“It is a lot harder than I expected.”
I’m riding in a small black Honda along well-lit streets of a large city. The Uber driver is young, polite, and borderline shy. The car is clean and well kept.
She is in her early twenties, born in Saudi Arabia, and relocated from South Africa with her mother a few years ago.
I ask her about her thoughts of living in America and how it compares to what she expected.
“When I first arrived, everything was so beautiful, clean, and exciting. There is everything in America,” she said. “But then I found out how much it costs to live here and you have to work hard all the time.”
She tells me she is in school to be a radiologist and drives when she is not studying or in class. She and her mother came to the US together. Soon afterward, her mother became ill and passed. The bright light in both her voice and eyes dims. I ask about her car, hoping to bring her back.
“I was a waitress for 2-years and saved all my tip money – cash money. Each night I’d come home and carefully stack the dollar bills with the others until I had enough to buy this car,” she said. The spark, reignited by pride, returns to her voice and eyes.
She tells me about how a friend took her to a local auto auction.
“Guess how much I paid for this car,” she said. She is proud.
I toss out a number.
“Ten thousand,” I said.
She looks over, flashes a full, prideful smile.
“No, only $7,000.”
She is beautiful from the inside out – her spirit and commitment to make a life for herself in her adopted homeland. She tells me about how hard her studies are and I remind her they are supposed to be.
“If you’re my radiologist I want you to get it right,” I said.
She tells me of how she has traveled to California – her accent making the word melodic and magical.
“San Francisco is beautiful,” she said. “I want to one day live there.”
She can’t be much older than my 23-year old daughter, but she is in a different world – one where she lives without the safety net of parents in the background. Each decision carries the potential for making a broader life change, each action she makes potentially leading to a dramatic change in her delicate ecosystem, her schooling, and future. I can’t help but admire her for her maturity.
As we drive she is even-tempered, never barking at other drivers, and exceedingly polite. To her, inside her car is an extension of who she is – and how she wishes for the world surrounding her to be.
We pull up to the curb and I exit the car. I wish her well on her studies and her dreams of California. As the car pulls away I know, eventually, she will find her way west and the American Dream.