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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 August, 2004, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Taxi driver: Mogadishu
The BBC is looking at the lives of five taxi drivers - who know the streets of the world's capitals better than anyone - and talking to them about their work, their city, and the problems they face.

Here, the BBC's Grant Ferrett hitches a ride with Abdi, a 40-year-old driver in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

The BBC's Grant Ferret with taxi driver Abdi
Abdi's fares contact him by mobile phone
The doors don't fit very well on Abdi's taxi. It usually takes a few attempts to close them.

The bodywork of his ageing Fiat 1300 seems to be more filler than metal. The undulating panels are hand-painted in the distinctive orange and red of Mogadishu's few taxis.

Asked how old his car is, Abdi can only hazard a guess.

"I think it's about 30 years old, but I don't really know," he explained.

"It's a good car though."

Difficult job

Abdi works every day except Friday, starting after morning prayers at 0630 and driving until 1700.

He uses his horn a lot, but not because there are that many other vehicles on the roads. Instead, it is mainly to alert pedestrians.

Mogadishu streets
The main street is OK, but some of the roads simply can't be driven on - you have to drive around to find a decent route just to do your job
There are few pavements in Mogadishu, and road awareness is poor. Added to that, donkeys and goats wander many of the back streets.

Abdi began driving a taxi after he lost his job as a truck driver following the fall of President Siad Barre 13 years ago.

After a spell selling fruit in the market, he became a taxi driver. With no government and no police force, the job has, at times, been a difficult one.

"It was dangerous before, and I was scared," he recalled.

"But now I can go anywhere. It's good, there are no worries. It's safer, there aren't so many guns and I really enjoy my job."

Abdi has been held up three times during his taxi driving career - once by a passenger armed with a gun, twice by militiamen who stole his car.

Each time he had to pay for his car to be returned.

Now, though, with security in Mogadishu generally improving, there are more mundane problems.

"This is Thirty street, which is Mogadishu's biggest road and it's a perfect example of how the infrastructure here over the past decade or so has completely collapsed," Abdi explained.

"This used to be a six-lane highway with traffic going either side of a central reservation. Now the traffic goes whichever side it can to avoid the potholes and the enormous great gaps in the tarmac."

Road wish

Abdi's taxi has no meter, nor does it have a radio. He gets customers through his mobile phone.

Unlike taxi drivers in other major cities, he never goes to the railway station or the airport. That is because Mogadishu has no trains, and the main airport has long been closed, with rival militia groups controlling opposite ends of the runway.

Street in Mogadishu after heavy fighting
A lack of central government has left Mogadishu's roads in a poor state
As well as being held-up by militiamen, Abdi has had some of the more usual taxi driver experiences.

He has driven two pregnant women to hospital. One of them started having the baby in the back of the car.

He says he was happy to help, but wasn't so keen about paying for the seats to be cleaned afterwards. His main wish, apart from peace for his country, is for Mogadishu's wretched roads to improve.

"The main street is OK, but some of the roads simply can't be driven on," he said.

"You have to drive around to find a decent route just to do your job."

But the roads are unlikely to get better until Somalia once again has a central government.

With peace talks between the country's political leaders and warlords still bumping along in Kenya, Abdi's wish is unlikely to come true for some time yet.

Abdi, Mogadishu taxi driver
"I think my taxi is about 30 years old, but I don't really know"

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