Friday, March 11, 2016

Meet Phil; my cab driver...

     Erick Donaldson's 'Cherry Oh Baby' was blasting on the stereo when I got in the car. I turned the volume down, ask Phil how he is doing and to drop me at Peace Corps house. 

     Cherry O Baby continues playing on repeat until we reached my destination. It's my favorite song and he puts it on every time I get into his car.

     Phil has been driving the streets of Solwezi since 2012. He actually owns his car which he uses to drive people to and from places. Many cab drivers work for the owners of the cars they drive. Phil has a second car, but the engine went kaput, so now he's looking for a replacement engine so he can sell the car.

     Three years ago Phil moved to Solwezi in Northwestern  Province from Eastern Province where he is originally from. He is of the Nsenga tribe. He moved here to make more money, because the mining boom has attracted people not only from all over Zambia, but from other African countries and continents. It is a melting pot in these parts. 

     Phil has five children. The oldest is 22 and the youngest is four. His wife stays at home to care for them, so driving his car for money is his main income. His oldest is in college. It is very expensive to put a child through college here in Zambia. There aren't loans available like we have in the States or government support. Phil literally works day and night seven days a week answering his cell phone from potential clients.

     I think you've gotten the idea there are not any cab companies, at least I've never heard of one here in Zambia. The cabs are independently owned automobiles, like used Toyota imports from Japan. 

     I rode with Phil today to get this interview with him. He wasn't himself, but he was eager to answer the questions I had for him. He had been waiting for this interview for a few days now. We rode around on the rutted dirt roads of Solwezi asking him questions, repeating myself slowly a second or third time--his English is so-so--and me asking him to spell words I'm not familiar with, like his tribal name.

When I exit Shoprite I am faced with several cab drivers competing
for customers. This is where I met Phil. Phil stands here with
the others much of the day for business. When the other drivers
see me, they get Phil. I am his client, and they respect that.

     Today he only had two drives, or clients. He needs 15 to make the day worth it. It is slow. It has been slow for a while now, because of the depreciation of the kwacha and the closing of some of the mines thanks to the lack of need of copper in the world. Food prices have literally doubled. I and others have been resorting to walking as opposed to taking a cab the past few months to save money, so the cab drivers are feeling the pinch.

     One of the questions I asked Phil was, "Do you like it here in Solwezi?"

     He said, "No, it's too dusty, land."

     I also asked what does he want for his future. He thought I meant what did he want to be when he was a kid. 

     "A laywer." he said. 

     I stopped at that answer and thought a bit. I felt a sort of sadness. He did finish grade twelve. I now wonder why he didn't continue on with school. That is a question I decided not ask him; to protect myself from his answer.

     The fun thing about Phil is when he drives me somewhere new I ask him how much and he ridiculously inflates the price probably hoping I just got paid and am in a giving mood. So, we go onto negotiating a fair price. We laugh, I lightly punch his shoulder and he gives that 'I give-in' grin. 

Roads of Solwezi. Dusty in dry season,
muddy and rutted in rain season.

     I again asked him the question about what he wants in his life. Without hesitation, "I want my kids more educated than I was." he said. He answered looking past me off in the distance. Typical for a Zambian to do this. Looking directly in a Zambian's eyes is rude. But, I knew he was looking for the strength to answer this question. A question maybe no one has ever bothered to ask.

     Phil struggles with controlling his diabetes. He drives around drinking Coke Zero and with a half loaf of brown bread. I've known about his diabetes for a while now and had given him chia seeds to help regulate his blood sugar. Today he isn't himself. and I know why. He is only forty-six, a year younger than me, struggling more than others to make ends meet. 

     Phil is a person worth getting to know. He is a person just like you and me working hard to get through life. We appreciate each other's friendship and he asks me if I will keep in touch. "Of course." I say. I will put the effort into saying 'hi' through a text once in a while. 

     I am privileged to know so many people here. They are a part of my life in Zambia; my home of two years. To leave them in only a few weeks will be very difficult. Saying the goodbyes...I can't think about it right now. I will worry about them. I will worry about Phil.


  1. This is such a great post. Thank you so much for sharing. I love the colour of your blog, too. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)