Whenever I need a ride, I’ll text Nordin, the owner-driver of an Ann Arbor taxi service. With so many customers, Nordin will come a bit late every so often, but he’ll always arrive and then jokingly ask, “What took you so long?”
I laugh; Nordin won’t ever leave me hanging or empty-handed. He’ll pass along a copy of Time magazine he has just finished reading or some leftover food from his favorite, Whole Foods (cornbread, if you’re lucky). He even gave me the Obama bumper sticker that now decorates my bedroom door. And he keeps me up-to-date, too. From Nordin, I learned of Romney’s 47-percent comment and John Kerry’s confirmation as secretary of state.
Though our time is mostly confined to the contained world of the cab, we’ve become good friends. Nordin likes to sit with his seat leaned far back, so that he looks like a “boss,” a term he borrows from his predominately Greek life clientele. He dresses sharp too: a button-up, dark-wash jeans and nice leather shoes. Sometimes, Nordin will even throw on a pair of aviator sunglasses. He’s always playing music too: He’ll play Drake or some other song that’s popular these days (he tells me that he does this for his customers; he prefers jazz now that he’s older). He’ll check his phone, respond to a couple of texts and then change the song before he starts driving again.
Nordin is from Garissa, Kenya. Garissa, Nordin tells me, is a city that’s not much smaller than Ann Arbor.
“Some people are so ignorant, Zo. They think of Africa as a place of poverty, disease and violence. They forget we have cities,” he says.
“I know,” I say, trying to both agree and not interrupt his flow.
“They know a bit more now,” he adds. “Now that they know Obama’s dad is from Kenya.”
Nordin then begins to relay the development of the term “African American” to me. Before I can respond, Nordin fast-forwards to current events, telling me he read that Obama recently authorized 3,000 students from Africa to study in the United States.
Nordin returns to where he left off: Garissa, located in Kenya’s North Eastern Province. He was born there in January of 1982 to a middle-class family. His dad owned livestock and his mom sold jewelry.
In 1995, Nordin, along with his mom, brother and sisters, moved to the United States for the same reason others do: They wanted a better life and a better education. So, he and his family made their way to Ann Arbor, joining an uncle who teaches at Eastern Michigan University.
And now, 18 years later, Nordin has established a life here. He married Zim Zim, an immigrant from Somalia with whom he has two kids, Mouse and Sarah. In this time, Nordin also started his taxi business. In 2009 — when Obama became president he reminds me — he switched from working at a library to running his cab company.
“I did my research. I studied the scene. Needed to make sure I’d have a successful business. You know 70 percent of business owners in America are foreigners?” Nordin informs my friends, Izzy and Sylvia, and I as we drive.
“Do you remember my name?” asks Izzy, switching the subject.
“I have met you a bunch of times, Nordin!” Izzy jokes.
“It’s Izzy. Take it Izzy,” says Nordin. “You get it? Instead of take it easy.”
We laugh. Nordin’s proud of his joke; it shows his humor and, even more, his fluency.
As I spend more time with Nordin, I begin to see why this fluency — this ability to navigate — is so important. Nordin likes Obama not just because he is black, but also because he is the successful child of an immigrant. Nordin shops at Whole Foods not because it’s the healthiest (you can buy all the fruits and vegetables you desire at Trader Joe’s or Kroger), but because it’s a grocery store that symbolizes “the good life,” with its pricey produce and yuppie clientele. Nordin doesn’t remind me that “70 percent of business owners in America are foreigners” just because. With these references and preferences, Nordin is crafting a narrative epitomizing the American Dream. And although he works a demanding job, he certainly does. He came to America in 1995, and now he owns a successful taxi service.
With what feels like the dying “American Dream,” I’m buying in, and I’m all too eager to.
Just last year, we saw the Occupy Movement with its motto “We are the 99 percent.” In Political Science 300, I learned that 43.6 million Americans are living in poverty. Every day, I see articles in the New York Times pronouncing that college is only for the elites and that social mobility is becoming increasingly limited. It doesn’t help that working an unpaid internship after college feels inevitable.
So, Nordin isn’t just someone who drives me when I need a ride or a friend I enjoy talking politics with. He reminds me that as the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, some still do believe.
I’m holding on to that, and I’m holding on to it tight.
Zoe Stahl can be reached at email@example.com.