Hardship

The kind that I have never known …

The kind you have probably never known either.

Over the last 24 hours I’ve come in contact with two situations that have shown me a glimpse -and I am sure this is simply a glimpse into a much deeper and larger problem- of the hardship many people face when borders get in the way of them being able to live their lives.

First there was a taxicab ride in Austin, Texas. Long drive from the Oracle data center located there to the airport. Wonderful driver who was very interested in striking up conversation and ultimately did. Teaching me a few things about religious prosecution in the process.

He was originally from Iran, where he’d managed to cross the border over to Pakistan on a camel’s back with two young girls (and his wife, I presume, though it was never spoken of.) “They” sent him and his family from Pakistan to Austria for a few months, then on to New York and eventually to Austin where he had been glad participant in the city’s growth and evolution of the community.

I asked for clarification. “They” turned out to be United Nations people who helped refugees. And in this old and pleasant man’s respectful demeanor I saw a chant of appreciation to the community of people that had saved him from a situation he disliked and could not escape by normal means.

We went on to speak of the technology sector (he seemed to know of the Peoplesoft takeover, nanotechnology’s emergence and other things a taxicab driver should not really know about but does.) And he was the most interesting conversation that I had in my 4-day business trip out of California.

Then, just a few minutes ago, as I sat here at home listening to a recorded presidential debate on my iPod there was a hint of a knock on the door. I went to open it thinking a UPS or FedEx delivery person might be found on the other side but instead there was a mexican woman asking in a bit broken English for Juan.

Soon after I told her I was the “Juan” she was looking for she went on to ask if there were any more “latinos” living in the building or the neighborhood. “Not too many around here” she seemed to complain. I thought she might be just a new arrival who wanted to meet other latinos in the community but as it turns out she was in need of help and therefore wanted to figure out who she could turn to.

Other latinos in her same predicament was exactly what she needed, for they would understand. The lady went on to explain how -living by herself here- she had brought an uncle of hers over from Mexico with no papers (the fact that she herself had none was implied as well), and that the landlord at the apartment complex was asking rent to be payed by the sum of $1200 of which she was short some amount until her paycheck came on Monday.

Ultimately she opened one of her hands to produce a small bundle wrapped inside a piece of tissue where she had stashed a few earrings, chains, pendants, rings, etc. It was at this point that I felt shivers up my spine as she explained her desire to pawn her jewelery in order to collect funds and make the payment.

I was witness, having the most direct of contacts with the type of hardship I had only heard of or seen in movies. I was being asked to take part. Be an active participant. Take a secondary role, but one that actually had a few lines to be spoken out and a position to be chosen.

How the uncle bit has anything to do with it I didn’t care to ask to find out. Keeping the distance necessary to imply no possibility of help from me felt like the right thing at the time. The role that I needed to play.

This was either a cry for help from a resourceful woman or a quick scam, but I didn’t ever find out. My heart tells me it was the former, but I will never know now.

As I watched her walk away from the window I thought of her courage (and that of the Austin taxicab driver now as well) to walk up to a perfect stranger’s house and ask for help in such a way. Offering up her jewels in a way that seemed genuine and disinterested. She helped me put things in perspective as many times people unknowingly do.

And I sit here thinking what I could have done to help. What other lines might have been spoken instead to make this a better World for her as well.

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