When we picked up the phone to order a Careem car, we were certainly surprised to find Hala Hussien waiting for us - Careem's first ever female driver. Needless to say, we had to find out more about this stereotype shattering mother.
Having ordered a Careem car, we were gearing up to put our headphones in to avoid awkward driver-passenger conversations, creating a loud playlist during our five minute waiting period. Once the app showed us our driver's for security reasons and alerted us that the car had arrived, however, we found Hala Fouad Hussein, colourful and smiling, greeting us next to her ruby red car. We quickly took our earphones out and got our reporter glasses on – it’s not every day your cab driver is a woman;a woman who loves life and who refuses to allow obstacles to bring her down, one of the few that see the glass half full.
First we joke about the misconception that women can’t drive. “Women are equal to men and I believe women here drive even better than men,” Hussein explains. “I would describe my attitude while driving as calm, you shouldn’t get worked up. My dad always emphassed that if you hold on to the basic driving principles you should be fine. That being said you still have to adapt to the kind of driving in this country as well as the harsh roads.” With a 24 hour call centre designed to guide drivers should their top of the line GPS system be hampered by network problems, Careem certainly has their drivers’ backs too.
Underneath her flashy sunglasses are determined eyes and its obvious this woman could make it with ease in the job market. “I worked in tourism for 27 years in a big company but when the revolution happened I found myself out of a job. I didn’t give up, though. I have three kids and I needed to provide for them so I opened my own local tourism company when things got better but it didn’t do as well as I’d hoped,” continued Hussein. One day, sitting with her daughter and her fiancé, he handed her a newspaper to check for job openings. “There it was, Careem was hiring. So I called in and told them about my experience and that due to my experience in tourism I was exposed to all kinds of roads in Egypt; I’ve driven to Saint Catherine, Marsa Matrouh, Dahab and more. At first they were shocked that I was a woman but they were very much on board with the idea and encouraged me.” Hussein fit the necessary qualifications and then some; being in tourism for years she has the experience of dealing with foreigners and can certainly show them the best of Egypt. With Careem heading to the North Coast this summer, teaming up with Taxi El Sa7el, Hussein and her colleagues will certainly be a welcome saviour on the dangerous highway.
As Hussein delved deeper into her personal life we did not take note of the traffic and were listening intently as she discussed how you have to adapt to what life throws at you; “I am in a good position and for that, I thank God. You’re wondering what it’s like going from tourism to being a driver...Work, whatever it is, is not wrong, What is wrong is to sit at home and not try. Luckily my kids are supportive. The other day my son looked at me and said ‘mum, you might find yourself dropping off one of my friends…’ When I asked if that would bother him, he said not at all,” she describes proudly.
At the end of the day, Hussein is like so many mothers out there, a woman who would do anything for her children. “My husband does not provide for the kids, he refuses to and he admitted that he even tried to mess up my daughter’s engagement just so he wouldn’t pay. I don’t want them to feel like they’re missing out on anything and that’s why I work. When you work you have to have confidence - never mind what society says or you won’t achieve anything. Besides I love to work, I am not the kind of person that can sit at home.” Driving in this traffic alongside pressure from her personal life should get exhausting but Hussein continued to look at the positive in life, “I am strong, I have a mother who prays for me and have made sure my kids have been brought up the best way possible so what more can I possibly ask for?” She does admit that the job is very demanding, having to be extremely punctual in such bad traffic. Careem, for instance, pledges that if they are more than five minute late from pick-up time for an airport drop-off, then the customer’s fare is free. Punctuality is Careem’s top priority, whether you’ve booked a car in advance, or need it right now.
Charismatic and funny, Hussein is exactly the kind of driver you suddenly find yourself chatting away to without even realising, helping us forget about Cairo traffic as her eyes twinkle as she boasts about her young self, “I was a basketball player, I had the highest jump and best dribble! Fitness is important for me I try and walk and run as much as possible...This is the thing; as long as I’m healthy and able why not work to help my kids? My husband has chosen to satisfy his current life, my daughter says I am working for my reward in the afterlife.”
A microbus swerves suddenly and she avoids him with ease, “they get so spiteful seeing a woman drive. Guests who I pick up are always happy to see a female driver especially the girls because of harassment and the lack of safety in regular cabs,” she explains, adding that customers also feel at ease due to the fact that Careem accept cash as well as credit cards. stays loyal to with many customers preferring to pay cash rather than card.
Down to earth, strong and the type of woman you would want next to you should you face any problems, Hussein encourages all women to venture out of their comfort zone and work no matter what. “I’ve been lucky having had a dad who took me around the world, I’ve been to Poland, Australia and more. In Poland there are women butchers, women do everything and men handle the mining…” and with that she drives away into the sea of cars that congest Cairo roads, ready for her next pick up. Leaving us inspired, Careem and their crew are continuing to encourage females to apply for jobs with them, while the flexible nature of the business means that students or part timers will also find suitable openings. Take back the roads with Careem.