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.