the case of one of my annoying gym-fanatic friends, “exuberant”.

Like an unwanted child shunted off to the basement, anger rarely gets a look in when it comes to descriptive terms – normally, you are just angry and that is that. Perhaps the thinking goes the more we talk about it, the more oxygen we give to the negativity behind it.

Paul's Zen strategy

“It is like a balloon that needs to be popped, my friend,” explains Paul, who has asked for his surname to be withheld. “I always feel much better after I talk about why I am angry. Popping a balloon is an ugly sound, but you feel relieved that you did it after.”

Paul knows what he is talking about. He pops his balloon about six times a day – he is a taxi driver in the capital. Every shift brings the white-knuckled combination of near accidents, inexplicable sudden turns from fellow drivers and, in one case, a full-blown picnic chair falling from the back of a car a few metres in front of him while cruising along Al Khaleej Al Arabi Street.

He has regularly ferried me all across the UAE during the past three years, so I have come accustomed to his brand of road rage – which is basically an existential monologue.

One time, a lime-green Hyundai Veloster zipped its way across four lanes of traffic to make its exit. It caused Paul to break hard and see red.

His rage normally begins with him being deathly quiet for about 20 seconds, then come the words: “Sometimes I don’t know what I am doing here”. Then: “What’s the point of this existence?” and “I am very intelligent, you know” – before finally plateauing to mutterings of “stupid driver” or “yeah, we will see”.

Paul is an example of anger’s dramatic nature – I am going to urge him to enter that one-man production into next year’s Short+Sweet theatre competition at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Intrigued, I have begun to pay more attention to the frustrations of my city’s cab drivers in the past few weeks.

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Khalid's fierce stare

Khalid from Morocco doesn’t subscribe to Paul’s school of anger. He is more Clint Eastwood than George Costanza. We are on Airport Road near the Marks & Spencer building when a car suddenly swings in front of us from a side street, causing Khalid to brake sharply. Worried by Khalid’s violent glare and his decision to get beside the offending driver at the next set of traffic lights, I advise him to let it go.

“Don’t worry,” he says, and slowly slips into the lane beside his nemesis. He rolls down his window and stares at him with such a fierceness for two minutes that even I, as his passenger, am spooked.

The unspoken message does the trick: the other driver raises his hand in apology and scurries off the second that the traffic lights change to green.

Abdul Hakim's charitable approach

Abdul Hakim has a more charitable approach to his rage. The proud Pashtun, who is in his late-50s, prays his way out of life’s hotspots. When someone cuts him off, he bellows: “May God bless you and your family.”

When a young man misjudges his walking speed across the road, Abdul Hakim wishes “eyes that see clearly and a tongue that mutters nothing but good speech”.

Beguiled by his good nature, I often call him if I need to go to Dubai or Sharjah for work. Filled with prayers, I emerge from each car trip in a more positive state of mind.

“Do you believe in what you are saying?” I once asked him.

“What do you mean?” he replied.

“When you make a duaa [prayer] for a driver, do you mean it or this is just a way to calm you down?”

He thought about it for a moment and replied: “It is both. I spend a lot of time driving and prayers make me calm. But sometimes I forget about the prayer. So the way to remember is when someone makes me angry.

“Every time someone does something wrong, I make a prayer. That way I feel blessed... and maybe that stupid driver will get some blessings, too.”

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