Last week, while flying home from my parent’s place, I encountered some travel delays which resulted in me getting to SFO pretty late at night. I live about an hour from the airport, so I was a bit apprehensive about taking an Uber (I’ve had unpleasant experiences with cabs late at night in SFO). I contemplated spending the night at the airport, but eventually decided I wanted my bed, so called my Uber and hopped in. Little did I know it would be a trip I won’t soon forget…
I started my usual conversation with my driver, whose name was Ahmad. He had an accent so I eventually asked where he was from, because I love to hear people’s stories of where they came from and how they ended up here. He hesitated… and eventually, speaking softly, he said Baghdad. My stomach turned, and not for the reasons it might turn for some people in today’s world. It turned because I immediately became aware of his demeanor and how he must be feeling. It made me think he gets one of two reactions when he reveals his ethnicity, one of compassion and love or one of judgment and fear. And he wasn’t sure which to expect from me… But I knew what I wanted to leave him with.
I asked him more questions – how long had he been here, how often does he go home, does he have family here, has he found a community in the Bay Area. The longer I spoke to him, the more he opened up. It turned out he is from a town called Mosul, about 250 miles north of Baghdad in Iraq. He spoke about his hometown with so much pride, the culture, the beauty, the history… When he was there, he entered a lottery for a US visa, and ended up getting it. In 2007, he left his friends and family behind, for a new world, a new life, with the hopes of bringing his family here someday so they could live in peace and happiness. He arrived in the US, not knowing a word of English, and ended up being housed with a Frenchman, who also spoke zero English. He was terrified, lost and had no one here, but he was determined. So he learned English, and worked hard to save money. He returned to Iraq for a visit in 2009, not knowing it would be the last time he saw his loved ones. In 2014, ISIS took control of Mosul, and he hasn’t heard from his family in over a year and a half. His tone of pride turned to one of pain and sadness. He doesn’t know if his family is alive or dead. There is no connection to the outside world for the people of Mosul, no internet, no phones… He shared that his mind is consumed with thoughts of his loved ones…wondering if he will ever hear from them again. One of his brothers ended up fleeing and made it to Europe. Every once in a while, he hears from him, but that is his only family member he remains connected to.
My heart ACHED.
I asked more… who do you have here? He shared that the Bay Area doesn’t really have a community of Iraqi people. He has made many friends from all over the world, but in a sense he feels isolated. And with the way the world has become, it seems he has learned to live his life, keep to himself and those he trusts, and stay focused on his work. I listened to everything he said, I was engaged in our conversation, and all I wanted was to leave him feeling heard, seen and understood. Looking back, there is so much more I wish I had said, but sometimes less is more. I hope he felt what I felt, and I hope he knew that I care.
It was a simple Uber ride home but it was as if the universe was nudging me. Saying “I’m just checking to see if you’re paying attention, because this? THIS is what life is about.” A beautiful reminder that WE ARE ALL CONNECTED. Be kind to one another. Do your best to see people’s soul, to see the essence of who they are and not the package they come in or the labels associated with them by society. Love one another. Then and only then will the world become brighter, lighter and happier. It’s up to each and every one of us.
From my heart to yours <3