Obama – New York City Cab Driver

Mid-term Coming

Like many who voted for Obama in 2008, I’ve found the news these days, particularly prophesies of the upcoming elections, very depressing.  I do think O’s in a slump;  he seems to be having a hard time rousing himself, much less others, his conviction and confidence worn as thin as his person.

I find it hard to fault him for this, given that almost everything he says is greeted with knee-jerk misinterpretation, misinformation, distrust.

My personal advice is that he should be himself as fully and unapologetically as he can, even if that means being subject to even more distortion.  Americans, though divided in terms of issues, almost uniformly dislike perceived artifice;  even a super-careful reserve can be interpreted as phoniness.

The fact is that you can’t please everyone.  Better to be rejected for who you actually are than for who you are carefully trying not to be.

That doesn’t read quite right–what I mean is that it is better to fail for your whole, real self, than for a carefully promoted dissection of yourself.

In the midst of my depression, I had an experience that made me feel better both about the situation (and the country)–a New York City cab ride.

I don’t take many cabs these days;  good for my pocketbook, but a loss. I’ve always found New York City cab drivers to provide a wonderful window onto the greater world (if not the smoothest ride).  This guy, for example, who was from Mali, explained that his first language, and one of the main dialects in a country filled with dialects, is Bombara.   (I had never heard of it before.)

The driver also spoke French, which he briefly practiced with me, sweetly tolerant of my linguistic clumsiness.

In Mali, he explained, children learn French for the first seven years of school, and then have a choice of English or German.

I asked if his mother spoke French.  A long-term postal worker, she spoke it very well, he said.  But his father, who had died in 1971, after a trip to Mecca, had only spoken a dialect called Hasani (which seems to be somehow connected to Arabic).

The driver loved the French language, but had less patience for the French people, whom he felt had no sympathy for Africa.  He spoke proudly of his U.S. Green Card, which he described as a real protection for him on a recent visit to France.  He expressed strong feelings of gratitude for the openness of Americans as opposed to the French.

I gingerly mentioned that some Americans were not all that open, that there was sometimes a certain racism here too, but he brushed that aside, beaming that the United States had elected Obama.

I noted that the country was giving Obama an awfully hard time.  He shrugged.  The fact that the United States had elected Obama–had elected Obama–was enough for him.

He turned off the meter then, though we were a couple of blocks from my destination, and even when we reached it, drove somewhat further to get me to what he thought was the best entrance.

I thanked him.

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