Listen to the Ones who are Helping Us

*The name of the door-to-door van service has been changed for legal reasons.

As usual The Van was late. I'm certain that if I totaled the number of hours I have spent waiting for The Van I could lap the world in that time. The Van is a paratransit door-to-door service that provides communal transportation for the city's elderly and disabled. I'm sure that many other cities across the country have a similar transportation service; it's the kind that requires a medical form to be filled out then at the end a flourishing signature by your healthcare provider. And with that you're in the system. 
I've been in the system since the late 90's and I've become almost too comfortable inside it. First the driver will put on the neon orange velcro strap, then the four wheelchair tie-downs, then the driver will ask me to lock in my tires, next comes the other seat belt - when all is said and done I am going nowhere fast. Every now and then I may exchange a few hello's with other passengers (usually old Jewish grandmothers), or sometimes I will chat with the drivers. But most of the time I board The Van with my iPod and ear buds in, I don't become unplugged unless the driver took a wrong turn or until we've pulled into the driveway. In other words 90% of the time my commute in The Van is dead silent. 

One time though, for whatever reason, it was anything but silent: 

"Hay!? Sandeee?" He flicked his eyes up at the rear view mirror, then reached up to adjust the angle, turning it upwards a bit so that we could both see our faces in the reflection. I could see that his mouth had moved but hadn't really heard what he said, only that he'd said my name. I tugged at one side of my earbuds and it fell out.
"Yes?" I responded. 
"Joo leestening to mewseek?" Like most of the other drivers I have had, this driver also had an accent.
"Um yeah, sorry." I responded afraid that I had missed an important question he'd asked me a few minutes earlier.
"Eeet's okay. Umm kan I ask joo a qweshun?" 
"Yeah sure." Actually, that day, I didn't really want to answer any questions. It had been a long day and I wanted to just go home and pass out. Classes had fried my brains and I was mentally kicking myself for over-involving myself in too many activities once again. 
"Doo joo know thee rrresume? Whaat joo put on thee rresume?" His question came at me like a melody. I was so fascinated by his accent and admired how one could possibly cram an entire octave of notes into two questions. I became distracted by the pure sounds of the words that were coming out that I barely remembered to realize that he was actually asking me a question.
"Uhh on a resume? You mean the structure of one?"
"Yes yes. What joo usually put on eet? Opjecteeve of job first?"
"Uhh well you can put the objective I guess, I usually don't do that anymore. But first you have your name, address, email and other contact info -"
"Riiiight riight, okay. Soo okay, first is nem, eeemail, aadress, then what?" He listed the things off on his fingers, one hand on the steering wheel the other keeping track of what I was saying.
"Then I usually have my education information, and then my most current place of employment, then I go backwards in history."
"Okay, okay. So next after personal informayshun ees ejuhcayshun, then work experiunce." Two more of his fingers ticked off the next two items. 
"Then at the bottom, ummm.." I looked up at him making sure that he knew I wasn't trying to offend him and that I was only trying to help,
"-umm you can put down other languages that you might speak, or other skills." 
"Ohhh okay okay I see, I see. So the last part is skeels." 
"Yep. So that's basically it, at least that's all I have on my resume." I picked up the other ear bud and was getting ready to put it back in my ear when he asked,
"Soo, Sandeey? Ees rreleejohn on there too?" 
"Religion? No, no generally it's not on there." 
"Okay, okay. So rreview. Personal eenformayshun, then work experiunce, then skeels?" His eyes flicked back and forth between the rear view mirror and the road.
"Yep, you have it!" I paused my iPod and pulled out the other ear bud and put the gadget away in my back pack.  

By the time we pulled into my driveway the driver had told me all about how he was Muslim, and I asked him many questions about the hijab, and what it meant for Turkey to be a secular country. We sat in the driveway (I was his last drop-off for the day) and he told me about his incredible journey to the U.S., what his family had gone through during 9/11 and how he fears for the future of America - not in terms of the politics and economy but "for the cheeldren, for my cheeldren." He divulged to me that though he enjoyed meeting the passengers he drove around he was actually interested in becoming a Muslim after-school program teacher. This man's passion was clearly in working with youth and in education; since so many of my friends from college were educators I offered him a few websites to check out for jobs and wished him well. As the lift unfolded and I touched ground, he said 
"Sandeey? Thank joo verry much for answering my qwestshuns. You are my first passendjuh all day to leesen to me." 

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2 Responses to Listen to the Ones who are Helping Us

  1. What a wonderful story, and a good reminder that we should all put our ipods away, at least once in a while, and listen to each other.

  2. Couldn't have summed it up better myself!


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