My mode of transportation to the Woodstock Theological Center on the campus of Georgetown University is that of the Red Top Cab. This developed when I lost my parking space at the university. So several times a week I call for a cab, and several times a week I learn something new about life and culture.
The cab drivers are mostly from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Morocco although occasionally an African turns up and once in a great while, an African-American awaits me. Last week, for example, an African-American had a lot to say about the differences between men and women. He heard my cell phone conversation with my husband who was at our home in NY on the Hudson and who couldn’t find some necessary tax documents. I was directing his search. When the conversation was over the driver said something like "Do you nag your man?" I pretended surprise and he went on to say it was OK. When women nag they’re paying attention to the man, and that’s good. He also has a method for avoiding "squabbles". He tells "her" she’s right and then goes on to something else. He said when he was young (I learned he’s fifty which is young to me) he used to want to impose logic which would prove he was right. Now he says he knows he screws up and that his life-companion really knows how to organize their common life. "Women know what they’re doing" he smiled as I paid the fare.
My Muslim cab drivers are not so sure. One Pakistani, whom I see with some regularity, asked my advice about whether he should give in to his wife and make Hadj which is not on his priority list. My instincts told me to stay out of that discussion and decision, but my instincts also told me the impasse would continue. And it has, year after year.
All the cab drivers love to talk politics. Some of them knew I was editing a book on Just War several years ago. This was the opening for long discussions on the Iraq war, the errors of the past administration, and recently the hope they have laid upon President Obama. Long before the rest of us were worrying about the economic slump, my cab drivers were describing the rising costs of feeding a family. Now they worry that more customers will pay with credit cards than with cash which is a problem for them as they must turn in a certain amount of cash every day.
The first whisper I heard of displeasure with Pres. Karzai of Afghanistan came from cab drivers over a year ago. They told me of his family connections to the drug trade, how he hasn’t brought development to the rural areas, how the Americans better start paying attention to the Afghan-Pakistan border in more than a cursory way. They harbor the belief that the US might be collaborating with Russia over oil pipe lines that will benefits the super powers and leave the Afghans more desperate than ever. One driver said that a number of his friends came to the US in the last year because there is no honest work in Afghanistan only to discover there is no work here. They’re going back discouraged and despairing.
I have learned that these men who get me to my destination are smart, compassionate, interested in the larger world and are most considerate of women of a certain age. They are also willing to share their opinions and to seek mine. My cab rides have become dialogues of life.