I have a problem. I’m insensitively curious when I meet people from other countries. My problem is that when someone tells me where they’re from, the first things I usually ask about are national tragedies… Mostly because that’s either all I know or all I care about their countries. For example, I had a Sri Lankan driver a few days ago. I waited a few minutes into the conversation then had to say it… “So, that was one terrible tsunami you had 4 years ago.” His immediate response was pretty typical to my insensitive questions, “ohhhhh… very bad… very bad.” He was lucky enough to be living in the hills at the time but had a clear view of the carnage below. At the time he worked for an NGO that was helping drug addicts and alcoholics at some retreat up in the hills (let that be a lesson to you kids: crack addictions ultimately save you from tsunamis). Being the good guy that he is, he ran down to help people who were trapped. But most of the damage was already done by then and he described a pretty terrible scene which I’d rather not talk about due to my sarcastic setting here... I think that would be even more insensitive of me. He said he took pictures of the devastation and I nearly asked him to send them to me, but again, I think I’d been enough of an ass for the day.
The next day I had a Pakistani Shiite Muslim driver who was very talkative. He wasn’t so good with the listening… But he could sure dish it out. After his 5 minute tirade about how all Sunni Muslims were evil and aggressive ‘modder fawkers’ with big ugly beards (and the Shia were perfect, of course), I tried to reason with him (mostly to defend my boys Waz and Naz). “Well most of my Muslim friends back in the States are Sunni and they are very nice guys and they wouldn’t hurt--”, I was cut off. “No no no, sunni no good, Shia good. Sunni no good. Very bad and mean, Sunni”. (I’ve learned that many of the Pakistani and Indian guys around here like to repeat themselves when speaking English to make sure I caught what they were trying to say because usually it takes at least both times to get it.)
He continued “Al Qaeda is sunni, America fight al Qaeda, so shia and America are same same. You, me, same same. You see?” Actually I did not see (as flawless as that argument was)... Again I tried with the reasoning, “But Hezbollah is Shia… Iran is mostly shia… And Hezbollah shoots rockets into Israeli cities at civilians. That’s a little aggressive don’t you thin--”, I was cut off again, “no no no, al Qaeda bad, America good. We same same.” At this point I realized logic was not going to be present in this conversation, so I just smiled and nodded in agreement with the angry, bitter driver. Unfortunately though, my polite nodding led him to think we were buddies.
“My friend, my friend, you help me get Amrika visa!”
“Uhhhhh.. I’m not really allowed to do that.”
“Very easy, very easy. You tell embassy I’m good guy. I’m good guy, no?”
“Well you seem good to me, but I don’t think it works that way.”
“You think I’m bad?” He actually had a sad face. :( <-- like such.
“No, no. You’re good. You’re good.”
“I get tourist visa to states, you find me girl to marry and I get green card. OK?”
“…Yeah…. You’re gunna have to take a rain check on that. I don’t know any girls that I could just call up and ask to marry you. Not that you’re not a great guy or anything.”
“Fine fine, you just tell embassy I’m good guy. And your family can tell I’m good guy too.”
“Well the thing about it is, I’m actually not on good terms with the department of Homeland Security. I’m probably marked as a terrorist suspect so I don’t think I can help.”
“Ahhh you very funny. Very funny.”
“No I’m serious! George Bush is a paranoid asshole.”
“Noooo. George Bush very good. Same same.”
He could tirade about Sunnis all he wanted, but this wouldn’t stand. “Actually, George Bush is a very bad man. Almost as bad as Dick Cheney, who should die of gonorrhea by the way. Very big asshole, George Bush.” (I started talking like him!)
He just stared at me in the rear view mirror because he didn’t know what to say to that. Either because he didn’t understand what gonorrhea was, or why the hell I wished my own vice president would die from it… We arrived at the mall and I pulled out my wallet.
He asked with a slight smile “So, no visa then?” :(
“Sorry, I guess not.” I felt kind of bad. I was crushing his dream of moving to the United States... to drive a Taxi. (true story)
“Ok, 6 dirhams then. Thank you my friend!”