Yesterday, as you know, I was traveling home and it started off with the message in the photo below.
After I took that I had a bit of an irritating day. I hadn’t slept much or well the night before so I was tired and cranky. Then I realized I’d booked a flight with such tight connections that I couldn’t get a proper lunch – I had a couple of handfuls of almonds and I found an old, pre-made sandwich at the Detroit airport that I wolfed down partly because I was hungry and partly because if I ate it quickly I didn’t have to taste it so much. (It wasn’t that good).
I dozed off and on for much of the flight back – that kind of napping that, for me anyway, leaves me feeling more tired and gives me a headache to boot. So I was at the height of grumpiness. Or so I thought.
When we got to Toronto, I was glad, but it seemed to take FOREVER to get off. Many people were slow to disembark and finally, though there were a few rows ahead of me with people still sitting in them, they were slow to get up and I bolted. I’d had enough. I’d been up since 4:30 AM, I hadn’t eaten, hadn’t had enough coffee, and I was cranky. And snarky folks made (perfectly reasonable) comments like “I guess he’s in a rush and doesn’t feel like he as to wait like the rest of us.” Yeah, you’re right, and now I’m embarrassed. I walk faster, knowing my trip was almost done. I have a Nexus card which usually means no matter how long the lines are for Customs, I just need only to go to a kiosk, scan my retinas, pick up a paper and go. But five international flights had arrived at the same time and the lines were incredible. So I waited in a long line only to find that the kiosks were not all working. I was sent to the regular line which was moving somewhat well but I’d already wasted about 20 minutes. And THEN after all that the luggage still wasn’t out yet and I had to wait even longer for that. Finally it all came through.
I bolted from the area, handed my paperwork to the customs officer and made straight for the Tim Hortons to at least deal with my exhaustion and insufficient caffeination. And then i went outside to the long cab lineup and realized that it was much colder now than when I left. When I’d left it was in the low 20’s – comfortable without a coat. Now it was around zero and I was really cold.
FINALLY the journey is in the home stretch though, and my cab is here and I’m on my way. Despite this, I’m simmering inside, knowing on some level that it was fairly irrational. But still being self-indulgent and letting myself bathe in the whole feeling of ‘Everything sucks today.”
But I make conversation like I always do with the driver to pass the time. And before long he is telling me that as cold as it is here, it’s snowing ‘back home.” I ask where home is and he tells me he is from Afghanistan. And then, thanks to over an hour’s ride, I get to hear so many stories. I hear how it was in the mid 70’s – not a rich country, but mostly peaceful and most people had food, shelter and work. Then I hear about how it was for him in 1979 when he was working as a customs officer and the Soviet tanks rolled up saying they were there to “help” because the Americans were causing trouble there (they weren’t) and how soon after that everyone became suspicious of one another. I heard how soon after they came he was jailed and how he bribed a guard to help him escape. The guard told him that if he let him go, he would have to never be caught and he must leave the country and never come back because if he did they’d both be killed. And then I heard about him walking for four nights, hiding during the day, until he was able to get to Pakistan. I heard how he didn’t get to see his family for over a year when his father bribed border guards to let them join him. I learned how his youngest child who had been 3 months old when he was jailed cried when he came near him because he was a stranger, and how it took his older son, then 3, several hours before he recognized his dad and then came and hugged him tightly alternating between crying and punching him “Where were you, daddy?!?!” he screamed. I heard how they had to leave soon because in this part of Pakistan, children were often kidnapped and held for ransom from the parents. And so, he told me, he had gathered $25,000 in the early 80’s and got fake passports for his family and plane tickets to Montreal. When he got off the plane he went to immigration and said “I’m not Turkish, I’m actually from Afghanistan,” applying for, and receiving political asylum. Sadly, he said, many of his family could not leave and many died. He named off 5-6 relatives and said everyone there has had family members “disappear.” Then he told me how much worse it had become since then. He went back in 2012 and the poverty was noticeably worse. He went out with a friend for dinner. The door had an armed guard to “keep poor people out”, he said, but there were two boys huddled under the table watching them eat. He invited them over and the guard rushed to reprimand them before he told the guard “No, they’re my guests.” The kids were hungry and he bought them food, a curry and rice for one, and a kebab and bread for the other. The one kid ate his curry and rice but he noticed the second one ate only half of his dinner before trying to stealthily put the remaining half in his pocket. He asked the kids if they were still hungry and wanted more and they said “Yes, please.” but then he looked at the little boy and asked “But then why haven’t you eaten all of your food?”
“I’m bringing it to my mother. She hasn’t eaten in two days.”
Off they went immediately to their house where the mother apologized furiously for the kids making him come there. “No,” he said. “Can’t you see? They are tiny children, I am a grown man. I came because I wanted to.” She cried as she told about her husband and father both being killed and how hard it has been to live off the income of one of the children who sometimes shined shoes for a living. And so, my driver said, he took on that family and for five years sent money back to that family (along with many others in his own family still there). Just this year, one of the sons wrote him back to say “Thank you, Uncle, but now I have a job and can support the family.. What can I do to repay you?” He wrote back to him: “Nothing. Just help someone else when you have the chance.”
Yes, as much as we send messages to the world, the world sometimes sends some back. I am sure you will be unsurprised to hear that I did not feel the least need to tell him, or anyone else, about what a ‘bad’ day I had had.
Throughout the trip, he would stop to apologize for talking so much. and each time I assured him I was fascinated. In fact, I was disappointed when we finally got to my house. The stories were going to end. And so, once we were done, I asked for his card and permission to call him later. He’s agreed to meet with Sage – along with his wife – to tell their stories and share them on her podcast.