Jonathan picked me up again, this time for a trip to Capitol Hill. He says he has a university degree, but still drives a cab to get by. His native Ghana is so crippled by corruption that taking a menial job in the West is better than returning home. I can tell that he wants to, though. It seems complicated.
Talking to DC cabbies is a breath of fresh air in a city that acts busy to mask its blandness. Where they are from and if they miss home are usually my first questions. Of course they miss home, say most, despite any trauma left behind. Many of the African drivers have family members that headed north to Europe instead of across the Atlantic. Some speak a little German. Everyone knows Beckenbauer.
Some sing America’s praises at first, almost in some kind of newfound patriotic reflex that all immigrants think is a prerequisite for fitting in around here. Their story changes somewhat when learning that I, too, am an expat. Being far flung together makes you the same in some ways, even though our paths probably couldn’t be more different.
Jonathan is one of the few who don’t miss home.
The corruption in Ghana is so bad, he says, that the country just doesn’t function. “Nothing is working — nada. Everything is crumbling.” People are expected to pay up at every turn, and it has made them ruthless. Jonathan believes he lost his sister two years ago because she did not receive the expensive HIV medication doctors made her purchase. The hospital sold the drugs and gave her Aspirin instead.
When Jonathan flew home to bury his sister, the pathologist said the paperwork for the body to be released to the family would take a month or two — too much time away from the cab job in America. Outside the office, a secretary explained what the pathologist really was saying.
The story of having to pay a bribe to receive your sister’s body who died because of a crooked hospital official would change even the happiest man. Jonathan’s suggested punishment of “lining them up so I can shoot them one by one before their mothers’ eyes” seemed dramatic at first, but now I get the idea.
“People are disappointed,” he says. “Sometimes you feel like they should sell the continent to the Japanese and distribute the money and let everybody find their way.”
At my destination, Jonathan’s mood brightens somewhat. He shrugs and apologizes for painting such a gloomy picture of his home country when people really should want to “spend their vacation there” if only the circumstances were different.
But they are not, and here we are: Far flung, making homes.
(Image credit: Lars Plougmann/Wikimedia)