Two million girls are now in school in Afghanistan. Read that sentence again, only this time hear it being spoken proudly, emphatically, in a soft Afghani accent. Two million girls are now in school. That tidbit followed me around San Diego a few weeks ago and slipped through my thoughts on the long drive home—two million Afghani girls are now in school where there were no schools for them before.
It was a taxi driver who taught me that. And as so often happens, the experience found me because I screwed up. My husband has to have a battery charger to keep his wheelchair moving for more than a day or two, I’d left his charger behind in our Amtrak sleeping car, and the loaner charger we’d tracked down was miles and miles away. So I called a cab, and after the car cruised past the surfer dudes in front of our beachfront hotel and pulled up to the lobby door, I noted the two black-haired men in the front seats and, despite a Midwest paranoia whispering to me that two strange men are twice as dangerous as one, I crawled into the back of the cab.
On the ride to the charger, we were all polite. The younger man was in training and he started the conversation, asking where I was from and what Missouri is like, were the people friendly there. I tried to explain Branson to him and he told me how much he liked Colorado and we both agreed Colorado is a friendly state. We arrived at my destination, and, if I hadn’t asked the men to wait, that’s all I would have known about them: that they were immigrants escaping poverty in their own country and trying to find their way to a better life here. The same old story.
Except that wasn’t their story. It only took a few minutes for me to grab the charger and toss it and myself back in the cab. Off we headed, only this time I asked the magic question: “What brought you guys to San Diego?” It was the Navy base, they told me, and that’s how I learned they’d both been translators for our military in Afghanistan, providing the vital communication link needed for our men to help build the schools. They wore our uniforms as a disguise, as the Taliban targeted translators. Killing the translator is the same as killing the communication, a quick and ruthless way to stop the flow of words. These two men risked their lives every day in service to those two million girls.
I know the driver’s name because it was posted next to his picture on his dashboard credentials. He is Mustafa and he is American now, a naturalized citizen. He spoke too softly for my middle-aged ears to pick up everything, but he believes in our mission in Afghanistan, even if he also knows generations may pass before education changes enough hearts to really make a difference. It will have to happen without him though, because visas to visit his homeland are nearly impossible to get. Even for them, the younger man said, explaining translators are “gold”, with squeaky clean characters that can pass even the most stringent of background checks. Did you catch that? The men I was afraid to get in a cab with are both certified gold.
Losing my husband’s wheelchair charger wasn’t cheap and so far I’m up to a $214 cost ($134 replacement charger, $60 cab ride and $20 tip), but maybe it was worth it for the lessons learned. Maybe. I now know not all taxi-driving immigrants are escaping a life of poverty—the trainee’s father is both a doctor and general in the Afghani military. And I have a somewhat better feeling about the money spent and the lives lost in Afghanistan, because hope is good and children are worth saving and two million girls are now in school—a proud taxi driver told me so.
Soon Mustafa had me back at the beach and I was plugging the charger into my husband’s chair, powering it up for long walks on the boardwalk. I didn’t think to use my cell phone camera in the cab, so I have no pictures of my black-haired heroes, only the usual tourist shots from those walks. It was lovely and I thank them for their role in rescuing my husband. Even more, I thank them and our soldiers for their work in Afghanistan. I am not worthy.
Coming Up Next: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Kansas City to LA or How To Sway With An Upper Bunk
Peace. And photos.