I needed to run up to Midtown to take a few pictures. I walked a few blocks, but it was super cold so I decided to hail a cab instead.
I gave the driver the address, and he asked me which way I preferred to go. (This is absolutely one of my favorite things, because it makes me feel more like a New Yorker than anything else!). I deliberately picked a route that had buildings I love, even though I knew there would probably be more traffic.
I was right about the traffic, so I settled back and chatted with the driver.
His name was Aziz. I asked where he was from, and was not surprised to learn he was from New Delhi. Like I always do, I asked the typical opening questions. How long have you been here? Do you have family here? How do you like living here? Sometimes I get very basic (and almost predictable) answers. Sometimes I get a story. This time I got a story.
Here is his:
Fourteen years ago, Aziz went to the store while living in New Delhi. While he was there, he noticed a crowd beginning to gather. He made his way to the edge of the crowd and asked the nearest person what was going on. It was the American Visa Lottery. Aziz figured, “Why not?”, then joined the crowd, paid a fee of one rupee, entered the lottery, and promptly forgot about it.
Two years later, he opened the mail and received a letter of congratulations. He had won the lottery!
He filled out the required forms and sent them in, along with 6000 rupees (equal to $50).
His story had become so interesting that I stopped gazing out the window and was now giving Aziz my full attention.
Thirteen months later he got his second letter from the American Embassy. He had his Visa! He regretted that he hadn’t signed up any of his family for the lottery. But then, he hadn’t really expected to win.
He saved some money, and in 2009 he flew to New York. That was as far as he had planned. He didn’t speak English. He didn’t know anyone in New York. And he didn’t have a place to go. So he spent his first night in America sleeping in the airport.
By now, I was hoping the traffic would never clear. I wanted to stay in his cab for the whole story!
On Aziz’ second day in the airport, a policeman noticed him. The officer found a man who spoke Hindi, and introduced the two of them. This man knew of a family who lived in Astoria, Queens who could possibly help him, and gave him a ride to their home.
I was loving where this story was going.
The family took him in on the spot! The next day, the father drove him to the Social Security office and helped get him a job driving a cab. The family also helped him navigate living in this country.
Aziz has been driving a cab now for 10 years. He still lives with that same family. He learned to speak English on his own. His family in New Delhi is very poor, but now that he is making money, he has been sending it back home. He goes to visit as often as he can.
I was marveling at how amazing his story was when he gave me “The Big News”…
He is getting married this summer! And he smiled. I knew that smile. This was a man in love. He leaned over and picked up his phone. He pulled up a picture of his fiancé and beamed as he held it up for me. She was stunning. He told me her name was Fauzia, and I asked if he had met her here in New York. He swiveled his head toward me and gave me the strangest look. Of course not. This was an arranged marriage. I then found out that she lives in New Delhi. He has never met her in person! He will meet her when he goes home to marry her. Then he will work on bringing her to New York to be with him.
I was overwhelmed by all of this information. I loved his story so much I found myself taking notes on my phone, and I told him I was going to write about it later. He seemed excited about that and asked about my writing. He also asked about where I was going. When I explained I was taking a few pictures to go with my blog, he asked if I wanted him to park and wait. (This was actually the third time a cab driver has done this for me while I was taking pictures). I happily accepted.
It didn’t take long to get the pictures I wanted. Mostly because it was too cold to stand outside for very long! He had parked next to a coffee shop, so I offered to grab him a coffee. He declined, but told me he would wait while I got one for myself.
When I hopped back into the cab, I told him I thought he was so brave for how he lived his life.
“I’m not brave. I just trust in God.”
I suddenly felt this overwhelming sense of insignificance. Not in a horrible way, but I just realized that I was spending my day taking pictures to put in a little blog, because I could. I was able to take time off of work, and travel, and stay in a wonderful location because of the grace and generosity of family and friends. What I was doing wasn’t particularly brave or groundbreaking or important. And I didn’t feel bad, but it definitely put things in a different perspective for me at that moment.
And then he told me his philosophy on life. His outlook is that if you look at everything with happy eyes, you see good things. If you look at everything with sad eyes, you see bad things.
I told him that he should share that philosophy with everyone who sat in his cab. He replied that most people didn’t talk or listen to him.
And so I will write with happy eyes.