During the festive period I called an Uber to take me down to the Dublin Castle in Camden Town to see Plastic Mirror, a great duo from LA. I usually chat to Uber or taxi drivers. We find common ground quite quickly and sometimes it’s enlightening and even a bit of a laugh.
Coming down the Finchley Road towards Swiss Cottage, the driver and I started talking about how the speed limits had changed and how this road in particular was really tricky as it switches from 30 to 20 then back again (although that may have changed again since…) We agreed that 25 might be a good compromise for London, and carried on with the chat.
He asked me where I was from, and we talked about Scotland. I returned the question and he told me he had moved from Syria five years previously. I felt a little stab in the heart as I realised that this man had most likely experienced the worst sort of atrocities.
I asked him his name. He said it was Ibrahim.
He went on to tell me some of what had happened to him, and it humbled me to be in a car with someone whose life had changed fundamentally, from extreme to extreme, and he carried all of this war hurt inside.
His catalyst to get out of Syria came after he had looked on in sudden horror as his uncle was shot in the neck and then held him in his arms to die. Ibrahim knew he had to make a desperate escape from conflict to find a better life for his family. Wearing only the clothes on his back, he took the chance to travel to the UK on a small boat of 60 people. He said that as he made the dangerous crossing he saw “bodies floating in the sea” and people barely alive as they reached the shore.
His wife remained in Syria with her sister and her sister’s daughter. They were bombed and Ibrahim’s wife fell unconscious. Hours later, she woke to find her sister and her niece dead beside her. Now in London, her emotional trauma has led to frequent seizures and she has been diagnosed with epilepsy. Ibrahim only works certain hours so he can care for her the rest of the time.
Years ago, he had two successful businesses in Syria, with a large warehouse and a car dealership. He was highly qualified and proud that he could provide a good home for his wife and their five sons. His qualifications are not recognised in the UK, which is why he drives an Uber. But he considers himself lucky, as he was able to pave a way for his family to eventually follow him to London by plane and settle with him there.
“My driver had arrived”, via the worst possible route.
I reached the Dublin Castle safely and we said goodbye. I wished we’d had more time to talk, so I asked him to write his story of bravery. He said he’d think about it. I hope he does.