Tonight I met Ibrahim from Eritrea.
You know how sometime you sit down and start talking to someone and somehow there just is a connection? Well Ibrahim and I connected at a fundamental human level - we started off by talking about coffee, then about some of the people he'd met doing his job. Then he started to tell my about whhy he was doing what he was doing. He apologised for his broken english, which was actually very good english for a recent immigrant from East Africa.
Eritrea is one of the geographical results of colonialism and as a result was engaged in extended conflict with Ethiopia and has struggled economically. The current government is oppressive and as a father of young children Ibrahim was afraid for their safety so they fled Eritrea and travelled as refugees until finally arriving in Australia.
I was struck by how similar our views of the world were, even given the extensive differences in our experiences. Ibrahim studied sociology and struck me as a bloke who thinks pretty deeply about things. Since coming to Australia he has done a course in graphic design but is finding it hard to be noticed without a portfolio of work.
So he provides for his family by driving a taxi and spends the days being frustrated with his inability to change the world.
I must confess to similar frustrations. We are the small people of the planet who feel the impact made my the 'big people' But because we are the ones having the experiences and not they, the vision, the passion and the reality lies with us and not with them.
I'm writing this on my coffee blog because a few people read it - not many, but a few, so it is my voice, and my opportunity to communicate my frustration. Lately I've been hearing a lot about the 'african immigrant' problem. Pauline Hanson has dropped 'asians' as her threat of choice and has adopted Africans as the-source-of-all-that-is-wrong-with-Australia.
Yet here I was, with a 'random african' drawn from the taxi ranks of Perth, having an involved conversation about Australia, what is great about it, what sucks and what can be done to build a better country.
You know what? Ibrahim wants a better Australia so his children can grow up here as Aussies, he's following the fortunes of the Australian team in the Ashes, wants his kids to get a good education and participate in Australian society. He would love not to have left Eritrea, but in his place I would have made the same call to leave in order to ensure the safety of my children.
He also knows the true value of a good cup of coffee.
So thanks for the ride, Ibrahim, the $72 fare was worth every cent.