My Taxi Ride
by Fred Glick
This morning I got into a taxi. I told the driver where I was going and once that was settled, he asked, in Arabic, where I was from. "France?"
Usually the more astute drivers guess Germany. Fair complexion, sturdy frame. Germany is a reasonable guess. Other drivers, I think, simply guess the western country they're most familiar with, much as an American who'd once had a co-worker from Egypt might get into a taxi in New York and, seeing a Muslim name, ask the driver if he is Egyptian.
I tell him no, I'm an American.
His genial manner disappears and, looking at his reflection in the rear view mirror, I wonder if I have made a mistake. He wears a beard and on his forehead is a zebbeeb, or raisin, the dark, permanent bruise that marks some of the most devout Muslims. More that just a bruise, it is a callous that often protrudes slightly, a pad not unlike those camels have to protect their chests when they sleep. It is a mark of piety that develops through repeated prostration in prayer, five times a day, every day.
A torrent of Arabic that exceeds my comprehension follows. It is fast, emphatic, stern. I don't understand a word of it, except for three English words that fall somewhere in the midst of it.
"I am sorry."
We talk some more, mostly he talks. I listen and try to sort out the bits and phrases I understand, try to make the appropriate response when appropriate, but he speaks too fast for me and I think he eventually realises this. He moves on to the more mundane questions that are within my grasp: "how long have you been in Egypt?" "do you work here?"
We're developing a rhythm here. He can tell my Arabic is limited, he's slowing down, simplifying his words and phrasing. He says things a few different ways to make sure I understand what he's trying to tell me.
"These people who did this, they are not Muslims. This is not Islam."
He is angry. This act has been done in his name, in the name of the religion that is so central to his life, and it is wrong.
"Tell them in America that not all Muslims are like that, that not all Arabs are like that."
And as we reach my destination, he asks me to tell America that he is sorry, that Egyptians, they are sorry.
And so I am.
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