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Antje Duvekot

Mohamed

on wednesday i received a cab ride from a man who told me that a woman's place was in the home, that her sole role was to raise his children and respect him. he told me everything he did was dictated to him by allah. also that he dislikes my culture and country. at the end of this ride, i gave the man all my money and, when he pulled out of sight, i sobbed uncontrollably for a very long time.

that would be one way to tell the story. another way to tell it might be that i was forever changed by a chance meeting with a stranger. either of these tellings makes me sound unstable. but i am not. life throws us lessons.

it began like every tiring cab ride small talk. "yes michael jackson's son does look a lot like him". it is always like this. language and cultural barriers between caber and cabbie mean there is talking but not truly quite to each other. his english, too, was poor but he was funny and very bright. he was so very thin but his dark eyes were animated and maintained eye contact in the rear view as we sat in chicago traffic. it was ramadan. "i so wish you could, one day, go to marrakesh during ramadan" he said and "when moroccans play music at night everything just disappears". i knew what he meant. but there was more to it. there is a language beyond language. it is a language of the spirit and his was bright as a supernova.

sometimes i think i struggle in life but i suspect i would crumble under the constraints of his. "are there other moroccans in chicago?" yes but everyone works too hard to hang out. ever. he's been here five years and he's been pretty lonely. he'd have gone home long ago but a dangerous chronic colon condition keeps him bound to the american medical system. he had no bitterness about any of it. he works all the time and he worked hard to get his cab license and harder still to get his truck driver license. at this point, he tells me a comic story of the xenophobic examiner who tried to thwart his passing the test by throwing him english-language curveballs and how he beat him. he didn't use the words "xenophobic" or "curveballs" of course. he can't drive a truck, though, because of his health. but he dreams about it. his being lights up when he speaks of it. he's loved trucks ever since boyhood. but "it's in allah's hands" and he's okay with that.

frankly, i was deeply moved by his resilience and optimism in the face of great adversity. he seemed to get a lot of comfort from his god. you'd have liked him. he said allah loves people for what is in their heart - not for their religious affiliation. i wish we would hear this message more in portrayals of islam. considering his circumstances, his devotion seemed an enlightened way of being. when he spoke of his (future) wife not working, it, too, made sense. in the context, it seemed like a kind gesture rather than an act of oppression. and she should respect him because he would respect her too. all i know is, it sounded very different coming from his lips than from, say, my women's lib professor back in college. the ever-clamoring liberal-progressive-atheist-feminist voices that inform my identity just went quiet on this ride and i touched souls with a stranger of strange beliefs.

in the end, all humans are bound together by love, struggle and mortality. there is no "other". just different ways to live. my understanding of the world might have had me deem this man's beliefs "dangerous" or "backwards" but there is great danger in such very judgments because good and evil traverse all types of belief systems and the human heart is its own entity that chooses its path beyond and separate from its cultural trappings. when i got out of the cab nothing seemed the same. you know the feeling when you're suddenly standing in a strange world. that is why i cried. i cried for resilience and realization. i cried for universal love that transcends belief and culture. i cried for my own closed mind and that of my society. there is so much misunderstanding, especially between the muslim world and america. i cried because i wanted mohamed to drive a truck. i don't know his real name. i regret not finding out. but now, when i pass a truck on the highway, i shall believe that he is behind the wheel, living his dreams and making the world a better place.

updated 11 months ago