I live in the South West of London and due to frequent travel I get to spend an hour or so a month with a minicab driver on the way to the airport. Minicabs are pre-booked rides in someone’s personal car. They’re cheaper and somewhat more comfortable.
My last four drivers were Indian, Pakistani, Afghani and Somali.
The Indian gentleman had moved to Tooting in the 70s and told me about the days when they played football on the main road on Sunday, because there was little traffic and Sundays the shops were closed. An Indian granddad sharing stories about social change in London.
With the Pakistani driver I had a conversation about the political conflict. Pakistani and Indians are just the same people he says. Inside India there are more Muslims than in Pakistan. For him visiting his family which is spread around both countries is easy because he uses the Pakistani passport for Pakistan and the British one for India travel. He will soon retire from driving a minicab, so he needs to start investing in Pakistan for his retirement. He’ll definitely go back, the weather is better and the food. He says my company should expand to Pakistan and he’ll do free market research for us there!
I learnt about a prayer app from the Afghani guy. As in London the mosques aren’t allowed to project the prayers over loudspeakers, many Muslims use an app singing the prayer for them. As we were relatively stuck in traffic jam, he watched a 20-minute live news show from Kabul via Youtube. “See, Kabul: No problem all fine. I go every 4 months.” I was also shocked by an incredible level of racism. “Why you go Africa? Nothing there but animals and black women!”
My favourite guy was today’s Somali family father: His three brothers live in Norway, Sweden and Mogadishu. His mother lives in Mogadishu but he flew her to Nairobi for medical treatment two months ago and stayed with her for two months. He loves Mombasa and Eastleigh. His wife speaks better English than him and she studied at an Italian university in Mogadishu. Most Somali women in London don’t care about learning English and he thinks it’s a problem. He also hopes that Somalia will be safe one day and his son who now studies medicine but moved to London at the age of 1 will be able to go back and work in the new hospital built by Turkish Aid. His son asks him why Somalis of the same look, religion and language kill each other and he doesn’t have words to explain it to him. All Somalis hate the Al-Shabaab, he says. We want peace. His views on the dictator who ruled Somalia before ‘91 were insightful and he explained me the five spikes of the star on the Somali flag. He recommended me a Somali restaurant in our area. “Problem in Africa is always that military is corrupt and look for their advantage. Right now we need African troops in Somalia but soon they should leave and we build our country.”
Asia and Africa’s brains and hands driving cabs in London. Wounded souls from conflict-torn countries telling stories of multiple passports, hard work and new beginnings. Polished Mercedes and airline miles. Racism and hopes. The dream to live healthily with family and friends. It shows in many different ways, but mainly a big smile.