Taxi drivers, Covid-19 heroes

Yangyel Lhaden

Thimphu. They have only ever gotten the worse in their professional world—these men and women who take it all professionally.

August 23, a Sunday.  Forty-something “volunteer” taxi drivers are out ready for a big day. It is 6:00 am. There is a long day ahead of them but it doesn’t matter. They are out on to killing the bad name they got.

The snacks from Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen with their morning tea has perked them all up. They found a new meaning for their service.

Helping get the health officials on Covid-19 duty to the many centres in Thimphu? They have got it. Managing crowd and safety protocols in the cremation ground in Hejo, all is set.

Funny-looking things aren’t always the most useless. Take carrots for example. In red jumpsuits they move around, face masks and shields on. This teaming up of the Bhutan Red Cross Society and taxi drivers is amazing not just symbolically speaking. There is a purpose to it all, far greater than individual responsibility which, by the way, seems to be in short supply in these demanding times.

Jungshina Primary School in Thimphu; 8:00 am.  The volunteers are ready for the big day.

Jangchub Tshering, one of the volunteers, must deploy vehicles as and when required by the health teams. He has been doing the rounds to make contact tracing possible. The very call that he has picked up now is for the same purpose. It’s been a week, almost a month he hasn’t seen his wife and children

In these times, however, smooth-sailing is out of question.

Smallness is both an opportunity and a problem. The biggest city and the capital doesn’t have a proper address system. Locating places and addresses is a major problem still. That probably explains how delivery of essential items is a major problem still.

In a day, each volunteer taxi driver are able to contact only about 30 families in Thimphu. Increasing Covid-19 testing in Thimphu to 10 has made service delivery a lot easier.

An expensive rite of passage

Death is expensive in Bhutan. The focus naturally shifts on cremation ground in Hejo as Covid-19 rages on and lockdown must be maintained whatever the case.

All’s not dead, to put it metaphorically. Taxi drivers – eight women and six men from Bhutan Red Cross Society have been engaged in ensuring urgent and full rituals—more importantly—the observance of health protocols in such places.

According to Rinzin Chophel, President of Bhutan Taxi Association, the work is far from over. “New dawn is upon us. As long as our service is needed, we are ready.”

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