Obama Is a Taxi Driver

Amman, Jordan

I’ve had great luck with taxi drivers this week. Yesterday, my German got a good workout with a delightful man who had lived for years in various German cities. This morning, as I was getting out of one taxi, the driver said, “You’re not a foreigner, are you?” I nodded. “But your Arabic…!” I love these moments, and this one prompted me to remember something my mother said before I went into the Peace Corps. “This won’t be like Europe,” she said. “No matter how well you speak or how appropriately you dress, no one will ever mistake you for an Arab!” Au contraire! It happens every few weeks this time around.

It was another taxi driver, though, who gave me one of the best political analogies I’ve ever heard. It didn’t start out auspiciously. I got in the cab and told him I wanted to go to Quds College. He asked, “Do you go there often?” I replied, “I work there!” Then we discovered that my supervisor had taken his cab out to the college twice. “So you’re English?” he asked. “No, I’m American.” Then there was a pause. Finally, the cab driver said, “Things are better in America now. It was really bad with Bush.” We hashed this out for awhile, and then he seemed to change the subject:

Now, I’m a taxi driver, he said. I drive this taxi not just for my own amusement but to provide for my family. My wife and my children depend on the money I make driving this taxi. Can I do whatever I want, go wherever I want, run other people off the road? No! I’ll wreck my taxi, I’ll get in trouble. Can I say whatever I want to my customers? Can I shout at them, tell them what to do and where to go? No! I’d lose all my business that way. This is what it’s like to be the American President. He has to respect other people, other countries, other people, or he ruins his country and everyone else’s.

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