There may be other references about the subject. Here is one.
From the Armenian Reporter
May 26, 2007
Armenia at Work: Alla drives confidently in life's traffic jams
Ny Armen Hakobyan
Armenia at Work: Alla drives confidently in life's traffic jams by Armen Hakobyan Driving a taxicab is possibly one of the most popular occupations in Armenia today. That's most obvious in Yerevan, and especially at night, when I counted 30-35 cabs among 55 cars that passed by me over five minutes on a congested street. Statisticians tell us that there are around 6,000 taxis operating in Armenia today. We could not neglect them in our "Armenia at Work" series. Chronically tired, they convey their clients to their destinations day and night, around the clock. However, as you have already seen from the pictures, we would like to tell you about a very special cabbie. She is special not only because she is the only woman taxi driver in Yerevan so far. She is distinguished from the others by a much more substantial characteristic: her determination not to give up in the face of the challenges posed by the traffic jams of life. This is a quality worthy of respect. So, without further ado, let us meet the heroine of our story, Alla Umrshatyan, a driver for Yerevan's Nush taxi service. * Now I love my new job "I am Armenian, born in Armenia, in the Margaryan maternity hospital," Alla starts introducing herself so cheerfully that all of us gathered in the small dispatch room of the taxi service couldn't help but laugh. To tell the truth, I had noticed Alla long ago, and not without surprise. It's not that I hadn't seen a woman taxi driver before. I had. Abroad. But not in Armenia. From the very first moment, it was clear to me that Alla had an interesting and instructive story. "I am a programmer, a graduate of the information technology department of the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute," Alla Umrshatyan tells me quietly, in a relaxed manner. "I worked a year or two in my field. I used to work in the control department, in the city council, in the police, in the housing department. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I tried my hand in business, engaged in commerce, and was in it for about 13 years. I was bringing goods from Moscow and selling them here. In short, I was trading, but it didn't seem to be a success. There were failures, problems, and I left the business. Then I decided to get a job. However, I didn't know where to go. Everywhere I applied, there were age restrictions. By the way, this is one of the unhealthiest symptoms in today's Armenia, and I would like you to tell everyone that this is a very wrong approach. Everywhere I applied, they told me that they needed girls 18-25 years old. Does this mean that a person over 25 does not have a right to work? All the employers were repeating the same song - 18-25 years old, good-looking girls in miniskirts, with knowledge of a foreign language (mainly English) and computers. Knowledge of Armenian was not that important for them." Alla is absolutely right. Of course, there is a popular joke about this, which we recalled during our conversation: "There is an advertisement on the doors of the grocery store: 'Help Wanted: Janitor, 18-25 years old, higher education, knowledge of computers and a foreign language required.'" But it's no joke when you are 30-40 years old - or older - and looking for a job. The older and more experienced you are, the harder it is to find a job. On the other hand, there is a good saying: "Seek and you shall find." "A friend of mine was working at an employment agency. After a while, I put my shyness aside and appealed to her. She said, 'Alla, dear, you have 20 years of driving experience.' In the Soviet years, I had a VAZ-07, then a VAZ-06, and also another model from the same factory, which people used to call 'Jori' (mule). 'Drivers are in demand today. Go ahead, try your hand at driving a cab.' I told her that I wouldn't be able to handle it. She told me that I would. So, I tried and started working as a taxi driver. In the beginning I had some difficulties, but then, step by step I got used to it. But now I love my new job very much. It's been a year and a half already," Alla says. She says she learned to drive all by herself. When she had just entered the world of commerce, one of her colleagues bought a Zhiguli, and Alla decided that she wanted to have a car as well. And with this same colleague she bought her VAZ-06, but, alas, she couldn't drive. "Step by step, my friend Margarita taught me the basics, just in one week. Later, I was learning on my own car. I passed the test and got a driving license and that's it," Alla recalls with a smile on her face. Her "that's it" includes today's situation: hard work at the wheel of a Zhiguli, more than ten orders a day within Yerevan and sometimes out of the city. And what car does she prefer? "I prefer a Mercedes." Which models? "The best ones," she says. "To be honest, in the beginning, when I was driving Soviet cars, I was happy with them and foreign cars didn't attract me at all. But now, that I have driven a German Opel Astra, it hasn't been that easy to switch back to Soviet cars again. There is a difference and it's a big one. "Over the years I've gotten used to driving, and I enjoy it. It became very hard for me to manage without a car, especially when I sold my own. After the run of bad luck during the last years, now I have my car again, although this is a taxi, but it's like my own car. Besides, this is an interesting job. You meet all kinds of people, talk with them, and listen to their stories. "When they see that the driver is a woman, they become polite all at once. "Usually, it's only at first glance that a job seems simple. Especially in this era of high technology, it can seem that there is nothing difficult about it: just turn the steering wheel, shift gears, press down on the pedal, and go! But that's only at first glance. Maybe it's really not that difficult to make the car move. However, even driving skills are not enough to work as a taxi driver. You need some other very important qualities as well, without which you cannot cope with it. "If in Germany, for example, driving is just a pleasure, you cannot say the same about Yerevan, where 'traffic laws' are something very relative. You have to be able to reorient yourself very quickly and unmistakably in a changing situation, and even more - never to let your guard down. Besides, you have to have oceans of patience and iron nerves. And now imagine: if an average statistical citizen rides during a day in this messy traffic from point A to point B and then back to A, the taxi driver makes the same trip at least 10-15, sometimes even 20 or more times. "Traffic in today's Yerevan is terrible. It is very difficult. You can call one a 'driver' only if he or she is able to drive in the morning rush hour, because the situation is terrible. When you look at these young boys and girls sitting in their foreign expensive cars, you cannot call them drivers, they are just rule-breakers. Sometimes they make such weird maneuvers that all traffic is disturbed. It is very difficult to drive a car today in Yerevan", Alla states. And what about the police? Do they bother you often? "I am very happy with our traffic police and very thankful to them. They never stop me. Even when they do sometimes, when they see the driver is a woman, they salute me and just ask me not to do the same next time. I cannot tell much about men, but they have a very special and generous attitude toward women." In the course of our conversation it became clear that men taxi drivers have no less of a "special and generous attitude toward women" than their eternal adversaries, the traffic police. For example, if the car has mechanical problems, Alla can usually fix it herself, but, "We have very good boys at our taxi-service team. Whenever they learn that I need some help, they come to my aid immediately. The same happens in the streets. When people see that I have stopped and there is something wrong with my car, they pull up and help me. Even strangers." Probably the times have passed when people in Armenia would look askance at women drivers. But what about women taxi drivers? "They used to gawk 15-20 years ago, when I bought my first 06 and was the first woman driver in the Bangladesh district of Yerevan. Now they gawk because of the taxi sign. You know how it happens? Let's say a man talking on his mobile tries to hail a cab. I pull up. He opens the door, takes his seat and mechanically, without looking, says, 'Let's go to the Third District, bro.' I say, 'Okay, let's go to the Third District, bro.' He does a double take and looks really astonished. 'Oh, I'm sorry,' etc., and you can see that his attitude changes at once. He becomes much more polite now. For instance, he might have said, 'Step on it.' Instead he says, 'Would you mind please going a bit faster?' When they see that the driver is a woman they become gentle at once and much more polite. They look pleased and say, 'It's such a nice thing. Are there only women in your service?'" It's interesting: Do passengers usually tip women drivers? Alla says that they leave generous tips. However, it's not always the same. There are cases when they don't leave anything. Sometimes they do not have enough money to pay the fare and Alla says that it is okay: "I am not going to quarrel for some 100 drams." * At night Yerevan is full of life Apart from all that, the profession of a taxi driver can be dangerous. At least, police reports often have information about a passenger who has attacked a taxi driver, stolen his money or the cab. There are also violent attacks. When I mention this side of her profession, Alla calmly answers to question. "Really, it's a very dangerous profession, especially at night. You don't know who the client is, who is going to sit in your car. However, I'm not afraid, because I have my regular clients. I know them. I never let suspicious or drunk people in my car. "The most important thing in our profession is safety, both in driving and in picking up fares." However, Alla prefers to work at night. "I work 24-hour shifts. Well, to tell the truth, mainly at night. I usually have some rest during the day. Why at night? Because most of my clients are young people. They go out at night, to a bar, a café. I think that the life in our city starts at night. At night, Yerevan is full of life. During the daytime it's filled with work, sad and strained faces, which are like 'books of complaints.' But the picture is different at night. It is pleasant at night. I like to work at night because there's less traffic and I'm calmer when I drive," Alla says. She also says that she's so tired after work that she doesn't get a chance to watch television. "When I get home, I'm so tired I go straight to bed." However, when she gets the chance to watch TV, she prefers documentaries and movies about animals. She used to have a dog, but now that is impossible because of her schedule. Besides, the owner of the previous apartment she rented didn't allow pets. She likes to listen to music in the car. She enjoys classical music very much, especially when she is driving and the journey is going to be a long one. * I'm Armenian and my homeland is Armenia Eventually, we come to an issue that interests me very much. "How did your family react to your decision to become a taxi driver?" At this point Alla smiles and tells her story in her typically quiet and relaxed manner. "I have only one daughter. She's 17 and her name is Lilit. She is my family. At first, I didn't dare tell her that I had become a taxi driver. I was a little scared. Speaking in a roundabout way, finally I told her about it. And there was a real outburst. Later, however, my daughter also understood that it was the right way. It is better to earn your bread with your own hard work and a clear conscience than to rely on others. Now she accepts and approves of my decision. She also wants to learn to drive, but it frightens me, although there is nothing hard about it." And what does Lilit want to be when she grows up? "My daughter wants to be a diplomat, to be a professional in that field. She graduated from school with excellent grades; she had only one B. Then she entered the department of law of the Foreign Relations University. To be honest, I couldn't pay the tuition fee, so Lilit was expelled from the university in the second semester. Now she is working as a dispatcher in another taxi company to collect money for her studies and enter the university next September," Alla says, adding that her only goal now is to make her daughter's dream come true. Her own dream is to find a sponsor who will take care of her daughter's tuition, because Lilit really wants to study. Who knows, maybe 25 years later she will be the foreign minister of Armenia. By the way, it is not hard to see that there are not many women in political and economical professions either. Alla says, "It is desirable to have women leaders, because they are more responsible and conscientious in their work. There is no need to put a difference between men and women, but women can be leaders too." For now, Alla drives her taxicab, so that she can take care of her small family's needs. They live in a rented apartment. She makes about 2-3 thousand drams a day. ($5.70-$8.60) Maybe it is enough to make ends meet, but it is not enough to solve the main financial problem of her family: to pay Lilit's tuition. There is another interesting point as well. Alla, with her entrepreneurial qualities and competence could try her luck outside of Armenia again, like many others do, but she does not want to follow in other people's footsteps. "I have nothing to lose," she says. "I have no relatives. My parents are dead. It's only me and my daughter. I can leave any moment. But my daughter agrees with me in this question. She says, 'Mom, I won't go anywhere outside Armenia.' She says that in a foreign country she will feel herself like she's in a rented apartment. They can say, 'Pack your suitcases and get out of our country' whenever they feel like it. Yes, it would be hard to live there, I would say, very hard. This is our country and when you get into some trouble, you always have a friend who can help you. But who is going to reach out to you out there?" Just like that, short and simple, without wasting words, but with sincere feelings. We say goodbye to each other with a masculine handshake. I look into Alla's kind eyes and think to myself how much courage, will, and strength of character there is in this delicate woman. She manages to withstand all the difficulties and go forward without looking back. And I feel proud that we have citizens like Alla and her daughter in our country. Isn't it because of this kind of people that a country is strong?
Edited by Arpa, 31 May 2007 - 08:31 AM.