Uber and a hefty dose of perspective

Yesterday was a bit of a rough day and the culmination of a fiasco around replacing my dead laptop charger. In the middle of vast frustrations, I decided to try out the Uber service since it’s available in our current city. We are carless, and I didn’t feel like walking another 3 miles to get home. The bus system isn’t the best either, so it was worth a shot.

My driver ended up being a very interesting person. His accent indicated he was a foreigner, and as is natural I asked where he was from. “Eritrea, in Africa.” That isn’t a country you hear a lot about, and I had never met anyone from there. I asked a few “get to know you” questions and felt more and more humbled the more he shared.


Ariam (not his real name) was not bashful about sharing his powerful story. His country is ruled by a dictator, and young men are required to serve in the military for 18 months. However, they don’t let you out when your time is done. He knows people serving in the army against their will since 1994. And they are paid a whopping $8 USD a month for their service.

Ariam served for 7 years before finally fleeing the country and leaving his wife and three children behind. He illegally crossed the border with Ethiopia to escape in the hopes that he would be able to eventually provide a better life for his family.

He spent four years in a refugee camp before being flown to the US. He began his stay in Florida, but there were not many jobs so he moved to San Antonio, Texas. While here he began the process to try to bring his family to the US.

He finally got a good-paying job in Oklahoma and left to work there. However, he was informed that trying to transfer his family’s immigration papers to another location could cause problems, so he returned to San Antonio. He has no job and began working for Uber to try and earn some income while he searches for a job.

I would be his first customer.

His ordeal is nowhere near finished. In addition to wading through the tough immigration process for his family, and the money that requires, he has to save between $20,000 and $25,000 to smuggle his wife and children out of Eritrea.

And that is not without severe risks. If they are caught trying to cross the border, the entire family will be imprisoned. “Even the little children. This is how Africa is.” He has not seen his family in seven years and counting.

Needless to say, my annoyance at my charger woes, as well as my own dumb decisions that led to me spending extra money on multiple trips with Uber today, evaporated.

This man had given up so much, was continuing to sacrifice, and even then it could all be for naught (and end up worse).

There’s nothing quite like a dose of perspective to make you realize just how advantaged you really are. Suddenly my set of “problems” was massively deflated to a speck of dust.

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  1. Holy crap this is a terrible story. I mean heartbreaking. Couldn’t we do a Kickstarter for him?

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    • Unfortunately, I didn’t get his contact information. I think was in too much shock from his story.

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  2. Great post Talon. I doubt you’d get that much info or talk from a cab driver – Uber seems a win/win all around (except, maybe, the cab drivers!)
    A nice way to also connect people.

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    • Very true. I’ve had the occasional nice chat with a cab driver but nothing was as personal as this. A really amazing experience for me.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this Talon. I like stories like that, they somehow make me feel so small and I always realize that there is always a bigger picture.. Oh and I was thinking of trying Uber, there are some interesting opinions on this service out there too!

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    • It’s amazing what other people have to go through. Definitely helps me look at my own problems in a different light.

      Yes, there is a lot of conflict about Uber. Obviously, I’m glad I used them on this occasion, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again.

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  4. What an amazing story sadly in the western world there seems to be no empathy for the people who can’t move by choice and have to leave due to necessity. We are very fortunate to be able to move around the world freely…just by the fate of where we were born.

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    • When I’m feeling stressed about making these decisions, I generally do well at reminding myself just how privileged I am to have this capability. There are millions of people in other countries who only can dream of leaving, and here I seriously have almost the whole world open to me.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this powerful and very humbling story. I hope he can safely get his family out.

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    • Me, too. To go through all that and still have to worry they won’t even make it across the border. . . I just can’t even imagine.

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  6. What a powerful story, I wish him and his family the best.

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  7. I am humbled by every immigration story I hear. The things people give up, and endure, to come live in my country is astounding. A great story Talon.

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  8. I am humbled by every immigration story I hear. The things people give up, and endure, to come live in my country is astounding. A great story Talon.

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  9. I spent some time in Eritrea after the war, in the mid-90s, before the dictator became one… It was then an amazing country, full of hope after 30 years of fighting, a country where prejudice was to be swept away, women – who had fought valiantly during the war – and men would be equal, the proverbial ‘new dawn’. Fast forward a couple of decades and the dream has died at the hands of power and corruption. This is one of the sadder stories of governance. Asmara, the capital, was a joy, with no highrises and a mixture of cultures – African, Arab, Italian… the coffee… the friendliness… the amputees… kilometers of pristine coastline, untouched for decades, just begged to be visited. It was already a poor country then, and I know it’s poorer now. If you ever have a chance to visit, don’t pass it up. Your driver’s story is a sad one, and a common one, in Eritrea and beyond. I hope he does manage to fight the bureaucracies and make enough to bring his family over. Thanks for sharing this wonderful snapshot with us.

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  10. I actually have an Eritrean colleague who happened to be a close friend too during the time I was living in Saudi. He was born in Saudi and has never been to Eritrea all his life. Despite this, he still could talk & share about the people & culture, etc., back “home” with passion. Never really asked him why he never visited his home country but I guess this could be it. Stories like this really put things in perspective, don’t they?

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    • Yeah, I think I’d avoid my home country, too, if this was the situation. Incredibly sad.

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