“It was the eyes that gave him away.” As we drove to Dulles International Airport, Osman told me about how he once had a gun jammed into the back of his neck and how violated he felt as he handed over all his money. They eventually caught the guy, he says, and he had to go in to identify him. It was the eyes that gave him away.
As I sat in the back of Osman’s taxi, it was only his eyes I could see as he glanced occasionally up into the rear view mirror to punctuate his sentences. He showed me a copy of the proposed Professional Taxicab Standards Act of 2011 and outlined the parts he didn’t agree with. Why should people who have been driving cabs for 30 years suddenly need to pay thousands of dollars to register their cars? It had taken him 45 minutes to find the proposed bill- ironically, he couldn’t find it through the official www.dc.gov website– he had to find this by Googling.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to meet a taxi driver who carefully reviewed proposed legislature. Then again, I wasn’t expecting to have such a hard time finding a taxi to takes me to Dulles from the 11NTC at the Washington Hilton. Osman explained that because the rates had been lowered, fewer taxi drivers were willing to go to the airport on the meter. I was grateful that he opened his door to me.
Osman is from Somalia. 30 years ago, he finished high school and came to Washington, DC on a student visa. After his student visa expired, he applied for asylum for fear of persecution back home. After a long process, he became an American citizen 10 years later.
Osman’s parents arranged a marriage for him. He first met his wife at the Dulles International Airport and seven days later, they were married. A month later, she disappeared. He described how he felt used and was saddened by her sudden departure, but he changed the locks and held on to her passport. She returned after 6 weeks.
I asked him if he knew the reason why she left.
He smiled. “She didn’t tell me. And I didn’t ask. There’s never a guarantee you can stick together, but we’ve been together for 20 years now.”
They have 5 children together. His voice is bursting with pride as he tells me how his eldest daughter has memorized the entire Qu’ran and can recite any sura on demand. I asked him if he had ever gone on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and his voice softens–”it was very moving… 2 million people…” and we sit in silence for a little while.
I tell him of how I work with youth to provide them with more educational opportunities and he tells me about some of the problems that are facing young Somalian youth. There is no government in Somalia, he says. There is no government and little education available for youth. With little education, young men are easily recruited as pirates, hijacking ships, and they have little awareness of the laws and repercussions.
As we near the airport, he eyes flick up to the rear view mirror and he wishes me a safe flight. I ask if I can write about his story and he agrees, “yes, please tell my story.” It is only when I take his picture that I finally see the rest of his face. But it will be the eyes I remember the most.
As Thomas King says, “Don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.”