Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Riding in Ubers with nostalgia

Abdul has been living in Las Vegas for the last 7 years. 13 years in all in the US of A. I wonder what must go through his mind when he rides around the overgrown light show that is the Sin City. Ethiopia brings to my mind images of dusty markets, women with bright head scarfs, coffee - the standard travel show montage. What would be the extent of surrealism he must experience driving around in this oasis of madness?

"You think I can marry Aishwarya Rai? She is very beautiful!", sounds in a distinct accent reach across from the front. I suddenly realise that Abdul has a few stock images of India as well. Over the next 15 minutes, my mind is introduced to Ethiopia's Bollywood market through Abdul's love for Hindi films. "I love Bollywood!" India's soft export has captured this East African heart. Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini, Aishwarya Rai. I find it funny that his love seems to spread across generations. I wonder how dated the Hindi movie releases in Ethiopia might be. He remembers Aamir Khan from the 1990 movie Dil and wonders how can he still be a leading star. He then hops, skips and jumps a couple of decades to wonder what possessed Aishwarya Rai to marry Amitabh Bachchan's son. "Why did she do it? He is no good."

It seemed like a rhetorical question to so I thought I would show off my new found knowledge of Ethiopian cuisine by touching upon its similarities to Indian cuisine. "It must be the spices. We used to get most of our spices from India when I was there."

A statement that could be true in most parts of the world at some point in time.


I am Shamanke from Djibouti. I have a cousin brother studying in Osmania University, Hyderabad. My own brother was living in Bangalore for a year. He was working for Ernst & Young. Now he is in Dubai. I always wanted to visit India. You know my brother in Hyderabad goes out walking with his wife and he has not faced any problems. I know there has been lots of stories in the media but I think it's a lot of hype. There is a billion people in that country and I think if you take it as a percentage of the female population then it would more or less be the same as the case in the US. Violence and crimes are everywhere. OK, you have been living all your life there so if you still think women aren't very free in India. I can't really argue with that but from what I have heard from my cousin it isn't so bad. I have lived in Djibouti, London, Stockholm and Dubai and I think US is the least friendly of all the places. I have my own house here. I have wife here. My own business here. My kids were born here. But I still don't feel like I belong here.


What brings you here? IT? 

No, my wife. She got transferred here and I came along on a free plane ride. 

It is good to have your family here. I came from Punjab 36 years ago. My wife and daughters are in India. I go back once a year.

What?  Only once a year?

Yes. I came here when I was 20 and stayed with some family friends from Patiala. Went back after 5 years and got married to a woman from Jalandhar. Returned alone. Then went once a year. Now I have two daughters. One of them I sponsored citizenship but I couldn't do it for the elder one as she got old and I couldn't afford to sponsor her when she was young. But she is a good girl. Studying medicine in Punjab. She wants to do specialisation in Cancer. She has already done some research on the internet and has decided to come to John Hopkins in nearby Baltimore. 

So you will get to see her more often then.

Hopefully. If things work out as planned, I will be able to see her much more often than once a year for sure. It would be strange.

Do you drive Uber full time? 

No. no. I work in a factory. I came here 35 years back and got a job driving taxis in the night and ever since then I have only taken up night shift jobs. Nowadays I take some rides before heading to the factory. To make some extra cash. Daughters have grown big and need more money now. I haven't gone to India for 3 years in order to save up on cash.

Haven't you ever felt the need to go back and live with your kids & wife in India? Or to bring them over here?

Many times. But I also wonder if it will be the same if I go back. They may find me a burden. I won't have a job that pays in dollars. I mean factory jobs don't really pay much but once you convert dollars to rupees then things look a lot better. But many times I have thought about it and an equal number of times the thought has gone away. Some times I start thinking of how the smells are so nice back home, the colours, the taste of the vegetables but these thoughts eventually go away.

Here is where you get off by the way. All the best.

Thank you. Nice to meet you.

It takes just two questions - Where are you from? How long have you been here? - to realise that nothing quite satisfies the senses like nostalgia.

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