In the spirit of the 4th of July holiday…here’s a little story I jotted down back in April. I figured this is an appropriate day to share!
God bless America, have a safe and happy mid-week break.
– – –
For reasons having to do with my car falling apart, I took a cab home from work on a Wednesday afternoon at the end of April.
My driver was an especially chatty African man with a curious accent. I struck up a conversation and noticed his English was a mix of a Texan accent on some words with a British accent on others. (I would later learn that he has lived in both places.) We discussed his home country of Ethiopia, and I shared my plans to travel to Guinea.
“No! You are moving there?!” he said, Britishly.
“Well not forever…but yes, in July.”
“WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”
Now, I’ve seen a lot of reactions. But the African man appalled that I would go to Africa to work for an organization that serves other Africans was…unprecedented. He looked at me like I had lost my marbles.
“Ummm,” I said, the way a naive 23-year-old who doesn’t really know what she’s getting herself into would say.
“You are leavin’ all of this??” he said, Texan accent, moving his right hand in the air in a circular motion that I took to mean ‘downtown Houston.’
Meanwhile, I looked out my window onto this type of scene:
Ah yes, beautiful Houston.
As we dodged traffic on Allen Parkway he spoke of the corruption, poverty and disease he witnessed growing up. He told me how hard it was to get here and how lucky he was to be in this city “even if summers in Texas are terribly hot.” (An Ethiopian man complaining about Texas heat, yes this happened.)
By the time we reached Shepherd Street, I was discouraged. Sensing this, he finally smiled and broke into a laugh. Imagine the product of Tony Blair and Rafiki laughing.
“Can I ask you how old you are?” he said.
I told him.
“Ok ok. Fine. Go. You are young and you will like traveling and Africa. But I wish you did not have to go there to find out what you have here,” he said to the rear-view mirror. “You will come back and you will love your country and you will love your government. And that’s good!”
I thanked him and paid the fare. He pointed to the middle of my apartment building’s pretty courtyard.
“Ha! They will not have fountains in Guinea!” This amused him greatly. I faked a laugh, then entertained the idea of chaining myself to it and never leaving the United States ever again.
As I walked into my apartment building he shouted “good luck to you!” in French. I tried be quick on my feet and craft some fancy farewell but came up with nothing. So I waved and mumbled ‘au revoir’ and then something else ridden with grammatical errors.
It didn’t matter though, he couldn’t hear me over the echoes of splashing water from the beautiful Italian 3-tiered fountain.
– – –
I wanted to remember this, so I came home and wrote it down right away. Because the real lesson here is what a privilege I have, to travel and see through new eyes, and then return to this wonderful country. As of April 25th, I decided I cannot let myself forget that fact. I’ve always been a proud American, but now I hope to become a sincerely grateful one. If the only thing this experience brings is a deeper appreciation for my country, then “that’s good.” And if some day in the future you find that I have chained myself to some sort of permanent American structure, please try to understand. We are really blessed to live in the U.S., you don’t have to go to Africa to know that.
My driver took his family to visit Ethiopia in June after his kids got out of school. He said he wanted his four American children (emphasis on their nationality) to see where he and his wife are from. I told him that I hope his kids enjoy his old country and come back here and appreciate this one.
He laughed, “Maybe when they are 23.”