I pick up two young men from the nearby mall. They each have a soda in hand, the last vestiges of a fast-food meal I assume they recently ate. I verify the account holder’s name. They get in. I have my music on; it’s a Saturday night, and I’m feeling a bit festive.
I’m listening to the same music CD I’ve been playing in my car for the last few weeks. Lee Mayjahs?. House music. I ask my passengers what kind of music they listen to. One says, everything; the other says, Akon.
They’re both 18, both from Bahrain, both medium height with a slender build, both studying at a community college and both recently arrived within the year. One is studying film (the one that likes all music), the other, the Akon fan, is studying mechanical engineering.
The latter one will be transferring to Arkansas to lower his cost of living while completing his studies. He tells me his apartment costs will drop from $1,400 to $400 per month. I wonder if I should explain to him that life in Arkansas and life in the D.C.-Baltimore corridor might be quite different; hence, the apartment cost differences, but who am I to say what his experience will be, or what’s a better choice?
They’re both happy to be here in the U.S., to be learning, to be practicing their English, to be studying. Bahrain is small, they tell me, an island country smaller than Baltimore City, but with a population of about one million people.
The engineer will go back to be with his family afterward and to raise a family; the film student says he probably will not go back.
The film student wants to know why I asked their names. I wonder if he thinks I was profiling him because of their ethnicity, so I quickly and thoroughly explain that as Uber passengers they should always confirm the driver’s name, and that drivers need to do the same with passengers. It protects both parties and ensures that the right people are in the right cars, heading to the right destinations and paying for the right fares.
They tell me there are many jobs for English-speaking people in Bahrain. What kind? Everything! Many people speak English there. They tell me about the uprising a few years back, how the government is not nice to its people.
The film student’s best friend and uncle are in jail as political dissidents.
I don’t imagine they are treated well. I ask what kind of films he wants to make. Dramas. Dramas with a political message? I ask. Yes.
I take them home to their apartment.
Key experience: I wonder how I might seem to others if I was walking around each day knowing my best friend and uncle were in jail as political dissidents in a country where they had low likelihood of justice. I remind myself that I never know anyone’s situation and that more gentleness and consideration on my part are things I can always bring to any situation.