This Man...

Khartoum Taxis

Short story by my friend E. An inspiration, every day.

My trip to Khartoum is marked with one amazing experience. I went for lunch today with a friend from UNICEF. I had a nice hour - easy lunch. Stepped out of the UNICEF office and started walking towards the street in the heat, trying to figure out in my little comfy world "How long would I have to walk before I find a tuktuk or a cab?". I saw one of the UNICEF cooking ladies walking on the street, and greeted her. As I turned there was a nice yellow cab coming my way..He slows down. I bend to stick my head at the window and ask him in Arabic: "Street 33, how much?".. He replies "5".. It’s too hot, I figure I won't haggle or look for a tuktuk. So I say "Ok" and get into the front seat, as per usual. He drives off and asks which direction I'd like to go and I tell him.

Then, we're both quiet - I'm reflecting a little on the heat and the rest of my working day at the office, looking out the window - also, secretly hoping he won't want to chitchat.. After a while, he says to me: "My daughter,..." (It is always a relief as the use of that word to address a younger woman, in Arabic, is a sign of decency). "My daughter,... I'm disabled."

I turn towards him and look from up to down. He has no legs - cut a little below the waist. Can you imagine my reaction - my heart leaped out of my chest. My eyes bulged and I looked back up at him and then, figured very quickly that he's got a cab equipped with a basic, Sudanese-style mechanical addition so he can drive. And work. Now, I want to chitchat. But don't even dare push him in that direction. He says: "I'm disabled but it doesn't stop me from living and having lived my life.."

All that spurts out of my mouth is: "Mashallah (God Bless)". And then, "May God assist you".. The usual Arabic expressions of admiration and support - always with the tinge of religious connotation. He turns again and says "I have lived my life. I have daughters your age..."

By then, my feelings are reeling - I'm thinking "Look at this - what a shake out of your world, E.! Look at this - this a person who is truly courageous and just amazingly happy with his part in life. The rest of us - in our spoilt, disturbingly easy lives cannot hold a light to *that* strength!"..

He continues: "I've been disabled since 13 and I'm over 50 now - I have lived. I have lived with what I could".. My tongue and voice return - I say "Since 13, Mashallah! This is really impressive. May God bless and assist you. You have children? You...". He cuts me off with "Yes, my daughter - I have daughters like you in age and they have children too.. And I have lived."

By that time, we are nearing the office and he asks about the specific location - I give directions until we get there. We stop and I hand him whatever cash I have. He looks at his hand and shakes his head: "It's too much". And I say "Of course it's not", thanking him and start making my way out of the cab. For my own self, I don’t ‘dare’ to look back.

I quickly start digging into my aching heart and my spirit - we crossed each other's paths for a reason. I realize as I started writing this story that the reason for me was a sentence he kept on saying "I have lived!". Oh yes, he had. He was an example to me. Living with every inch of you - regardless of the 'outcome' - is the way.. I have every intention of living my life - sucking it dry without guaranteeing the outcome! And now to you, I say: "Live so you can say as he did 'I have lived' and truly mean it..!"

Picture Khartoum taxis, courtesy of Phillip Russell

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