I’m writing this post at Reagan International Airport, after working with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in D.C. for the last three days as part of the Principal’s Standing Committee. My 15 minute cab ride from my hotel to the airport was with a driver named Mekonnen. The cab had two small American flags with stems placed carefully in the heat vents on his dashboard and our driver was eager to oblige my desire to chat.
Mekonnen grew up in a small country in Eastern Africa named Eritrea, just north of Ethiopia. He came over to America a few years ago with his wife, also from Eritrea, and they are planning on becoming naturalized next year. The couple just had their first child and they reside in Baltimore, about an hour from Washington. It’s much cheaper to live in Baltimore, he explained, as his apartment there is only $800 a month.
While I’m sure he misses his homeland, Mekonnen has great respect and affection for the United States. He sees significant opportunity for his family in the US and has experienced nothing but friendly and accommodating Americans. Mekonnen’s cab driving supports his wife’s schooling and as a result, she will be a nurse within the year. He explains that back in Eritrea, many citizens vehemently criticize the US, buoyed by US official pronouncements over the last few years that this African country harbors terrorists, which is likely true. Mekonnen admitted that the main post-secondary pursuit for most young men after high school is to “learn how to fight”. His experiences in America don’t at all match the impressions he grew up with.
As we departed, I had less cash then I thought and in addition to the fare paid on a credit card, all I had was a dollar to give him. He took it willingly and I hoped my best wishes for his family counted for something. Mekonnen cheerfully smiled and the thought occurred to me that he is likely more thankful for his life then many of us are. As he said to me, “when people ask if I want to go back to my homeland, I tell them that I’m already home.”
While I always learn a great deal from my work in D.C., I may have learned more today from a 15 minute cab ride.