Hearing Much More Than an Accent

Leaving a friend’s apartment on the Upper East Side, I hailed a cab at 3am. I stood on the street waiting with my dog, for a cab with its light indicating it’s available. One pulled up, and the driver said out of his window “Just don’t let the dog on the seat.” I picked up Betsy, put her on the floor by my feet, to her dismay. The driver said “I love dogs. You know why I can’t let them on the seat. As soon as I saw you had a dog I immediately came over to take you. But please, not on the seats.” Fair enough.

Despite his thick accent, my driver and I spoke the whole drive.

His name is Godson, which gave me the funny feeling that this would be a significant ride. He told me of his love for dogs, and how he left his back in Nigeria. He said he’d rather bring things to there, than from there to here. I told him my dog’s from Israel, and he asked me how long I’ve been in New York.

He said, “If you really listen to a person, not just their accent, but the person, you really understand them.”

Even though he’s been in American for 29 years, when people hear his accent, they think he can’t really understand or speak English, and they stop talking to him. I said I can relate to that in some way; I know what it’s like to feel like your accent is all that anyone can hear, and everything else is sort of secondary conversation to a greater story.

Then he asked me if I was Jewish, and told me Jewish people are the greatest people there are. That Iran won’t get nuclear weapons.

I said “they might”. He argued, emotionally, “What? I thought you said you were from Israel. How can you say that?” I wondered if this was a language barrier – if his claim that they “won’t” obtain nuclear weapons essentially means they “shouldn’t”.

I have to admit that beyond hearing a few headlines in passing conversation, I have not been keeping up to date with this issue. My limited response was, “I don’t want them to get nuclear weapons – but that doesn’t mean they won’t.” Godson said, “I don’t believe you are saying this. They want to wipe Israel off the earth – they say that. If you aren’t against them getting a nuclear bomb, then you’re supporting them. You must protest this.”

To which I said, simply, “You are right.”

He said I sounded smart, and wanted to know what I was doing in Israel. I told him I worked for a company that helps people create their own websites. I explained that it’s for small businesses, or individuals that don’t necessarily know how to do computer programming. Excited, he told me he has a small business.

I got out of the car with his contact information, and the promise that I’ll build his business’ website in exchange for a couple of free cab rides. And, more importantly, the feeling that I owe it to the last 4 years I experienced — all the incredible people that became my close friends — to play a much more active role in understanding Israel’s current political situation.

He let me off once we got to my apartment. We said we would meet later this week, to make his website.

It was one of the most enjoyable cab rides I’ve had in awhile.

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