The Nepali noun, Swati, is the name of the goddess of female energy. The organization, Swati, empowers women to be economically independent. Its first course trained women to drive taxis because Sangita Nirola saw a need: many women in Kathmandu did not feel safe riding with men. Women taxi drivers? The idea was revolutionary! Until then, here and in most countries, taxis were driven by men.
Kathmandu’s brick, medieval streets are barely wide enough for two cars to pass. Main thoroughfares have no marked lanes and addresses can be only the name of the nearest monument. Buses, bicycles, mopeds and buffalo compete for right of way. Horns create a symphony of stress.
“The hardest part of driving in Kathmandu is the traffic,” Sharmila admits. At any moment, the car in front of us is as likely to be facing toward us as facing away. Sharmila is focused and calm. I flinch as a truck cuts us off.
Sharmila, 27, grew up and completed high school in Eastern Nepal. She migrated to Kathmandu to become a receptionist for a driving institute. In 2003, she learned to drive and she has been teaching driving for Swati ever since.
Twenty-two of her students have qualified for licenses. The newest group will receive theirs tomorrow. The first group's graduation took place at a Five Star hotel, which Sangita arranged to make the occasion seem as important as it was. This time, the graduates will be photographed for a book that will be distributed all over the world; I pick up my camera, vowing to do them proud.