Taxi Driver in Heels

Casablanca's Women of the Route

by Mary Fowles 
Originally Published in Le Journal Hebdomadaire 

Fatima Sebsab descends Zerktouni Ave. in her small red taxi. In the distance she sees her next client, a very well dressed Asian woman with perfect makeup, hail her down. Sebsab pulls over to the curb and the woman leans forward to open the door of the taxi before glancing in the passenger window, then, putting her hand to her heart she shrieks, “ No! You are not a taxi driver.”

As one of only six female taxi chauffeurs in Casablanca, this type of reaction is one that Sebsab is all too used to. “Why not?” Sebsab yells from the driver's side of the taxi to the woman who is still standing shocked on the side of the road. “Why not ride with a woman?” Finally, the client is convinced and slides timidly into the back seat. “It's the first time I've s een a female chauffeur,” she says putting her hand to her mouth to hide her ner v ous giggles . “I was afraid!” 

The life of a female taxi driver in Africa's third largest city also contains many happy s tories. All day, in ever y neighbor hood she drives , both men and women, when they get a glance of the lovely woman behind the taxi's wheel yell from the sidewalks or out of their car windows, “ May God protect you, Madame, good luck!” and blow her a kiss thr ugh the city streets . 

She drives calmly, always aware of the rules of the road, respecting the law above all. Moreover, the other male drivers usually give her the priority, happy to extend the “ladies first” mentality to the polluted and chaotic intersections of Casablanca.“It's an exhausting profession for women,” said one young man who climbed into Sebsab's back seat. And he is right. All day on the polluted streets, the dirty , noisy air whipping past her face as she drives , the conditions are sometimes unbearable. It is particularly stressful during the rush hour when the other drivers on the road become aggressive, trying to get home in time for dinner. And then, she is constantly in contact with the public.  It is inevitable that sometimes her passengers are rude, or worse. Certainly, she takes some risks. So why does she do it?

“It is a way to show my liberty,” said Zakia Mezzour, who is perhaps the most courageous of all the women behind the wheel. She is the only one who has chosen to drive the taxiat kebir, le grande taxi blanc, a huge white 1970's Mercedes that crams up to seven passengers who, for only three dirham each, can travel across the city. 

For the last five years Zakia has made her place in the world of men as the only female driver of the big white taxi. Born in Fez in 1946 to a conservative family where her father was an Imam and her mother a house wife, Zakia was the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters and grew up doted upon and spoiled. “With a childhood like that, I gained a strong desire for freedom,” she said. “God and the Koran say that women can work as they want,” said Mezzour who prefers to drive only in the “safe” neighborhoods between Maarif, the city centre and sometimes Hay Hassani and Derb Ghalef. She has a cute photograph of a gray fluffy cat pasted onto the dashboard and a Koranic prayer swaying from the rear-view mirror. “To drive a taxi is not at all against Islam.” 

"My passion is to drive,” agrees Sebsab, who is a widow and never had children. “When I drive, I forget my problems. I just work, I return home, I wash, do my daily prayers and then I relax. It is a simple life and I am content.” She works seven days a week between eight and ten hours a day to support herself and her handicapped brother who lives with her. 

Creating a woman's plac e in a man's pr of es s ion has not always been easy . “In the beginning,” insists Mezzour, “I was often confronted with the arrogance of the male taxi drivers who did not accept that a woman could drive. They told me a woman's place is in the kitchen. “I was forced to file complaints with the police to show up the ignorance of these men and make it clear they would have to change their behaviour toward women who have just as much right to drive as they have.”When asked how long both women plan to continue their profession, the response is clear: “Ever y one must earn her own living, I don't have a choic e.”

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