Tribe in our midst

There’s a mad mad world seething through this frenetic, fast-paced and cellphone-addled city. But, wending their way among the city’s warren of highways, boulevards and traffic-clogged streets, and largely unbeknownst to most residents, are a motley team of drivers-cum-caregivers. Most of them were originally immigrants, now proud citizens. I consider them a microcosm of this multi-ethnic city, a charitable crew unto themselves – the Wheel-Trans Tribe.

Comprised mainly of men (though I’ve seen a few women), they are the public transit drivers who ferry the disabled from their homes to appointments, to families, to churches and shopping malls all across the metropolitan region. They are trained to deal with special needs, to haul wheelchairs and other “assistive devices” and to assist those with physically challenges ranging from limited mobility to quadraplegia.

Most tribespeople I’ve met do an outstanding job. I have seen their patience tested, their kindness doubted and their doors damaged. As a client but also an observer, I feel grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to meet some who exemplify the best of these transit-guardians. To experience the city through their eyes, and to hear about their encounters, is to see into the soul of some of the city’s most beleaguered denizens.

How else would I have met Terre from Taiwan, who pronounced his name ‘Terry’ and wasn’t aware that, translated from the French it meant “earth.” Pleased as he was to learn this fact, he seemed even more eager to share a story about a Qi Gong practitioner who had helped his wife regain her health. He drove a taxi all day long, through traffic jams and bad weather; and yet, he radiated an impossibly peaceful sense of calm.

What other predicament would have afforded me the chance to meet Daniel from Ghana, who was gracious and charming, with a smile and glimmer of recognition as he picked me up for the second time. “Oh, hello! I remember you from a couple of weeks ago, right?” he bellowed, helping me into the car.

And then, Ozi from Zimbabwe, who taught me, over the course of one ride, about the rampant corruption, currency fluctuations, violence and what it was like to live in a country overrun by despotic generals.

There were many others who drove me to my treatments, the hospital, friends’ homes or the pool. They were Pakistani, Persian, African and Croatian. They all had a story to tell. But above all, Ben’s reflections are the ones that struck a note.

Ben, from Ethiopia, reveled in sharing stories from his native country. Riddled with civil  w ar, he was forced flee at a young age. As a student activist, he was persona non grata in his own country, escaping without so much as a word goodbye to his family. Ben heard so many stories from the infirm and the elderly, that he soon came to realize how much he had to be thankful for. He would come home from work and share those stories with his wife. And then, one day, he simply stopped complaining about his own problems. Meeting all these people somehow transformed him. He was certainly one of the more upbeat drivers I’d met.

A tribe apart, yet in our midst. Thank you Ben, Terre, Daniel and Ozi.

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