I left my house worried and rewinding. Had I remembered to leave the right notes for my husband? Had I given enough kisses to my kids on the way out? I paid little attention to the man who opened the door to the car that was waiting to take me to the airport for a one night business trip.
As we drove from the familiar streets to the less familiar, I looked down, on autopilot, as I tend to do these days. I began my mindless rotation: email checking, texts, Facebook business page, Twitter, Facebook personal, Instagram and then as I was on my way to lap back for another tour, I looked up at the taxi driver as I used to in the time before I was tied to my smartphone.
He was dressed in a suit and possessed a quiet confidence. I asked him where he was from. “Rwanda.” How did you end up here? “I won the green card lottery.” At that moment I knew that I had won too – this man would turn out to teach me more than I could ever learn scouring my newsfeed on the web. And far more than I had learned studying Africa as a college anthropology student.
He proceeded to tell me first hand about the 1994 Rwandan civil war that until now was as impersonal to me as any other war I have read about. He went on to talk to me about his wife, also Rwandan, and his kids, and how differently they are growing up in America. He used to send money back home to his relatives but he doesn’t anymore. “America makes you greedy,” he explained. Now he wants to make money for his children.
We talked about genocide and love and about how his country in which one million people died so recently, is now known as the most peaceful nation in Africa. He explained that the peace stems from a generation that witnessed horror and do not want to return to that place. Peace is what remains.
We talked about how Tutsis and Hutus now live side by side seamlessly. They live, they love, they marry each other. “Love knows no boundaries,” he said, “look at Anthony Weiner and his wife, a Jew and an Arab.”
On Anthony and Huma he believes, “Forgiveness is good, but you can’t forgive forever.” On Syria, he said, “Nothing good could come of the US intervening.” When he sees what is happening in Syria, it reminds him of Rwanda in 1994.
At last I asked, “Are you Tutsi or Hutu?”
“It doesn’t matter.” he said softly. “That is the kind of thinking and talk that brought us to war in the first place. For years I battled with my father about this. And after years of arguing, I realized he was right. It doesn’t matter, so let’s not talk about it.”
I left and thanked him for a ride not just to the airport, but for giving me more than I could possibly pay for.
Oh, the places you’ll go… when you look up from your smartphone.