Finally, through customs, I shuffled over to the cab line. Seeing the long line of British cabs, called Hackneys, reminded me I was in the UK. It was a typical “overnight” flight. Which meant bleary eyes, cowlicked hair and my body slumped by jet lag.
It’s always been impossible for me to sleep on planes. I thought it would be different this time because my client rewarded me with first class, but even the plush cocoon it provided couldn’t sooth my restlessness throughout the flight over the Atlantic.
I could hear the rumble of planes taking off in the distance as I walked outside the Manchester terminal, glad I had finally arrived. Ahead of me would be the 45-minute transport to my client’s sport complex and I was looking forward to some quiet time, uninterrupted and with a chance to grab some rest.
As I reached the waiting line of Hackneys, I saw an older driver jump out of his cab as he spotted me. Looking at the number of cabs assembled, I assumed he had been waiting a while.
He had a comical grin on his face which was framed by a salt and pepper colored beard.
He greeted me warmly, grabbed my roll away and bags, opened the cab and said, “Welcome to Manchester, Sir!”
Glad to be relieved of my bags I said, “Thank you, but please call me David.” Right away I knew that was a mistake because it was an invitation to start a conversation.
He excitedly said, “Yes, yes, David! So nice to be at your service. Where is your destination?”. “The Etihad Stadium complex” I replied.
He froze for a moment and said, “You mean the Manchester City Football Club? I am such a fan! Let’s get going! I can’t wait to hear why you have come to Manchester.”
Oh no! I had no energy for a long-winded conversation. How am I going to get out of this without offending him?
I scanned his credentials clipped to the driver’s side visor. His name was Mohamed and, in his picture, he wore a traditional taqiyah or skullcap, worn by Muslims.
When he climbed into the driver’s seat I said, “Mohamed, I am so tired from the flight. Do you mind if I close my eyes for a few minutes? I really need some sleep before I arrive at the Manchester campus.
“Oh…sure, sure David please rest, rest. I will get you there safely. No need for talk now.” His smile softened a bit revealing his disappointment.
I settled in and got comfortable and I saw Mohamed’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. They looked tired just like mine. I said, “Where are you from Mohamed?”.
His big grin returned and he said, “David, I come from Syria! I have 12 brothers and sisters. My father owned a small farm and all I remember growing up was a life full of love, hard work and family.
My homeland is a beautiful place but the war and its conflict took the lives of my mother, father and two of my brothers in 1961. With help and kindness from my uncle, the rest of us escaped the war and we immigrated to the UK.
It has been difficult at times but by the grace of Allah we have prospered here. I still celebrate with my brothers and sisters during the holidays and we count our blessings.”
After a brief pause, he chuckled quietly, and then asked, “What about you David? Tell me about your family.”
How should I respond? Mohamed’s story was difficult to comprehend and an experience I couldn’t relate to, yet I was so impressed with his willingness to share, that I decided to be honest in return.
I told Mohamed how sorry I was for his loss and proceeded to tell him about my youth. Growing up in Newark, Delaware on the east coast of the United States, safe from war or any kind of threat he and his family faced.
I too grew up surrounded by family, loving parents who worked hard and taught us the same values. And while I hadn’t lost anyone to war, I did experience similar heartache watching my mother succumb to cancer long before we were ready to say goodbye to her.
I also said I was proud to be a father of four children and lucky to have a strong and beautiful marriage to my wife, Sandy.
Over the rest of the ride, Mohamed and I continued to share, laugh and connect. It felt safe to be open and honest with this stranger from a world away.
The time passed quickly and as Mohamed pulled into the entrance of the Manchester City Etihad stadium complex, he said, “Well David, our journey is at an end. Thank you for the conversation. It was my pleasure to serve you today.”
I was filled with gratitude because he was so open and honest with his story so I replied, “No Mohamed, it was my pleasure to be with you and I am wondering about how you and I, who have obvious cultural differences, have been able to connect with such grace and understanding?”
Mohamed said, “Oh David, this is easy to know. All we need to do is stop listening to our leaders. Instead, we need to only speak to each other. Share our stories and dreams. This way we understand that we all are the same. We all want to be safe, happy and wish the same for our families.”
“Good day, my friend!” And with that Mohmed was off for his next fare.
I recall this cab ride frequently. Especially now during times filled with so much division, misunderstanding and even hate. We must remember that most of our differences are outnumbered by shared goals of happiness and safety.
In the end, simplicity can hold solutions to complex problems.
Have a conversation with someone different from you, today! ?