When Life is Stranger Than Fiction (again)

Today was one of those epiphany-type of days when I realised that no amount of imagination or creativity could ever measure up to real life. I pride myself in having a very vivid imagination when it comes to fiction, but some of the people I talk to or interview lead lives that could never conjour up between the keyboard and the screen. I am truly glad I began my taxi / Uber driver project a couple of years ago, interviewing the drivers in the short amount of time we have together. The goal is not to obtain their entire life story with all the gory details and in high definition, because that would probably take hours, or days in some cases. Rather, I aim for the little golden nuggets that allow me glimpses into their lives and are such rewarding moments and valuable life lessons. More often than not these stories are my source of gratitude and inspiration to keep going, never surrendering even when the going gets tough. Someone out there will always have been dealt a shittier hand than yours, and I would do well to remember this.

Each time I feel too tired to go on or am convinced my body has been drained of all energy, the universe sends me someone to remind me that I do indeed lead a charmed life. Today’s Uber driver was one such person. At first I thought nothing was going emerge from this ride because the languages he spoke were French and Portuguese. Eventually we discovered that Portuñol was a viable option, so we began chatting. This Angolan has been living in Portugal for 18 years (it sounded more like 38 years but he wasn’t that old), working the past 12 years as a bartender here in Lisbon until the pandemic struck. He just started driving Uber a little over a year ago and is perfectly happy. Yes, he misses the bar and nightlife, but on the other hand, he finally gets to sleep when most people do, and not crawl into bed just when everyone else is getting up.

After extracting his story (the more excited he got about his life the more French and Portuguese emerged until Portuñol was no longer part of the conversation, so I really had to pay attention) it was his turn to ask questions. He was thrilled to discover I had lived in Mexico and told me his favourite place in the world was Cancun. He saved up every penny he earned and went on a holiday in Mexico, had a blast and didn’t really want to return to Portugal. He was completely smitten with the food, music, culture and even cost of living. I have to admit it was strange listening to this because this is exactly how I feel about Portugal. Oh well, I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

When I asked about his family his demeanor changed. His wife and children are all in Angola and come to visit whenever he can scrape up enough money to fly them all in. Curious, I wondered why they didn’t just move here so they could be together, but it seems Portugal is far too cold for them (Gee, I wonder what they would think of Germany or any of the Scandinavian countries?) and nobody wants to give up their social circles anymore.

My heart always goes out to these split families of migrant workers. When the homeland has nothing to offer in terms of employment , then wedding vows are sacrificed for the sake of survival and the education of the children. Someone ends up biting the bullet and go abroad. It is a common tale of woe in Africa, Latin America and certainly Asia, and I am always caught between compassion and sorrow when I hear the stories, overcome with admiration and sadness at the same time.

This lovely person remained on my mind most of the day, even when I was neck deep in work. For the first time in what seems like forever, I got so engrossed in work that I was shocked to look at the clock and realised it was quitting time. I am blessed with the ability to focus in and in spite of a noisy environment, so I blocked out everyone around me. But when my peripheral view registed people packing up I was stunned, and thrilled at the same time. Thank goodness there was no rain on the way home.

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